Allowing small businesses to pause disputed ATO debt recovery

The Government will introduce legislation to allow small businesses to pause or modify ATO debt recovery action where the debt is being disputed in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had earlier announced this measure on 8 May 2021.

Specifically, the changes will allow the Small Business Taxation Division of the AAT to pause or modify any ATO debt recovery actions – such as garnishee notices and the recovery of general interest charge (GIC) or related penalties – until the underlying dispute is resolved by the AAT. This measure is intended to provide an avenue for small businesses to ensure they are not required to start paying a disputed debt until the matter has been determined by the AAT.

Small business entities (including individuals carrying on a business) with an aggregated turnover of less than $10 million per year will be eligible to use the option. The AAT will be required to “have regard to the integrity of the tax system” in deciding whether to pause or modify the ATO’s debt recovery actions.

Changes welcomed

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman has welcomed the changes. The Ombudsman, Mr Bruce, stated that small businesses could save “thousands of dollars in legal fees”, as well as up to two months waiting for a ruling. The Ombudsman also noted this measure was a key recommendation in its report A tax system that works for small business.