Freeloading ‘influencers’ to come under the taxman’s scrutiny

So-called “influencers” must surely be the ultimate millennial “career”: scavenging free meals in exchange for posting their vacuous opinions on social media. But these Instagram grifters may be about to come a cropper. Not only are restaurants fed up with these freeloaders, but the taxman is keeping an eye out for his pound of heirloom, organic flesh. quote.

The Facebook-owned, image-based platform is huge in restaurant land and has spawned thou­sands of influencers whose “business model” is chasing free meals in exchange for social media posts, usually on Instagram, of varying ­return on investment to the ­restaurants.

But a couple of high-profile cases have played out in social and traditional media recently, with restaurateurs telling would-be collaborators exact­ly what they think of the concept of giving away profit for dubious return.

One, in Adelaide, saw prominent chef Duncan Welgemoed engaged in an online spat with a former My Kitchen Rules contestant looking for a freebie that made its way to the front page of Adelaide’s The Advertiser. end quote.

In true millennial fashion, these social media leeches throw a royal tanty if they don’t get what they’ve decided they’re entitled to. Naturally, they try to incite their cronies into yet another social media lynch-mob. quote.

Another in Brisbane this week resulted in a so-called influencer — spurned by a new restaurant — posting fake revenge ­“reviews” at Google Reviews. Unfortunately, many in the hospitality industry feel conflicted by incessant overtures to “collaborate” on social media exchanges for meals, asking themselves: “What happens if we don’t go along with this?”

“I don’t think you really need to respond to them,” said chef Joel Valvasori, who owns Lulu La ­Delizia restaurant in Perth’s ­Subiaco. “We ignore them; they’d just take up too much of our day otherwise.”

He described “influencer” as “a bit of a lazy vocation, trying to make a career out of nothing”, although­ he acknowledged that some businesses felt vulnerable to constant overtures for collaborations. “Personally, I’m very scep­tical about instant celebrity … and I think the whole influencer thing will pass when people cotton on to just how much fluff is out there.” end quote.

The taxman has also taken notice and is pulling out his little clipboard. This is not unsurprising: a few years ago, the taxation authorities in several countries ruled that so-called “virtual currency”, such as “Linden dollars”, used in the virtual world Second Life, are taxable income. quote.

From July, such undeclared Instagram endorsements of rest­aurants, cafes, bars and pubs in return­ ­for freebies might constit­ute a tax problem.

It may be news to many influencers that in-kind receipt of goods and services is taxable, but tax lawyer Chris Davis, of Mc­Innes Wilson Lawyers, said: “Constructive or actual receipt of non-cash benefits has always been taxable.” Using trusts and companies won’t work for avoiding declaring “in-kind” income. end quote.

What may come as even more of a shock to “influencers” is just how much tax they might have to pay. quote.

From July 1, all income, including­ all non-cash benefits, will be treated as part of an indiv­idual’s taxable income and will be taxed accordingly at higher rates than apply to the companies and trusts used to date.

Non-cash income, such as meals, earned via reputation will be taxed at the higher personal rate and cannot be shielded by a trust or other corporate entity at a lower one. end quote.


Might be time to log out of Instagram and just get a real job.