• ABN frequently asked questions

    Following are Australian business number (ABN) frequently asked questions for people and businesses who need this information.

    Do I need an ABN?

    If an employer tells you to apply for an ABN, it is highly likely you are not entitled to an ABN.

    You need an Australian business number (ABN) to be registered for GST. There are other reasons why you may wish to have an ABN but not everyone is entitled to one.

    You're entitled to an ABN if you're either:

    For example, if you want to carry out work as a sole trader with an ABN, typically you'll need to be:

    • genuinely running your own business
    • paying your own income tax and GST directly to the ATO
    • sourcing your own clients by, for example, advertising your services
    • able to delegate work to others if you choose without approval from an ‘employer’
    • quoting for work, including setting or negotiating your own prices
    • invoicing for work
    • maintaining a business bank account separate from your personal account
    • paying for your own business insurance such as public liability.

    Apprentices, trade assistants, labourers and other employees are not entitled to an ABN.

    If you operate a business and engage a worker, you're responsible for determining whether a worker is an employee or contractor. Employers that engage workers incorrectly under an ABN can be penalised by the ATO, the Fair Work Ombudsman and state and territory revenue offices.

    My employer told me to get an ABN?

    If someone tells you to apply for an ABN, it is highly likely you are not entitled to an ABN. Sometimes existing and potential employees are asked to apply for an ABN in an attempt to treat them as independent contractors.

    Typically workers engaged under an ABN when they should be employees are being underpaid and missing out on superannuation, paid sick leave, and annual leave. They also miss out on the safeguards of the Fair Work Act 2009 such as protection from unfair dismissal.

    To determine whether a worker can be engaged under an ABN you need to look at the whole working relationship.

    For example, if you want to carry out work as a sole trader with an ABN, typically you'll need to be:

    • genuinely running your own business
    • paying your own income tax and GST directly to the ATO
    • sourcing your own clients by, for example, advertising your services
    • able to delegate work to others if you choose without approval from an ‘employer’
    • quoting for work, including setting or negotiating your own prices
    • invoicing for work
    • maintaining a business bank account separate from your personal account
    • paying for your own business insurance such as public liability.

    Employers that engage workers incorrectly under an ABN can be penalised by the ATO, the Fair Work Ombudsman and state and territory revenue offices.

    Even if a worker is incorporated into a company, it does not mean that employers will be protected from penalties for engaging in 'sham contracting'. It is the nature of the whole employment relationship that determines whether the work being done is as an employee or independent contractor.

    The Fair Work OmbudsmanExternal Link website provides you with more information about working arrangements and how they affect you, your entitlements and responsibilities.

    Why have I been selected for an entitlement review?

    When you applied for an ABN you made your own assessment in the application about whether or not you were entitled. But not everyone is entitled to an ABN.

    The Australian Business Register (ABR) undertakes a comprehensive integrity program to keep the register up-to-date. It will identify and cancel ABNs that are issued where there is no entitlement or the business is no longer in operation.

    If you have been selected for an ABN entitlement review it means you are either in an industry with high levels of ABN misuse, or you have triggered other risk factors such as not returning any business income in your income tax returns.

    Where you have been selected for an ABN entitlement review we will ask you to provide evidence that you are running a business or taking real steps to start a business.

    If I had an ABN previously, can I get it back?

    If your ABN has been cancelled, you can reapply for an ABN online. Where the activities of your business have changed, not the structure, you can reactive your previous ABN.

    For example, if you were a sole trader previously, and only the business activity has changed, you will get your previous ABN.

    Where the business entity has changed, for example from a sole trader to a company, you will get a new ABN.

    If your ABN was cancelled as a result of an entitlement review, and it has been less than 60 days, call us on 13 92 26. We will try to resolve the issue if you are not satisfied with the decision. If you are still not satisfied after you call us, you have the right to lodge an objection to our decision.

    How do I update my ABN details?

    The fastest way to update your details is online using an AUSkey or through your myGov Account. All changes made to your ABN online will take effect immediately.

    Alternatively, you can call 13 92 26 from Monday to Friday, 8.00am–6.00pm. We will need to know we are talking to the authorised person before we can update your details. We will ask for details only you or someone authorised would know.

    Have your ABN with you when you call as this will help us to quickly establish your identity. The easiest and fastest way to prove your identity is with your tax file number.

    Other information you can use to prove you identity includes:

    • date of birth
    • phone number
    • address
    • something else you have (for example, the sequence number from your last notice of assessment.

    It is your responsibility to maintain the details of your ABN. You must update your details within 28 days of becoming aware of the changes. If your business is no longer operating, you must cancel your ABN.

    Can I keep my ABN if I'm not trading?

    You should cancel your ABN if your business:

    • has been sold
    • has closed down
    • is no longer operating in Australia or making supplies connected with Australia.

    If you close down and cancel your ABN, but want to restart your business in the future, it’s easy to get your ABN back by applying online.

    What should I do if I apply for an ABN but I'm refused?

    If you are not satisfied with a decision that has been made by the Australian Business Register, call our information line so we can try to resolve the issue. If you are still not satisfied you also have the right to lodge an objection.

    If you have submitted an ABN application online you will receive your ABN online. If your application has been refused, a refusal ID will be displayed. You can call 13 92 26 Monday to Friday 8.00am–6.00pm to discuss the refusal and next steps.

    If you phone us you will be required to prove your identity and provide your refusal ID. The easiest and fastest way to prove your identity is with your tax file number (TFN).

    Other information you can use to prove you identity includes:

    • date of birth
    • phone number
    • address
    • something else you have (for example, the sequence number from your last notice of assessment).

    I applied for an ABN but there was a problem. What should I do?

    You should save your online application and call 13 92 26 Monday to Friday 8.00am–6.00pm for assistance.

    When you save your application for the first time you will receive an application reference number, expiry date and will be asked to set up a password. 

    If you call us, it will be helpful if you can tell us:

    • your application reference number
    • what the issue was
    • the screen that the issue occurred on
    • the date and time it occurred
    • your operating system and browser version.

    You will need to supply the application reference number and password to resume your application. If you lose the application reference number and/or password, it cannot be resupplied. 

    I got an ABN but it isn’t showing in ABN Lookup. What should I do?

    Your ABN should automatically appear on ABN Lookup on the day it becomes active.

    If this does not occur, you can contact ABN LookupExternal Link. They will manually retrieve your ABN details from the Australian Business Register and add it to the Lookup database.

  • Last modified: 29 May 2017QC 1151