A "significant" reporting error has seen the cost of the Morrison government's $130 billion JobKeeper scheme revised down to $70 billion, after some businesses filled out the application form incorrectly.
The Treasury department and the Australian Taxation Office advised government late on Thursday that about 1000 businesses had made an error when filling out the self-assessment enrolment form, when reporting the number of employees they expected to receive the benefit.
More than 500 businesses with one eligible employee instead wrote 1500 - a reference to the $1500 payment they expected to receive under the wage subsidy scheme.
The error means the number of likely recipients has been revised down from 6.5 million to 3.5 million.
The estimated cost of the scheme has been revised down to $70 billion, however it is a demand-driven program.
"This reporting error has come to light as the ATO and Treasury have been analysing the amounts being paid out under the scheme, reconciling these with the estimates provided by enrolled businesses of the likely number of eligible employees," Treasury said in a statement.
"It was not picked up by the ATO earlier as their primary focus in the first fortnight of JobKeeper payments was on ensuring that JobKeeper payments were paid promptly to those eligible for them, and not paid to those who were ineligible.
"These initial estimates from businesses of employees covered are not linked to payments, and so were not as carefully analysed."
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There are 910,055 businesses that have applied for JobKeeper so far, with 759,654 claims processed.
About $8.7 billion had been paid so far to 2.9 million employees.
About six million Australians were expected to be enrolled in the scheme when it was announced in March.
Treasury said the lower-than-expected demand was a result of the social distancing restrictions being lifted earlier than expected.
"This has been reflected in some improvement to the outlook for the economy since the original estimate was developed as a consequence of these and other factors," the department said.
"The variation in estimates also reflects the inherent uncertainty associated with estimating the take-up of a demand driven program in the current circumstances."
Labor MPs and unions have renewed calls for government to use the savings to extend the scheme to workers previously deemed ineligible.
We have millions of workers who were left out of #JobKeeper on the premise that there wasn't enough money. Now we know that it's been underspent by $60 billion. There is no excuse - @JoshFrydenberg can fix this with a stroke of his pen. Expand JobKeeper now #NoWorkerLeftBehindhttps://t.co/FAh0wzaiRd— Australian Unions (@unionsaustralia) May 22, 2020
Greens leader Adam Bandt simply said: "Wow." The party has been pushing for the government to extend JobKeeper to all workers who needed it and retain the JobSeeker coronavirus supplement.
Get Up's national director Paul Oosting said the scheme should be expanded to all the casuals and temporary visaholders who had been locked out.
"This has been one of the government's biggest policy failures in this pandemic, now they have the opportunity to step up and do the right thing," Mr Oosting said.
"If Scott Morrison doesn't use this opportunity to extend JobKeeper to casual workers and people on temporary visas then he cannot say it's because of the cost."
More to come
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The story 'Reporting error' sees JobKeeper package revised down $60 billion first appeared on Farm Online.