The ATO has advised that over the coming months it will be increasing its focus on the bulk Australian Business Number (ABN) cancellation program, to continue "to ensure the integrity of the Australian Business Register". 

The ATO has refined its models to help it identify businesses that are no longer active or whose owners have forgotten to cancel their ABN when they ceased business. Generally, an ABN may be cancelled if:

  • the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) advises that a company is deregistered;
  • the taxpayer advises that they have stopped business in their latest income tax return;
  • the business hasn't reported business income or doesn't keep its lodgements up to date; and/or
  • the taxpayer lodges a final tax return.

As part of the program, ABN holders or those applying for an ABN in certain industries may be contacted and asked to provide evidence to confirm that they're setting up or operating a business. Evidence may include activities such as:

  • advertising, setting up a social media account or a website for the business;
  • buying business cards or stationery for the business;
  • obtaining business licences or insurance to operate (eg public liability and professional indemnity);
  • leasing or buying premises, equipment or stock for the business;
  • issuing quotes or bidding for work;
  • consulting with financial, business or tax advisers;
  • applying for finance; and
  • buying a business.

If an ABN is cancelled and the taxpayer is still running a business, or an ABN application is refused, they can object to the decision within 60 days.

Additionally, if an ABN is cancelled and the taxpayer later decides they need it, they can reapply online and will get the same ABN if the business structure has stayed the same. A taxpayer who starts a different business will need to apply online for a new ABN.

Source: www.ato.gov.au/Tax-professionals/Newsroom/Your-practice/Bulk-ABN-cancellations/; https://abr.gov.au/About-us/Our-work/ABR-integrity/.