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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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Charges for failing to turn up to parties

A parent in the UK invoiced the parents of a five year old GBP15.95 because their son failed to turn up to a birthday party after they had accepted the invitation on his behalf.

See the story here: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cornwall-30876360

They’re threatening to sue to recover the money!

So what are the VAT implications here, even if the claimant has only a snowball’s chance of recovering the money?

VAT probably wouldn’t apply because it’s likely to be viewed as a “compensatory” payment rather than consideration for goods or services.

Also, the claimant probably isn’t registered for VAT in relation to the birthday party activity.

However, if the claimant were a professional birthday party organiser VAT might apply. It would have to be established there were legal relations intended between the organiser and the invitee and a term of that contract was that the invitee, having accepted the invitation, would pay a fee if they failed to show up.

So, there was a contract, the customer failed to honour their side of it and a fee is charged. In New Zealand that fee might be subject to GST if the fee effectively is an adjustment to the originally agreed price. However, if it’s to “compensate” the organiser for a loss suffered because of the no-show then GST probably wouldn’t apply.

The IRD recently stated their view on the GST treatment of late hire charges and certain fines:http://www.ird.govt.nz/resources/1/5/1552acab-6838-4617-817d-86bfe0ab86b4/qb1414.pdf

The statement illustrates some of the same principles.

These things get complicated when you scratch beneath the surface don’t they?

cheers

Iain

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Governments using lotteries to collect tax

Tax collectors in the EU are looking more closely at the use of lotteries to tackle VAT evasion.

This paper, just published, discusses how existing lottery schemes work and reveals there could be upside for governments. It concludes more empirical evidence is needed to confirm the benefits of tax lotteries but they may be a useful weapon in the fight against VAT (GST) evasion. http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/resources/documents/taxation/gen_info/economic_analysis/tax_papers/taxation_paper_51.pdf

They might also be a useful tool for governments looking to reverse the revenue lost as a result of increased online shopping.

The challenges for governments from the growing digital economy have been widely discussed. The OECD is consulting on a possible multilateral solution, http://www.oecd.org/ctp/consumption/discussion-draft-oecd-international-vat-gst-guidelines.pdf. I wouldn’t be surprised if tax lotteries are considered as a tool to encourage compliance with laws requiring non-residents to register for VAT in countries where they are selling online products to consumers.

The paper on tax lotteries is the product of a recent workshop attended by 39 EU member states. They discussed lottery schemes already running in Malta, Slovakia, Portugal and Georgia. They also heard from experts in Greece looking at a scheme there.

Tax lotteries have been around for a while. Taiwan has used them since the 1950’s and there was some evidence they experienced up to 20% improved compliance as a result.

They’ve been used to encourage consumers to ask for receipts when buying goods and services. The receipts are then sent to a central agency (by post, text or email) or some other electronic system is used so the receipts become entries in a lottery. There are then regular draws and cash prizes. In Malta for example the draws take place each month and are done manually i.e. the receipts are sent to the central lottery agency and put into a large barrel from which the draws are made.

The idea is consumers are incentivized to ask for receipts and this discourages evasion by creating a paper trail which the tax authorities can use to monitor compliance.

Some data collected so far suggests these lotteries do have an initial impact on compliance with increased revenues for the government. However, it seems over time the benefits fade. The EU workshop found that the main difference occurred as a sharp increase in reported sales by very small retailers but little difference in the reported sales of large retailers. One study reported increased tax revenues of Euro 8m against administrative costs of Euro 1.6m.

There have been some interesting reactions, including the emergence of “professional players” in these lotteries, being people who devote a large amount of time to them and who have even been found to be submitting receipts into the lottery for expenses they did not themselves incur.

The EU is committing resources to better quantify the potential upside for states in running these sorts of lotteries.

Another overseas development for the NZ Inland Revenue Department to watch.

 

Cheers

 

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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Savings up + GST collections down = GST rate up?

Kiwi households are saving more than at any time since 1995 according to the latest national accounts.

http://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/household-savings-rate-positive-five-years

The flip side is with low inflation and lower consumption the Government’s GST take is down.

I’m not an economist but my understanding is even though households may be saving more, national savings overall aren’t necessarily any better off because of the push/pull effect of private savings and tax collections.

This was something the Savings Working Group considered in their report Saving New Zealand: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Barriers to Growth and Prosperity: Final Report to the Minister of Finance published in February 2011.

As a countermeasure the Savings Working Group recommended an increase in the GST rate from 15% to 17.5% over other tax changes because GST is “less distorting than income tax on the saving decision”.

http://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/reviews-consultation/savingsworkinggroup/finalreport/30.htm

The political challenge with increasing GST to 17.5% is that our rate is already amongst the highest in the world when it comes to basic food, education, healthcare and utilities. Outside of the benefit system there doesn’t seem to be a simple mechanism to compensate low-income households for an increase in GST and this must surely put real pressure on our single rate broad-based regime.

Iain