The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has issued a ruling that clarifies the circumstances in which a deduction for bad debts is allowable.
To obtain a bad debt deduction under section 63 of the Act, a debt must exist before it can be written off as bad. A debt exists for the purposes of section 63 where a taxpayer is entitled to receive a sum of money from another either at law or in equity.
The question of whether a debt is bad is a matter of judgment having regard to all the relevant facts. Generally, provided a bona fide commercial decision is taken by a taxpayer as to the likelihood of non-recovery of a debt, it will be accepted that the debt is bad for section 63 purposes. The debt, however, must not be merely doubtful.
Where a trustee in bankruptcy, receiver or liquidator advises a creditor of the amount expected to be paid in respect of a debt, the remainder of the debt (i.e. the extent to which the amount likely to be received is less than the debt) is accepted as bad when the advice is given.
The bad debt has to be written off in the year of income before a bad debt deduction is allowable under section 63. The writing-off of a bad debt does not necessarily require highly technical accounting entries. It is sufficient that some form of written record is kept to evidence the decision of the taxpayer to write off the debt from the accounts.
The debt must have been brought to account as assessable income in any year or, in the case of a money lender, the debt must be in respect of money lent in the ordinary course of the business of lending of money by a taxpayer who carries on that business.