We will hand over your data, Airbnb warns hosts

Airbnb has told hosts it must hand over their personal financial data as part of a nationwide tax crackdown.

The short-stay giant sent an email to some 190,000 members around the country on Thursday to inform them it would now be “legally required to share certain information with governmental authorities”.

“Airbnb is under legal notice by the Australian Taxation Office to share information concerning your hosting activity for the period from 1 January to 30 June, 2019,” the email said.

The crackdown was announced in January as part of a drive to ensure property owners who are either ignorant of their obligations or deliberately avoiding liabilities pay their fair share of tax.

The ATO notice requires Airbnb to share booking data for financial years from 2016-17 onwards, a demand the home-share giant has told hosts it will comply with.

The move follows years of advocacy from industry bodies and affects all major share economy players including Uber, Airbnb, Airtasker and delivery services such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats.

 “We believe some people using sharing-economy platforms are failing to report their income, either on purpose or because they assume their level of activity constitutes a hobby and doesn’t require reporting,” the ATO said when announcing the measures.

“We also seek to identify taxpayers who use sharing-economy rental platforms as a way to disguise their property as being genuinely available for rent by listing the property but not responding to enquiries.”

The move has been welcomed by the industry, Tourism Accommodation Australia CEO Michael Johnson saying the development follows years of advocacy efforts by the TAA and the Australian Hotels Association to shine a light on what has “notoriously been a grey area of the economy”.

“The ATO program requires sharing economy rental platforms to share data such as name, address and telephone number, banking details, payment methods, gross rental income, nights booked and comprehensive property activities,” he said.

“This will significantly improve transparency and increase equity between traditional tax paying accommodation providers and the largely unregulated short stay accommodation sector.

“This is an important development that will result in greater accountability of online accommodation platforms and short stay accommodation providers.

“As the unregulated accommodation sector has grown, traditional accommodation providers have suffered as a result of unequitable taxation arrangements whilst taxpayers have missed out on a substantial revenue stream.”

Airbnb spokesperson Brent Thomas said the platform was committed to making it as easy as possible for hosts to pay their taxes and for the ATO to collect what is owed.

“As current rules were written before the sharing economy existed, developing a holistic, light-touch, mandatory data-sharing framework is critical for everyone in the sharing economy,” he said.

“We also remain supportive of implementing a data-sharing framework that not only takes data privacy laws into account but makes it easier and cheaper for Australians to pay their taxes across all sharing-economy platforms.”

He added: “We shouldn’t be making it harder for people to supplement their incomes, combat cost of living and help generate jobs.”

Dean Long, chief executive of the Accommodation Association of Australia, said the organisation would continue to work with state and federal governments to create “greater transparency of the unregulated sector and a fair playing field for us to compete and employee Australians”.

“We are already seeing through our market performance data, that the economic softening that is occurring throughout the economy is having a direct impact on the prices we are able to charge and subsequently impacts the tens of thousands of people we employee,” he said.

“With the ATO forcing the sharing of data held by Airbnb it will ensure those people, that have not been paying tax for the last ten years on this income, are having the spotlight turned on them.”

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