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Easy fix costs Rugby League Club

Keeping up with your tax obligations can sometimes seem a drag: forms to be filled in, changes to keep abreast of and an incessant focus on the detail.

Mistakes can be costly. A few dollars here and there might be overlooked but get it much more wrong and you can be facing penalties for not taking reasonable care.

The IRD doesn’t get penalised for mistakes however. As long as they get it right eventually, failure to comply with the law is of no consequence.

To quote the Court of Appeal:

Ms Deligiannis accepts that the Commissioner has acted incorrectly in accepting GST returns filed by Mr Cullen in the Society’s name for periods before May 2016. But the Commissioner cannot be estopped by her previous errors of law from performing her statutory obligations to apply the revenue statutes correctly

The case was CIRRM Cullen CA239/2017 [2017] NZCA 448 a decision of the Court of Appeal issued on 12 October 2017.

The IRD won the case and the taxpayer was refused a $15,000 refund even though IRD had originally accepted it was due and payable.

The case is a reminder how costly it can be for taxpayers when they don’t get right some pretty basic housekeeping and how the playing field favours the tax collector.

The Tamaki Rugby League Club set up as an incorporated society under the Incorporated Societies Act in 2006. Over the next ten years the Club was struck off the Incorporated Societies Register and later reinstated twice and placed in liquidation once.

The second time it was struck off was in 2012 and it wasn’t reinstated again until June 2016. So, between 2012 and June 2016 it was operated as an unregistered unincorporated body or organisation.

The Club registered for GST while it was a valid incorporated society. It filed GST returns, made payments, and claimed GST refunds even during periods when it was struck off the Register of Incorporated Societies. IRD accepted these returns, processed them and paid out refunds.

The court case came about after the Club filed a return on 10 June 2016 covering the GST period April/May 2016. During April and May 2016 and at the time the GST return was filed on 10 June the Club was not a properly registered incorporated society. It had been struck off the incorporated societies register.

IRD initially accepted the GST refund was due but was not sure to whom it should be paid because the Club was not a validly registered incorporated society and the return had been filed using the GST registration number for the incorporated society.

IRD issued a notice of assessment reducing the refund from $14,951 to $101. A representative of the Club, Mr Murray, filed a Notice of Proposed Adjustment challenging the assessment and the IRD did not issue a Notice of Response. Mr Cullen started a court case asking for a declaration that the GST return was valid.

The High Court had found in favour of the Club deciding that in essence there was an entity, albeit an unregistered one, which was carrying on the taxable activity of the Club and which was entitled to the refund.

The IRD appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal decided the Club was registered for GST as an incorporated society and there was no separate GST registered entity that was not an incorporated society. It was irrelevant that there might have been another entity carrying on the taxable activity. The fact was, there was no separate GST registration of any such entity. The Court of Appeal also held Mr Murray had no standing to issue the court case on behalf of the Club as an incorporated society. The IRD’s appeal was allowed and the taxpayer lost.

This would not have ended up this way if the Club had maintained its registered status as an incorporated society and not been struck off. In fact, the Club was reinstated as an incorporated society just a few days after the GST return was filed. However, that did not fix the problem. The IRD still won because the letter of the law said the Club did not exist as an incorporated society at the time it filed the GST return and during the period to which the return related.

So the taxpayer wasn’t allowed a slip up. Even though in substance the Club was conducting its activity just as it had before it was struck off and the IRD had been accepting and processing the returns up until June 2016, the fact was, at that date, technically it was not properly registered as an incorporated society and according to the Court of Appeal could not file a GST return while struck off the Incorporated Societies Register.

I’m a bit surprised there isn’t discussion in the judgment about section 51B of the GST Act. Often the full legal submissions are not included so it’s difficult to know whether the Court was asked to consider this section.

Section 51B provides that a person is treated as a registered person for GST purposes if they are not otherwise registered but supply goods or services representing that GST is charged on those supplies. Under the GST Act a “person” includes an unincorporated body of persons.

If the Club had been collecting subscriptions from members and making other supplies and purporting to charge GST on those supplies while not a valid Society section 51B(1)(a) may have operated so that the Club was “treated” as a registered person for GST purposes. There would still be issues to debate over whether a return filed purportedly using another GST registered person’s GST number is sufficient to amount to a “GST return” on behalf of the Club under section 16 or 18 of the GST Act. It was a return of sorts, even if the GST number on it was not the GST number of the unincorporated Club and, of course, the IRD had been accepting them in the past. But, that doesn’t count unfortunately.

Iain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IRD wants to hear from employers

IRD wants to know what employers think of their proposals for correcting and adjusting PAYE filings.

