JobKeeper changes ahead: Bookkeepers in the eye of the COVID-19 storm

“We’re breathing at the moment,” said Matthew Addison, Executive Chairman of the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB) of the lull before the next tax policy storm.

Despite the frenzy of activity of his more than 4,500 members at the time of our interview, mid-way between the end of the financial year and the tabling of the mini-Budget and JobKeeper review on 23 July, the tasks were clear. Reconciling, verifying and submitting final payrolls for 30 June in their principal role as BAS agents.

“But this is a process we’re used to,” Addison explains. And with the introduction of the Single Touch Payroll, this job has become a little easier.

What bookkeepers and the rest of the world were not used to and have had to adjust to is the impact of COVID-19.

‘Overnight’ change for bookkeepers

Prior to the pandemic, the focus of their work has traditionally been on working with their business clients on digital solutions to recordkeeping and invoicing, as well as meeting their GST, payroll and Fair Work compliance obligations and processing BAS statements.

The government stimulus measures introduced in March to save jobs and the economy changed all that. Almost overnight.

“We had three years to implement the GST, and STP, but we suddenly had to implement JobKeeper in 30 days,” recalls Addison.

“Our team of 20 was running at 400% capacity to support our members with upskilling over the last three months to learn to set up new systems and processes.”

But bookkeepers have also become the intermediary between government and business. They had to explain the new stimulus measures to their clients and whether or not they were eligible, then follow up with the ATO if JobKeeper eligibility or the cash flow boost had not been received. All on top of their regular workload.

One advantage for ICB members is that in most cases, business continuity was not heavily affected by COVID with around 70% of bookkeepers working from home, and most operating on a cloud-based system enabling remote access for their business.

JobKeeper review ahead

As the JobKeeper review approaches on 23 July, so does the prospect of new or adapted guidelines or programs to be introduced once this lifeline is due to come to an end in September.

“We can see September, but not sure what happens after that,” reflects Addison.

This uncertainty, combined with the extra workload, have contributed to stress and anxiety levels that have shot up among ICB members as some of the clients they have worked with so closely are faced with closing their doors, with no income.

Roadmap out of COVID-19

“Some businesses will bounce back and others will struggle, and there is a growing discussion about how to help businesses exit with integrity,” explains Addison, sees his members working with owners to rebuild their business or to review their capacity to rebuild.

Looking ahead to a post-COVID environment for ICB members will create challenges to be overcome. Even if businesses do reopen, Addison predicts that their customers’ behaviour and expectations will have changed. So businesses will need to adapt, to deliver their product or services slightly differently, predicts Addison.

 “I don’t see any reduction in our work. There will be more businesses connect with our members as more businesses seek accredited professional help to help them work through the roadmap out of COVID-19 and this reduced economic activity.

“What is that roadmap? It’s about how we rebuild our turnover. How do we rebuild a customer base? What are the right premises to be in? What is the right workforce to have? How do we manage changes in our workforce?”

Although this is a time of unprecedented change, Addison is sanguine. “I’m not seeing a wholescale revolution.”

Virginia Ginnane is an author, lawyer and writer, working for more than 20 years for international publishers in the UK, US and Australia. Her articles have appeared in The Lawyer, Legal Week, Legal Business, The Guardian, The Sydney Morning Herald and Hello! magazine among many other publications. She was London correspondent for Time Inc’s Who Weekly and Life magazine, and also feature writer at Australian Associated Press in Sydney. Virginia has worked at Thomson Reuters as Commissioning Editor, Tax Writer and is currently Marketing Content Specialist in Tax & Accounting.

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