Australian Bushfire relief: Grants, concessions and tax

Roelof van der Merwe
29/01/2020

What grants and tax concessions are available for people affected by the bushfires?

There are various grants and tax concessions available for people affected by the devastating bushfires that have impacted communities across Australia this bushfire season. Here is a brief overview of some of the relief measures currently available to individuals and businesses affected by bushfires.

Australia-wide support measures:

Tax Free Disaster recovery allowance

- Support for a maximum of 13 weeks for people who can show they have lost income as a direct result of bushfires.

Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment (AGDRP) to be tax and GST free

- One-off payment for individuals and businesses adversely affected by the bushfires
- Businesses who use their AGDRP funds to purchase items for their business will still be able to deduct and depreciate the items as normal.
- AGDRP will not be taxed but is still required to be disclosed in tax returns.

ATO

- Automatic deferral until 28 May 2020 of any lodgements or payments to the ATO if you are an individual or business in one of the identified impacted postcodes.
- Individuals or businesses affected by the disaster but not within the identified impacted postcodes can phone 1800 806 218 for assistance.
- Businesses who pay their PAYG instalments quarterly can vary their instalments to $0 for the December 2019 quarter and claim a refund for any instalments made in the September 2019 quarter.
- Refunds for any interests and penalties applied to tax debts since the commencement of the bushfires would be made to anyone affected by the bushfires.

Tax Agent Relief

- If a tax practitioner’s business or residential address is listed in the identified impacted postcodes, they will be automatically eligible to lodge their registration renewal at a later time.

ACNC

- The due date for annual information statements for all charities affected by the bushfires is extended until 28 May 2020.

New South Wales specific support measures:

Tax Free lost income payments to volunteer firefighters

- Volunteer firefighters (that are either self-employed or work for small or medium sized businesses) and who have been fighting fires for more than 10 days can apply to receive lost income payments (up to $300 per day and up to a total of up to $6,000 per person).
- Expected to be available before the end of January 2020 and to be tax-free.

Additional concessional measures

- Possibility to apply for a refund of motor vehicle duty paid on a replacement vehicle.
- Wages paid to an employee for bushfire-fighting or emergency services activities are exempt from payroll tax.
- Various extensions to pay outstanding debts and to lodge documents with Revenue NSW are available to impacted individuals and businesses.

Queensland specific support measures:

Lost income payments to Queensland fire and emergency services (QFES) Volunteers

- Volunteer firefighters and state emergency services (SES) workers (that are either self-employed or work for small or medium businesses) and who have been involved in emergency service operations for more than 10 days between 1 July 2019 and 30 June 2020 can apply to receive lost income payments (up to $300 per day after the first 10 days and up to a total of up to $6,000 per person). These payments are to be tax free.

Small Business Recovery Loans

- Disaster assistance has been activated for small businesses under the joint Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA).
- Affected small businesses may also be eligible for certain low interest loans.

Additional concessional measures

- Wages paid to employees who are absent from work and are volunteer firefighters or SES volunteers while they are involved in specified emergency services activities are exempt from payroll tax.

South Australia specific support measures:

Stamp Duty Relief

- A relief of up to $48,830 in conveyance duty on the purchase of replacement properties for bushfire victims.
- A relief of up to $1,940 for a passenger vehicle or $1,470 for a commercial vehicle would be available to victims purchasing a replacement motor vehicle valued below $50,000.

Land tax relief

- Land tax assessments to be waived for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 years on properties destroyed or substantially damaged by bushfires. Properties affected but not substantially damaged may receive relief on 2020-21 land tax liability on a case by case basis.

State Fees Relief

- Administration fees for replacement drivers’ licences, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates (damaged or destroyed as a result of bushfires) will be waived.
- Owners of destroyed motor vehicles can apply for a refund on their unexpired registration.

Volunteer Firefighters

- Volunteer firefighters or SES volunteers (that are either self-employed or work for small or medium sized businesses) can apply to receive lost income payments (up to $300 per day and up to a total of up to $6,000 per person). These payments would be tax free.

Tasmania specific support measures:

Volunteer Firefighters

- Volunteer firefighters (that are either self-employed or work for small or medium sized businesses) and who have been fighting fires for more than 10 days can apply to receive lost income payments (up to $300 per day after the first 10 days and up to a total of $6,000 per person). These payments would be tax free.

Break O’Day Grant

- Affected residents of Break O’Day have access to grants of up to $1,000 per family ($250 per adult and $125 per child).

Victoria specific support measures:

Land tax relief

- Land tax assessments to be waived for 2020 on properties destroyed or substantially damaged by bushfires as well as on properties being used to provide free accommodation for people affected by bushfires.

Stamp duty relief

- $55,000 stamp duty relief if people affected by bushfires buy a home elsewhere (i.e. if they don’t want to rebuild their home).
- $2,100 ex-gratia relief from motor vehicle duty on up to two replacement vehicles (if original vehicle was destroyed by the bushfires).

Volunteer Firefighters

- Payments to employees who are absent from work to volunteer as Firefighters are exempt from payroll tax in accordance with State legislation (Payroll Tax Act 2007). The exemptions apply to employers of Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers. The exemption does not apply in situations where the employee is involved in these activities while on official leave, such as annual leave or long service leave.
- Volunteer firefighters (that are either self-employed or work for small or medium sized businesses) and who have been fighting fires for more than 10 days can apply to receive lost income payments (up to $300 per day after the first 10 days and up to a total of $6,000 per person). These payments would be tax free.

Are all donations towards the bushfire cause tax deductible?

We have seen many kinds of fundraisers for the bushfire disaster.
Australian tax resident donors can only claim tax deductions for cash donations of $2 or more that are made to organisations that have been endorsed by the ATO as deductible gift recipients (DGRs).
Non-residents of Australia will only qualify for deductions if the laws of their country allow such deductions.