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Australia leads NZ 2 – 0

The Australian Government looks likely to change its GST treatment of digital currencies. In NZ we’re left wondering what our Government’s position is.

This is the second time in about as many weeks Australia has taken steps to address a well acknowledged GST issue. Just a few days ago we learnt it is now almost inevitable the low value import threshold in Australia will be reduced, perhaps even eliminated; see my 22 July post.

And on 4 August the Senate Standing Committee on Economics released its report on digital currencies. You can find the full report here: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Digital_currency/Report

The Committee was asked to consider the tax treatment of digital currencies and the Australian Tax Office’s (ATO) published position.

The report highlights the practical and commercial issues with the current tax treatment. GST is singled out as the most significant. The ATO, rightly in my view, concluded digital currencies are commodities and GST applies to them in the same way it applies to traditional barter arrangements.

As the Committee points out, this leads to double taxation and can be a permanent cost for private consumers when they’re exchanging real currency for digital currency.

The Committee recommends digital currency (like Bitcoin) be treated the same as money for GST purposes and the Government consult with States to consider changing the GST law. This would remove GST from digital currency and resembles the “exempt” treatment adopted in the UK.

I have no doubt the NZ Government (through Inland Revenue) is following this development just as it is the low value import threshold issue. And, there is sense in staying close to Australia and not blazing our own path on these issues. Nevertheless, it would be good to know where IRD stands on digital currencies and GST.

Iain

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Australia jumps ahead of NZ in taxing digital commerce

The Australian Government has released draft legislation proposing to apply GST to downloads and streaming of digital content and other services supplied from offshore to Australian consumers.

This will affect media such as games, movies, e-books and music downloaded over the internet by Australian resident consumers. GST will also apply where an Australian consumer buys other services from offshore such as legal, accounting, architectural, medical or other similar services.

There will be measures to allow the GST to be collected from operators of electronic distribution services in addition to the offshore supplier and a simplified registration regime appears on offer. A lot of the detail will appear later in Regulations.

The States of Australia still need to approve the legislation but it is intended to apply from 1 July 2017.

So Australia gets an early jump on NZ. Bets are on something similar being announced in the NZ Government’s Budget this month.

The practical issues with these measures have been well debated now and no complete or ideal solution has been found. Australia is essentially following the EU lead.

The Australian approach tilts the playing field completely in the opposite direction. At the moment, products sold electronically from offshore (such as e-books) are not taxed as highly as goods purchased online and imported into the country.

When this measure comes into force the preference shifts in favour of goods purchased online. That is because, for goods bought over the internet and imported into Australia there is a threshold of $1,000 below which no tax is payable. There is no suggestion at this stage to apply a similar threshold to imported services. How this impacts consumer choices (such as buying hard copy books over the internet rather than an e-book) remains to be seen.

The thorny issue of the low value import threshold just won’t go away.

 

 

Iain

 

 

 

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GST heat goes on internet sales

Debate is turning into action over taxing internet sales.

The Australian Treasurer told media at the Council on Federal Financial Relations Meeting in Canberra on 9 April his Government will require overseas companies selling intangibles into Australia to register and pay GST on their sales there. This includes companies like Netflix and many others which are clearly in the Australian Government’s sights.

Treasurer Hockey says the States in Australia have agreed to this in principle and they intend working as quickly as possible to achieve it. He also said it would make sense to apply the same rules to goods sold over the internet below the import exempt threshold of $1,000. That will be welcome news for Australian retailers.

http://jbh.ministers.treasury.gov.au/transcript/075-2015/

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, our Government maintains the line it will await the OECD special working party on digital commerce (due to release a further report later this year) before acting and there is no current intention to review the low value import threshold here for goods.

NZ retailers still have their work cut out to persuade our Government to act sooner and follow the EU and South Africa.

On 13 April Retail NZ and Bookseller NZ launched an #eFairnessNZ campaign seeking urgent action on this. They say it is hurting retailers all over New Zealand. The campaign is being run on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #eFairnessNZ.

www.retail.kiwi/eFairnessNZ

While the regimes in place in South Africa and the EU have significant practical and enforcement issues it does appear they are collecting revenue. We won’t know how they are impacting consumer behaviour for another few months but it certainly doesn’t look like the sky has fallen on them.

I’d say this is an inevitability but we still are some way away from the ideal technological solution we need.

