ATO administration of JobKeeper

In 2020, the Australian community witnessed the delivery of one of the largest economic support measures in our country’s history – the JobKeeper Program administered by the ATO.

Through agility, sound decision making and the innovative use of data holdings and existing systems, the ATO delivered $89 billion in payments to over one million entities as at 31 January 2022. Most impressively, 97% of these payments were made within four days of an entities processed monthly claim – getting much needed support into the hands of those who needed it, when they needed it.

To support the JobKeeper roll out, the ATO built a new system to ensure businesses were able to easily and promptly register for, and receive, their required assistance. Timeframes were incredibly compressed, with employers able to enrol their interest within just two weeks of the JobKeeper program being announced. The ATO’s interaction with Digital Service Providers (DSPs) was critical to incorporating the measure into the natural systems of taxpayers. This would not have been achievable without the ATO having established relationships with DSPs as they assisted the ATO with streamlining the process to ensure the measure was rolled out with limited regulatory burden.

As at 31 January 2022 the program delivered around $89 billion in financial stimulus – an amount equivalent to more than 20% of the net tax collected by the ATO in 2019-20. When the program was at its peak, that stimulus was flowing through over one million entities to help support the employment for over 4 million individuals.

In its independent review of the ATO’s management of risks related to the rapid implementation of COVID-19 economic response measures, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) found that ‘the ATO has been effective in managing risks’ highlighting the ATO’s use of ‘existing systems and processes to support governance, resourcing, and consultation.’ They also called out the ATO’s ability to manage ‘fraud and other integrity risks on a progressive basis’.

To assure payments were made only to eligible entities, the ATO first established a data base of potentially eligible populations, with those required to have an active ABN in the ATO’s systems. This provided an integrity match on top of the usual online or verbal authentication checks and known eligibility parameters for the measure. Once eligible businesses were enrolled, the ATO reviewed all applications and data-matched them against Single Touch Payroll (STP) and other ATO client data. This allowed for cross-checking to compare business activity, income, and salary or wages; to support the integrity of claim verifications.

STP data was essential to confirming employers were reporting accurate employee payments; and was used to prefill applications for employers, reducing the red-tape burden for those making a claim. It was also used to confirm employee relationships, and any missing information, such as Pay as you Go Withholding (PAYGW) data. Additionally, the ongoing use of STP data assisted the ATO and business in JobKeeper extensions; using pre-filled data to confirm whether a business continued to be eligible on the basis of an actual decline in turnover.

These approaches complimented the ATO’s standing practices around risk management and existing systems such as ATO Tip Off, and data sharing across the Government and third parties, to ensure JobKeeper was delivered to those in need of support and continued to be correctly claimed by those eligible.