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Bodies corporate GST status to be clarified

Legislation introduced yesterday will clarify the GST status of bodies corporate.

Here’s the press release: http://taxpolicy.ird.govt.nz/news/2015-02-26-bill-clarifies-gst-bodies-corporate-rules

This issue has some history.

In the past Inland Revenue took the view bodies corporate did not have to and could not register for GST. That was tested in recent years by some which wanted to register so they could claim GST credits for remedial work done following leaky building claims.

Last year the Government announced its intention to change the law so that it was clear bodies corporate could not register for GST. This would be done by exempting bodies corporate from GST, which in turn meant some confusing and complex provisions to deal with the consequences of an exemption.

The proposal was subject to consultation and the response from tax experts and industry was pretty forceful by all accounts.

This latest development comes close to concluding this particular argument.

Some see it as a “back down”. Sure it is a change of approach for the government but the core policy, not requiring bodies corporate to register for GST remains the same. You could see it more as an example of how laws get made. There’s a proposal, then consultation then a final position.

The solution is quite elegant in my view. Bodies corporate won’t be required to register for GST, so that deals with those who were concerned about unnecessary compliance costs for taxpayers and the government. However, they will be able to register and those which are already registered may remain registered. So that deals with those who wanted registration as a means to recover GST on their costs.

To avoid a flood of bodies corporate registering suddenly so they can spend their leaky building settlements and claim back GST there’s a rather unique provision which says on registration a body corporate will have to pay GST on the value of any funds they hold. My concern about this is it seems to treat a body corporate which has already received a leaky building settlement differently from one which has yet to receive a settlement. The latter can still opt to register and potentially have no GST liability on their settlement amount.

The law making process hasn’t been completed yet so this isn’t necessarily the last word on this issue.

cheers

Iain

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Bodies corporate and GST

Last week the Revenue Minister issued another Discussion Document on the GST treatment of bodies corporate.

The IRD seems to have come full circle on this one. See here:

Bodies corporate and GST.

It is proposed our GST legislation will exempt a body corporate under the Unit Titles Act from having to register for GST. In fact they won’t even have the option of registering for GST.

I think this is dangerous ground.

The key background is:

– for years the IRD didn’t allow or require residential bodies corporate to register for GST.
– consequently the IRD says most bodies corporate are not registered for GST.
– IRD lawyers reviewed the position and decided this approach was probably wrong.
– the IRD consulted and received submissions expressing concerns about any change to align with the IRD lawyers’ view.
– accordingly, the IRD now proposes legislation to validate their original interpretation that bodies corporate cannot register for GST.
– the reasons given for the law change are the potential compliance costs if bodies corporate have to register and the apparent inconsistency that would arise between bodies corporate and other residential propoerty owners.

1. Compliance costs. Well I don’t buy this argument. If it’s valid then it’s also a legitimate basis for exempting all businesses from GST and that’s not likely to happen is it?

2. Inconsistent treatment. The apparent concern is that ordinary home owners cannot register for GST in relation to their residential property ownership. It is therefore wrong to require a body corporate under the Unit Titles Act to register for GST in relation to the services it supplies to its residential property owners because they are essentially one and the same entity.

This argument doesn’t appear to be based on GST principle.

Bodies corporate would not have to register under existing law if all they did was provide residential accommodation. But, they actually don’t do that. They in fact provide a wide range of other services to their owners including maintenance, administration and representation. They are no different from a third party entity providing similar services to a group of residential property owners. The third party entity would be required and able to register for GST.

The distinction argued for is that a body corporate is owned by the unit title owners to whom it supplies services, i.e. they are in substance the alter ego of one another.

Do we really want a principle in our GST law that the corporate veil should be looked through, a company cannot as a matter of law supply services to its owners?

Where does that stop?

Nice as it might be to relieve a group of small taxpayers from their obligations under the law to me this is just not what our GST legislation should be doing. It creates a pretty difficult precedent.

Reading between the lines this seems also to be about a perceived advantage for some GST registered bodies corporate which received leaky building settlements (not subject to GST), using those funds to repair their owners’ properties and claiming GST input tax credits for the repair costs. If an ordinary home owner received a leaky home settlement (not subject to GST) they would not be able to claim GST credits on their repair costs.

The IRD sees this as a mismatch needing a legislative cure. I don’t think that’s correct. The difference is simply a question of quantification of loss, i.e. how much the leaky home compensation amount should be. For one party, GST is a cost and the compensation covers it. For the other it is not a cost and that would presumably be reflected in the settlement amount. So they are equalised.

Further, depending on how the settlement occurs, it’s possible a GST registered body corporate could well have an obligation to account for GST on the receipt of the payment so there is ultimately no difference between the parties.

This proposed change just doesn’t stack up in my view.

Iain

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Bodies corporate and GST

Brian Fallow’s opinion piece in today’s Herald on residential bodies corporate and GST is timely.

See here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=11231055

This issue baffles me. Why is it so complicated and why is it taking so long for the IRD to reach a settled position?

Maybe I’m missing something, but like Fallow, I think the legal analysis isn’t that complex. Bodies corporate are separate entities from the apartment owners and they provide services to the owners in return for levies. Even if those services are mandated by legislation it seems to me, there is a supply and it is for consideration.

You wouldn’t have to look far to find examples where the IRD has insisted on a company registering for GST because it was supplying goods and services to related shareholders. If no charge was made for the supplies the IRD is entitled to deem consideration to be provided at market value if the shareholder is not GST registered.

This issue isn’t without a downside for the bodies corporate and the apartment owners though. Leaving aside the issue of leaky home settlements (and I agree with Fallow on that), those deriving fees of more than the registration threshold are required to register for GST in my view and that could mean a net GST cost to the owners, especially if the body corporate employs staff.

Our GST system is applauded for being broad based and here we have the IRD arguing for a narrowing of the base. An unusual situation in my view.

Comments most welcome on this one.

Iain