Payroll Tax Audits: Navigating the challenges in Australia

In recent years, payroll tax audits have emerged as a central focus for State Revenue Offices across Australia, with a particular emphasis on scrutinizing applications and engagements involving contractors. This heightened examination challenges the traditional distinctions between employees and contractors, presenting significant risks for accountants and their clients. As the landscape evolves, it becomes crucial for businesses to understand the major triggers and reasons behind these payroll tax investigations.

Contractors in the Crosshairs

One of the primary reasons for the surge in payroll tax investigations is the engagement of contractors. State Revenue Offices, including those in Queensland, NSW, and South Australia, are closely examining the classification of individuals as contractors to ensure compliance with payroll tax regulations. Recent court decisions have expanded the interpretation of payroll tax provisions, with amounts paid to contractors increasingly being reclassified as "wages" for payroll tax purposes. This trend poses a growing concern for businesses across various sectors, including medical, finance, technology, and construction.

Grouping Employer Entities

State Revenue Offices are also intensifying efforts to scrutinize the grouping of employer entities. The practice of grouping entities is under the microscope as authorities aim to prevent any potential manipulation of structures to evade payroll tax obligations. This crackdown on entity grouping adds another layer of complexity for accountants and their clients, as it requires a careful examination of the organizational structure to ensure compliance with payroll tax regulations.

Data Sharing with Government Authorities

The increased sharing of data among various government authorities, including the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), icare, and WorkSafe, has contributed to the rise in payroll tax audits. This data-sharing ecosystem makes errors and discrepancies highly visible, prompting state revenue authorities to take swift action. Accountants are strongly advised to review payroll tax classifications and positions, especially concerning contractor engagements, to avoid potential pitfalls during audits.

Non-Registration of Employers

Non-registration of employers who surpass the payroll tax registration threshold is a red flag for state revenue authorities. The introduction of Single Touch Payroll (STP) has made it easier for authorities to identify businesses that should be registered for payroll tax but are not. This emphasizes the importance of timely and accurate registration, as well as compliance with payroll tax regulations.

Employees Registered in Different States

The practice of registering employees in different states than their actual residence has also become a focal point for payroll tax investigations. State Revenue Offices are closely monitoring such cases to ensure that businesses accurately report and pay payroll tax in the jurisdictions where their employees are located.

Payroll Audit Risk Due to Data Matching

The use of data matching and sharing by state revenue authorities, including the ATO, icare, and WorkSafe, has significantly increased the visibility of errors and discrepancies. Accountants are urged to conduct thorough reviews of payroll tax classifications and positions, especially in contractor engagements, to mitigate the risk of audits triggered by data-matching initiatives.


As payroll tax audits become the largest trigger for tax investigations across Australia, businesses and accountants must remain vigilant and proactive in navigating the evolving regulatory landscape. The risks associated with contractor engagements, entity grouping, data sharing, non-registration, and jurisdictional discrepancies underscore the need for a comprehensive understanding of payroll tax regulations.

To protect clients from the ever-growing risk of a payroll tax audit, accountants should consider solutions like AuditCover, ensuring not only compliance but also providing financial protection for their clients in the face of an audit.

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