Do you have any suggestions
for Incorporator.com.au?
Thank you for your feedback

How do I apply for my company's ABN now that I have the company's ACN?
(By Brendan Muller, Operations Manager of Incorporator.com.au and TradingAs.com.au, October 2014)

When a new Australian company is registered (for most people it’s almost always a Pty Ltd), it is automatically awarded a 9 digit Australian Company (ACN) by ASIC (Australian Securities & Investments Commission).

The question then becomes what are the other ‘numbers’ that the company may need to have and how do you get them?

In most cases, it’s a matter of procuring 3 further ‘numbers’ for the newly registered company.

These are the ABN (Australian Business Number), TFN (Tax File Number) and GST (Goods and Services Tax) registration.

An important thing to be clear about right off is that these three numbers are not awarded by ASIC which awarded the 9 digit ACN but by the Australian Taxation Office - usually referred to as the ATO.

We here at Incorporator have compiled some guidance, comments, tips and other general information about how to go about getting them from the ATO.

At this point, it’s very important to fully understand that the new company cannot use any other existing ABN or existing TFN including those that pertaining to the new company’s own directors and shareholders.

This is because the company is a new, separate and distinct legal entity - separate and distinct from any of its shareholders and directors, and separate and distinct from any previously existing businesses having been carried on by them - even if carried on under the 'same' business/trading name as the new company is now called.

Accordingly, any ABN or TFN the new company gets will be new, separate and distinct.

The Australian government provides a free, online application process for applying for the new company's ABN, TFN and GST registration etc. via a link to a website run by the Australian Taxation Office, though they call this part of their operations the Australian Business Register (ABR).

Its address is www.abr.gov.au.

The online ABN/TFN/GST registration application process (on the ABR website - look for ‘Apply for an ABN’ on the left hand side of the page) asks quite a lot of questions and we here at Incorporator recommend that you set aside at least 40 minutes for answering them.

Another most important thing is to bear in mind that, in a sense, it is the new company that is being ‘interviewed’ so be sure (where appropriate) to put yourself in the mind of the new company when answering the questions. In other words, it’s your company answering the questions via you, its mouthpiece.

For example, the type of ‘entity’ that will be undergoing this application process (in the case of the vast majority of Incorporator's customers) will be a private Australian company (a Pty Ltd) and one of the very first questions asked is ‘Does the applicant currently have an Australian Business Number (ABN) or previously had an ABN?’

The natural reaction of the human person doing the data inputting is to think that the website asking the questions is asking it of him/her personally but it’s not. Maybe he/she personally does have an ABN, often as a sole trader or a partnership. But that’s irrelevant to this question. It’s really asking the company. So the answer must be ‘no’. The company is brand new and hasn’t yet ‘got’ anything other than an ACN.

Get the idea?

Here’s another good tip to keep things moving along.

The online ABN/TFN/GST application process asks a number of questions to which it gives you the option of answering or not. However, Incorporator recommends that you go ahead and answer all such questions anyway, because by doing so it increases the chance that you will get the company’s ABN straight away, automatically, online rather than after a delay of up to 28 days. For example, the online application process asks for the personal TFN/s of the company's director/s, and Incorporator therefore recommends that you do supply the TFN/s (and even though TFNs are somewhat secret and sensitive, all you are doing here is supplying them back to the ATO which issued them in the first place, so this is of no concern).

In awarding an ABN to the new company, 2 digits will simply be added to the front of the company’s 9 digit ACN, thereby resulting in an 11 digit ABN (for example, if the company’s 9 digit ACN were to look like this 562 332 178 its 11 digit ABN might look like this 92 562 332 178).

ABNs are always 11 digits long.

The awarded Tax File Number (TFN) is usually 9 digits long (sometimes 8) but visually will bear no relation to the ABN though, of course, they will be connected behind the scenes at the ATO.

And while we’re on the subject, a TFN is very sensitive (unlike an ACN or ABN which is freely available in the public domain) so be very careful about who (other than the ATO/ABR) gets to know about a TFN.

In Incorporator's experience, the online ABN/TFN/GST registration process results either in the ABN being awarded automatically (right there and then by the ATO computer at the end of the online application process - which is rather convenient) or in a message simply acknowledging receipt of the application and indicating that these numbers could take up to 28 days to be awarded (obviously not so convenient).

And in Incorporator's experience, the ABN is more likely to be issued automatically at the end of the application process (by the ATO computer without manual intervention - as opposed to being referred to a more manual process taking up to 28 days) if you don’t make any mistakes in the answers you that you give.

Accordingly, Incorporator recommends that you answer the questions very carefully, that you don't guess any answers, that you be very careful not to make any spelling or typing errors in your answers, that you be very careful to supply correct addresses, with correct spelling and correctly spelled street and suburb names, and correctly matching postcodes etc., and that you use and read the ABR website's optional pop-up guidance about things that you unsure of.

If you are still unsure of anything consider phoning the ATO ABR’s helpline number -13 28 66.