‘Utter heartbreak’: JobKeeper frustrations flare
When 2020 clicked around John and Anne* were operating a much-loved cafe, a small restaurant and an Airbnb in a small north Brisbane community.
Fast-forward four months and the businesses they built, the staff they cherish are broken.
"Our little dream in a bubble just popped," Anne said.
Without any revenue stream and a barrage of issues with the Federal Government's JobKeeper Payment, their staff are still waiting to be paid, the doors to their beloved cafe and restaurant are closed and they are on the brink of despair, the mental anguish taking its toll.
"Our staff are telling us their banks are calling them, the phone companies are calling them, the electricity companies are calling, and we are trying to help them because they can't pay their bills," John says. "But every time we think we are getting close to helping them we hit another wall."
In his voice is anger and helplessness fuelled by his frustration with JobKeeper.
The Federal Government announced a $130 billion JobKeeper payment to support businesses affected by the coronavirus.
But John says his is just another voice in a growing wave of complaints about the new system.
"They've rushed this through and it has more holes in it than a colander," he said.
"There's just no safety nets."
Part of his anger is because he doesn't need a bank loan, which he says the Federal Government's JobKeeper Payment is imposing on him.
"You have to go to the bank for a loan. And you still have to meet all the standard lending requirements. We don't need a loan all we need is an overdraft," he said.
"They've put the banks in the middle and we just don't need that. The ATO trusts us with money all the time, why not now?"
"They've put in an additional layer (the banks) and if they took that away all the pain would disappear. There is no benefit but to give the banks a huge ability to lend. I don't need a loan but they won't give me an overdraft."
For Anne, who says she spent hours and hours on the phone to various Government departments, JobKeeper is another kick in the teeth.
She said she thought she had everything sorted for her staff but incorrect advice meant they had to go back to the drawing board and start again.
"This is heartbreaking," she said.
"Everyone is scrambling to get the JobKeeper set up and if you don't do it, if you can't get it approved then your staff won't have anything."
The Australian Taxation Office announced last Friday an extension to the period to enrol for the initial JobKeeper periods from 30 April until 31 May, 2020.
The ATO said businesses could still claim "for the fortnights in April and May provided you meet all the eligibility requirements for each of those fortnights".
"This includes having paid your employees by the appropriate date each fortnight," the ATO said.
John said the whole process felt like one nightmare after the other.
"We're now contemplating whether we just say fuck it. It's just too hard," John said.
"But then there would be seven people out of work."
His anger boils over.
"Despite the rhetoric from the Federal Government they have made it almost impossible to access this help," he said.
"Business loan applications take 7-10 days. We need to get all our financials and tax returns ready for the application. And we're a legitimate business looking for help. God help business that is cash in hand."
The couple, who initially faced the closures with the hope of one day reopening and in the meantime supporting their close-knit staff, said they are reaching breaking point.
"We keep telling our staff we are doing our best but we just keep hitting roadblocks," Anne said.
"But they can't pay their bills and they're waiting for us."
"The utter heartbreak of coping with this is …. it's everywhere."
"And we're not doing so well. The financial responsibilities we have, personal and business remain without a revenue stream and it makes for sleepless nights."
She said trying to understand how to put measures in place was the first thing the couple had done.
"But it's like wading through treacle while carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders," she said.
"We realise that so many are in the same position and hope that we and others can cope with the mental anguish."
Longman Federal LNP MP Terry Young said he was "very aware of the challenges facing small businesses throughout the electorate of Longman due to COVID-19".
"Each of these businesses have their own unique challenges," Mr Young said.
"I have received plenty of feedback from local businesses in regards to the issues they were having obtaining bank finance. I, along with other Members of parliament around the country, spoke to the Treasurer … about this," Mr Young said.
"To his credit, the treasurer called the big four banks …. and as a result, new measures have been implemented by the banks to ensure easier access to the required funds."
Mr Young outlined the JobKeeper Payment was a reimbursement scheme to be paid by the ATO monthly in arrears.
"This is an important integrity measure. Employers will be reimbursed by the ATO from the first week of May. This gives a short, but important, period for the ATO to establish the appropriate systems, and for employers to complete their applications."
"Payment in arrears facilitates the ATO conducting compliance and audit activities to ensure the JobKeeper Payment is passed on to employees, including by using existing reporting such as Single Touch Payroll."
*John and Anne are not their real names.
Originally published as 'Utter heartbreak': JobKeeper frustrations flare