Drought-affected Tamworth businesses will have to wait longer to access the Jobkeeper support scheme because they were already suffering before the COVID-19 crisis, the business chamber fears.
The Commonwealth Jobkeeper scheme, a subsidy granted to businesses to keep their staff on, is offered to employers who have lost at least 30 per cent of their business as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
But some local businesses say their turnover was already well below that before the crisis. And, because the scheme compares this year with last year, they may be technically ineligible for help.
Local MP Barnaby Joyce announced on Thursday the ATO will offer common sense case-by-case exemptions to the rules.
Tamworth Business Chamber President Jye Segboer said they are advising businesses to quote the ATO the last few years of turnover to prove COVID-19 has hurt business.
But he said it will add further delay for businesses struggling with years of drought, and now months of the virus.
"I think it's just going to be a case for individual businesses, frustrating as it is, to apply through the ATO and state their case," he said.
"I certainly believe it probably would cause delays. The ATO is reporting they've had over 750,000 businesses register for the JobKeeper program so it is going to largely cause delays.
"Anybody who does have a grievance to take up with the Tax Commissioner in terms of the proof of their eligibility it's probably going to take longer for that answer to come out.
"It's certainly will create uncertainty in the immediate future."
Mr Segboer estimates his own business, the CH Hotel, has lost about 95 per cent of its turnover due to COVID-19. He has applied for JobKeeper to keep staff on.
But businesses won't receive any money through the program until May.
"People have to basically float this payment through until May before they'll see any money back from the ATO," he said.
"That's a difficult situation to put a lot of people in, especially if they can't trade and their doors are closed.
"It's basically putting the onus back on the employer to become like Centrelink and facilitate a payment system with their employees."
He said he will have to borrow to pay the four-week float - and pay the interest.
Each business receives $1500 per fortnight per employee under the $130 billion JobKeeper scheme.
Businesses which earn over $1 billion a year will have to prove they lost at least half their turnover in the last month. Any business forced to close will be automatically eligible, without proof.