Thousands of workers slapped with fines in ATO audit

RULES around claiming work-related expenses will go under the microscope with a Gladstone accounting firm taking on a David versus Goliath battle against the tax office.

After stern warnings in October from the ATO to Curtis Island Bechtel to amend their returns or face fines, the bills have started arriving.

Following an investigation that revealed some workers returns were much higher than others , the tax office has carried out audits and forcibly adjusted returns.

So far, 2000 employees have been audited and issued new tax returns, including penalties for ignoring the ATO's warnings to amend what it says are "incorrect claims".

>> As it unfolded yesterday: Curtis Island worker disputes 'incorrect' claims tax bill

And more audits are underway.

Corporate Accountants, which represents more than 1000 Bechtel employees, is preparing an investigation of its own.

The firm maintains the tax office has got it wrong and is pushing to take the fight to court in what will be a landmark case.

Aerial shot of the LNG proponents on Curtis Island, QGC, APLNG, GLNG. Photo Mike Richards / The Observer
Aerial shot of the LNG proponents on Curtis Island, QGC, APLNG, GLNG. Photo Mike Richards / The Observer Mara Pattison-Sowden

"Incorrect claims" have been made by between 8000 and 10,000 workers over a period of three years.

They were collectively paid between $40 million and $50 million in tax returns - money the tax office says they weren't entitled to.

More than 1600 workers heeded the ATO's warning and amended their own returns to avoid being fined.

Others are holding out in the hope they won't be made to repay the money.

>> NOV. 20 Last chance for Bechtel employees to fix tax

>> OCT. 28 ATO releases details on Curtis Island Bechtel claims

>> OCT. 23 Thousands of Curtis Island workers sweat on giant tax audit

>> SEP. 11 Accountant says tax sheet for Bechtel workers has errors

Workers are staying quiet, but The Observer understands bills issued within the past few months range from $8000 to more than $20,000.

One worker's case is before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and Corporate Accountants says that will go to mediation session next month. If the issue isn't resolved in mediation the case will proceed to court.

A spokesperson for Corporate Accountants said the firm will be arguing that local workers were entitled to claim travel allowances in the 2013-2014 tax year.

That's not based on the value of the cost to catch the ferry, but each worker's time travelling to and from the pick-up point during workdays that exceed the standard eight hour day.

In the meantime the firm is advising clients to accept a payment plan and begin paying the money back.

 



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