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Red tape nightmare: JobSaver changes stun struggling businesses

A Service NSW spokeswoman said businesses would be given a grace period of the first fortnight to reaffirm eligibility.

“From 10 September 2021, eligible businesses and not-for-profit organisations will need to … reaffirm they continue to experience at least the minimum decline in turnover and have maintained their employee headcount, to continue receiving fortnightly JobSaver payments,” she said. “This has come into effect as payments have been recently extended.”

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The federal government’s multibillion-dollar JobKeeper scheme, a wage subsidy introduced at the height of the pandemic last year, has been subject to ongoing criticisms after businesses who accepted the support reported major profits and paid bonuses and shareholder dividends.

A director with accountants Willett Johnston and Partners, Ben Johnston, said the decision appeared to be a knee-jerk reaction to prevent a repeat of problems associated with JobKeeper.

“I think this decision will put pressure on jobs over the next two months due to this uncertainty around ongoing eligibility,” he said.

Streamline Management director and senior bookkeeper Nicole Lynch said the new requirement was “completely unreasonable” and had put a huge workload on accountants and bookkeepers without any notice.

“JobKeeper last year was quarterly testing. Fortnightly is beyond ridiculous,” she said.

“It was a Friday night with no notice, and it wasn’t part of the rules when anyone applied.”

Council of Small Business Organisations Australia chief executive Alexi Boyd acknowledged the state government had “done a lot” to support struggling businesses but was disappointed peak bodies were not made aware of the change.

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“Small businesses aren’t plugged into financial data, they need to look it up, take time to assess and speak to financial advisers who are already stretched,” Ms Boyd said. “If you think about the mental health condition of small business owners at the moment we’re talking about desperation and any change like this can really affect them and push them to the edge.”

NSW Opposition shadow treasurer Daniel Mookhey and Labor’s small business spokesman Stephen Kamper on Sunday wrote to Dominic Perrottet calling on the government to revisit the checks on turnover and headcount.

They said while tapering JobSaver was an “immense task”, it was premature to signal its end with so many businesses still closed, especially those in west and south-west Sydney.

“We fear that this new requirement will ensnare small businesses in a web of red-tape,” they said.

A spokesperson for NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said: “There will be some leeway and a grace period granted, and we won’t be stopping payments while businesses get used to the process.

“As areas of NSW progressively come out of lockdown, and restrictions ease, more businesses will be able to return to normal operations. During this time we want to continue to support those that need help. There are no changes to the eligibility criteria for JobSaver beyond asking businesses to begin confirming they still require support.

“We will also continue to consult with businesses on any concerns they have about this change.”

Chisholm Business Services managing director Myreeann Tchopourian has several clients affected by the change.

“It caused an incredible amount of stress,” Ms Tchopourian said.

While she didn’t think it was unreasonable to ask small and medium businesses to confirm they were eligible, she said not stipulating this ahead of time meant businesses were not prepared.

“The initial information we were given and the criteria the government provided everybody meant we didn’t have to re-assess the client,” Ms Tchopourian said.

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