Cheers

Iain

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Govt raises stakes for online shoppers

The NZ Prime Minister says his government will go it alone if the OECD doesn’t move quickly enough to impose GST or VAT on online sales.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11418586

The fact the Prime Minister is raising this now is significant. The OECD is working on a multilateral solution for governments losing tax revenue from digital commerce. The next reporting deadline is towards the end of 2015. The question is, will Mr Key wait that long? He doesn’t say.

Other countries have already moved on this. The EC requires certain overseas companies to register and collect VAT on products sold to consumers in the EC. South Africa has done the same and there are others.

The likely multilateral solution will focus on enforcement in my view. Legislating to require non-resident companies to register for GST here is an important first step and most companies will comply. However, many may not and the Government will need a mechanism to enforce the law. That’s where an OECD wide solution could be helpful.

Prime Minister Key is suggesting some mechanism to block digital retailers from access to OECD consumers if they do not comply with the VAT/ GST law.

Clearly this issue is now well and truly in the Government’s spotlight. NZ retailers have been pushing for something to be done for some time now and will be watching developments closely.

Cheers

Iain

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It wouldn’t happen in New Zealand – or would it?

An Australian court says a taxpayer has not commenced a subdivision activity until they have the funds needed to purchase the land. The costs spent beforehand on planning permits and market valuations were preliminary or preparatory to starting any business.

That’s according to a Melbourne tax court in Bryxl Pty Ltd v FC of T [2015] AATA 89.

This is a big deal for the taxpayer because it means they can’t claim GST credits for the planning and preparatory expenses. Their GST registration was cancelled and they had to pay penalties.

New Zealand’s GST legislation says “anything done in connection with the beginning … of a taxable activity is treated as being carried out in the course of .. the taxable activity.”

That would indicate the Bryxl Pty Ltd might have got a different result in New Zealand.

But not necessarily. In Case P73 (1992) 14 NZTC 4,489 a New Zealand tax court said commencement work can only be added to a taxable activity. It cannot, by itself, amount to a taxable activity. So, if the taxable activity never actually gets up and running the work done in connection with the beginning of that activity cannot be treated as part of any taxable activity.

For GST purposes therefore, the amounts spent on the pre-commencement activities fall into a black hole and there is no entitlement to claim an input tax credit unless the business or taxable activity actually gets up and running.

Who knew that?

Iain

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Australian Tax Office rules on Bitcoin

The ATO has just issued a ruling on the GST treatment of Bitcoin. Here: http://law.ato.gov.au/atolaw/view.htm?docid=%22GST%2FGSTR20143%2FNAT%2FATO%2F00001%22

In brief:

1. A transfer of bitcoin is a “supply” for GST purposes.
2. Bitcoin is not “money” under the GST legislation.
3. A supply of bitcoin is not a “financial supply”.
4. If bitcoin are supplied in exchange for goods or services the transfer will be treated as a barter.
5. A bitcoin is not a “voucher” for GST purposes.
6. A secondhand goods input credit is not available on the acquisition of bitcoin.

No real surprises there. This had been well signposted.

We await the NZ IRD view which I wouldn’t expect to be much different.

Iain

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12 GST thoughts of Christmas

12 GST thoughts of Christmas:

1. There’s no GST on gifts (so Santa is probably not GST registered).
2. GST registered businesses can claim back the GST on gifts they buy for staff, suppliers and customers.
3. If you buy someone a gift voucher for Christmas it’s quite likely the IRD won’t get any GST until the person redeems it.
4. If the person you gave the voucher to loses it the IRD might never get any GST.
5. On Boxing Day when you go to the shop to return the present you don’t want the retailer will be able to get a refund of GST from the IRD provided they credit you for the return.
6. However, the retailer will have to pay GST if you use the credit to buy something else.
7. The government gets a double whammy of GST when you buy alcohol for your Christmas festivities or petrol for that family road trip (because GST applies to excise taxes on alcohol and fuel).
8. If you order an expensive gift online from overseas for someone in New Zealand and have it delivered directly to them you may be giving them a GST bill because chances are they’ll have to pay GST on the value of the present before they can pick it up from Customs.
9. Businesses are given an automatic extension of time to file their November GST return so they don’t have to file it on 28 December.
10. GST registered businesses with 31 December balance dates which make exempt supplies may have to come back early from their holidays so they can calculate their annual GST adjustment due on 28 January.
11. If you’re booking an overseas holiday and have to take a domestic flight to get to your departure airport it’s best to book both flights together if you want to save the GST on the domestic flight.
12. There’s no GST on gifts but if someone gives you something expensive while overseas you might have to pay GST when you bring it back with you.

Happy Christmas everyone

Iain