The COVID-19 wage subsidy application caveat that's got one business advisor outraged

A business advisor is outraged the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) allows roughly 48 hours for companies to submit actual revenue figures in their applications for the wage subsidy.

Meanwhile businesses who provide estimates rather than actual revenue figures have two weeks to apply for the subsidy. MSD says these practices allow them to get money out the door quickly. MSD does not recommend submitting actual figures, and doing so is up to businesses.

That's not good enough for business advisor Geoff Neal, who told Newshub "forcing businesses to use estimates rather than actual figures, actually results in much higher administration costs for both the business and MSD".

"Saying things like 'businesses can apply two weeks before that deadline with estimates' is not acceptable for multiple reasons," Neal says.

"The deadline was eight/nine days in previous lockdowns [and] the complementary Resurgence Support Payment administered by the IRD in parallel doesn't have a deadline."

He says most businesses prefer to submit actual figures rather than estimates because it's "far easier, faster and more accurate to calculate actuals than complex, made-up projections" and it "feels more honest by fellow taxpayers".

"Caiming the wage subsidy in error and then having to refund it back is a massive waste of time, money, and energy for both the business and MSD/the taxpayer. Businesses don't want to be burdens on society."

Jason Dwen, General Manager Centralised Services at MSD, told Newshub predicted revenue loss is a key element to the scheme which allows support to be provided as quickly as possible.

"Applicants can wait to assess actual revenue decline before applying if that is their preferred approach."

The Government has operated two wage subsidies during this Delta outbreak. The first one opened on August 20 and has now closed. Applications for the second one opened on September 3 and will close at 11.59pm on Thursday.

Neal also took issue with the Government's new fortnightly application process for the wage subsidy scheme.

MSD says applicants are required to wait two weeks before a subsequent application so the periods they are applying for don't overlap. It says this could result in double payment for the same period.

But Neal says most businesses are "smart enough to run a business, which includes complicated tax returns, so very few will mistakenly apply for the same revenue period twice" and "software should be able to easily pick up on any application mistakes".

"There are also situations where many businesses didn't know about the 48-hour deadline and rushed to get their application in before midnight on Thursday 2nd," he said.

"Are they supposed to wait two weeks and stay up until midnight on Thursday 16th just before the cut-off? Why would MSD lump unnecessary additional stress on businesses at a time like this?"

MSD said a more "considered process that would allow for applications some time afterwards would slow down payments and complicate administration of the scheme".

Neal says MSD's "focus on their own administration of the scheme and not the needs of businesses and workers, again speaks volumes of their priorities".

National MP Louise Upston.
National MP Louise Upston. Photo credit: Newshub

National MP Louise Upston is also critical of the scheme's operations, after revelations the Work and Income website only published the deadline for the first round of the wage subsidy two and a half days before it closed.

"Many New Zealand businesses and their employees have been left stressed given the uncertainty these bungles have caused," Upston said.

To qualify for the second wage subsidy, businesses need to show a 40 percent decline in revenue over a period of 14 consecutive days between August 31 2021 and September 13, compared to a typical 14 consecutive days of revenue in the six weeks immediately before the move to lockdown on August 17.

As at September 12, there had been 427,388 applications approved for the two wage subsidies. This has supported 982,942 employees and 274,246 businesses. The total amount paid out is $1,792,669,966.00.