The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell has called for an industry-specific R&D Tax Incentive, saying the current system is hampering investment and growth in the sector.

In a submission to the Federal Government’s Financial Technology Inquiry, the Ombudsman described the R&D Tax Incentive as unsuitable for software development in its current form.

“The R&D Tax Incentive eligibility requirements need to be changed so that it is clear and simple to claim tax incentives under the existing scheme,” Ms Carnell says.

“Alternatively a dedicated software development incentive should be created to promote investment and growth in the sector.

“With 80%* of all R&DTI claims made by Australian SMEs, it is clear that many small and family businesses rely on the R&DTI to help fund their research and development.

“About half (48%) of all R&DTI claims come from the software development industry, so a transparent and predictable system is absolutely vital to those businesses.”

The Ombudsman’s recommendations to the government have been echoed by industry peak bodies and private tech sector heavyweights, including Atlassian.

“We welcome submissions supporting my office’s long-held position on this issue, including Atlassian’s reported ‘strong endorsement’ of an interim recommendation to clarify the existing scheme and put a time-limit on any potential clawback action.

“At the end of the day we want small businesses to grow into big businesses such as Atlassian and a fit-for-purpose R&DTI scheme is a key support mechanism.

“Our R&DTI report, released in December 2019, found many small and family businesses were subjected to examination and audit several years after the R&D was undertaken and the R&DTI refund had been spent.

“Often these affected businesses were required by the ATO to repay the R&DTI in full, with a severe penalty applied.

“This has had a devastating impact on the businesses involved, with some discontinuing or scaling down their R&D efforts in Australia and reducing their R&D staff.

“Ultimately for SMEs to continue to invest in innovation and growth, it is critical they are supported in their R&D endeavours.”