‘Ghost’ employees among JobKeeper recipients: ATO probe

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) investigated employers who allegedly claimed wage subsidy for “ghost” employees in an attempt to rort the $130bn JobKeeper scheme.

Employers in question were said to have included the names of dead people into their payroll – registering the deceased as applicants for the $1,500 fortnightly wage support.

In other cases, the names of prisoners, people living overseas, and the spouses of business owners were allegedly used to take advantage of the programme, official documents from the ATO showed.

By the end of September 2020, the ATO had detected nearly 6,000 cases of “inflated employees” receiving JobKeeper payments. The office discovered a third of these cases were ineligible, but did not specify the number of employers who allegedly created fictitious profiles.

Despite these findings, a greater portion of the 95,000 cases subjected to compliance reviews followed the rules. “The ATO knows the vast majority of Australians are honest, and we have uncovered very few attempts to deliberately cheat the system,” an ATO representative said.

“Our sophisticated compliance measures quickly identify potential rorts and payments are automatically stopped for further verification.”

The spokesperson also said the ATO has been monitoring “every payment, every day, every month,” and that the office would continue to do so until the scheme ends in March.

Meanwhile, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg expressed confidence in the ATO’s monitoring and called the JobKeeper scheme a “remarkable” programme that has “supported 3.6 million Australian workers and around one million Australian businesses”.

However, there will be penalties for employers who attempt to defraud the system. “Whilst we recognise most businesses and employees are doing the right thing, there are a range of penalties available to the ATO, consistent with other tax laws they administer,” Frydenberg said.

The investigation became public knowledge after the ATO released official documents obtained through a freedom of information process.

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