ATO crackdown will affect you all, Airbnb warns its members

Airbnb has warned its hosts the Australian Taxation Office will seize the personal financial data of hundreds of thousands of sharing-economy accommodation providers as part of a crackdown on tax avoidance in the “largely unregulated” industry.

The short-term accommo­dation juggernaut sent an email to its hosts around the country on Thursday to inform them the corporation would now be “legally required to share certain information with governmental authorities” in line with an ATO “data matching program”.

“Airbnb is under legal notice by the Australian Taxation Office to share information concerning your hosting activity for the period from 1 January to 30 June, 2019,” the email said.

The scope of the crackdown will include online banking, payment, booking date, gross income, name, address and telephone information between the financial years 2016-17 and 2019-20.

“We believe some people using sharing-economy platforms are failing to report their income, ­either on purpose or because they assume their level of activity constitutes a hobby and doesn’t require reporting,” the ATO said when announcing the measures.

“We also seek to identify taxpayers who use sharing-economy rental platforms as a way to disguise their property as being genuinely available for rent by listing the property but not responding to enquiries.”

While the ATO announced the program in August last year, Thursday’s email from Airbnb is a major acknowledgment to its hosts that their data would be handed over.

The Australian understands Airbnb made a submission to Treasury after the measures were announced in support of the ­program, but stressed privacy ­concerns.

Responding to the impact of the ATO measures, Airbnb spokesman Brent Thomas said the corporation was “committed to making it as easy as possible for our hosts to pay their taxes, along with making it easier for the ATO to do their job … As it stands, our challenging and difficult-to-­navigate tax system can act as a barrier to ordinary Australians using their homes to supplement their income, which can in turn generate additional tax revenue that can be spent on roads, schools and hospitals.

“As current rules were written before the sharing economy existed, developing a holistic, light-touch, mandatory data-sharing framework is critical for everyone in the sharing economy. We also remain supportive of implementing a data-sharing framework that not only takes data privacy laws into account but makes it easier and cheaper for Australians to pay their taxes across all sharing-economy platforms.

“We shouldn’t be making it harder for people to supplement their incomes, combat cost of living and help generate jobs.”

Michael Johnson, chief executive of Tourism Accommodation Australia, said the data matching would “shine a light on what has notoriously been a grey area of the economy … This will significantly improve transparency and increase equity between traditional taxpaying accommodation providers and the largely unregulated short-stay sector.”

Mr Johnson also said the ATO’s action was a result of “years of advocacy efforts” from his group and the Australian Hotels Association.