This recently released officials’ paper sets out the background and proposals: http://taxpolicy.ird.govt.nz/publications/2017-ip-paye-error-correction/overview

A tax bill currently before Parliament will change how employers meet their PAYE reporting and payment obligations. The entire bill is here: http://taxpolicy.ird.govt.nz/bills/51-249. Employers will be able to use their payroll software to file their PAYE information directly. The objective is to reduce paper based compliance and make it easier for those who have payroll systems that support digital filing.

The officials’ paper on correcting payroll reporting errors follows on from the changes intended in the bill and deals with how calculation, transposition and interpretation errors would be corrected and adjustments made. Depending on the nature of the error the correction may be to the original reporting period or an adjustment could be made in a later reporting period. The officials have set out a number of options under different scenarios.

Getting PAYE right all the time is extremely difficult. There are many complex variables and the officials at IRD recognise this in the approach they’ve taken. Overall the proposals appear balanced and pragmatic. However, not all options will appeal to all employers and it’s important you have your say if you are concerned about the impact on you.

The proposals include clarifying what happens when an employee is mistakenly overpaid and does not repay the employer. There is some uncertainty whether the overpayment is actually income of the employee that should be subject to PAYE. IRD intends to make it clear PAYE remains payable on overpayments of salary and wages when the employee has not refunded the overpayment. This could be a contentious. It some cases it could seem as though the tax collector is benefitting from an error by the employer and the employer is bearing an added cost of their mistake solely because the employee refuses to repay the overpayment (and may even have become uncontactable). There will be lots of scenarios to consider and I’d be surprised if there weren’t some strong submissions on this point.

If you want to make a submission you have until 15 September. Don’t be shy now!

 

Iain

 

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GST derails another property sale

Recently from the Court of Appeal, another example of how GST can derail what should have been a simple property sale.

Y & P NZ Ltd v Yang Wang & Chen Zhang [2017] NZCA 280 is a decision from the Court of Appeal about whether caveats registered by the purchasers to protect their interests should remain in place.

They had registered the caveats after the vendor refused to settle because of a dispute over GST.

Here’s what happened:

2 May 2016 – Sale agreements for four properties entered into on a “plus GST, if any” basis. The vendor was registered for GST in relation to the sale. The purchasers stated in the agreements they would not be registered for GST at settlement and did not intend to use the properties to make taxable supplies. Settlement was supposed to be 28 July 2016. That’s enough basis for the vendor to add 15% GST to the settlement price.

25 July 2016 – Vendor sends settlement statements to purchasers requiring settlement with 15% GST added.

27 July 2016 – Purchasers verbally advise the vendor their circumstances have changed, they are registered for GST and will use the properties to make taxable supplies. They ask for amended settlement statements showing GST at 0% and provide the vendor with their GST number. The vendor issues the requested amended settlement statements.

28 July 2016 – Settlement day! Or so it was supposed to be. Instead, the vendor insists that settlement take place on the basis of the original settlement statements with 15% GST added because that was what was required under the 2 May 2016 agreements.

What then followed was a series of lawyers letters, a case lodged by the purchasers requiring specific performance of the contract and the registration by the purchasers of caveats against the titles.

This should have been a simple sale but instead we have a dispute over GST holding up the transaction and ending up in court.

Why did it come to that?

The legal arguments in this case were about whether the purchasers’ caveats should remain in place, presumably while the substantive case for specific performance was unresolved. All we really know from the Court’s judgment is that the parties were arguing over whether the purchaser had provided the required written notification of its GST position to the vendor within the required time.

What intrigues me is, if the vendor really wanted to sell their properties they could have settled on the basis of 0% GST, as requested by the purchasers, without the likelihood of any additional cost to themselves. In fact, the vendor might well have saved themselves the costs involved in dealing with the dispute. Yet for some reason they refused to settle.

Let’s say they had accepted the purchasers’ verbal assurances and settled at 0% GST and it turned out the assurances were wrong and GST of 15% should have been paid. What would have happened? Under the GST legislation, in that event, the onus of paying the GST would have shifted to the purchasers who would have had to pay it directly to Inland Revenue. It’s unlikely, in my view, that Inland Revenue would have required the GST to be paid by the vendor, although it can’t be ruled out.

In any event, the vendor had the chance to minimise their risk by asking the purchaser for an amended statement in writing that they met the requirements for 0% GST to apply. That could have been done on settlement day.

Maybe there’s a lot more to this case than this reasonably short judgment from the Court of Appeal suggests. It’s hard to fathom what really was to stop the transaction settling and why it ended up in a protracted legal dispute. Settlement was supposed to be 28/7/16, this interim hearing took place on 11/5/17 and the Court’s decision is dated 3/7/17 – and it’s still not over.

Here we had, presumably, a willing vendor and willing purchasers and yet they couldn’t get the deal done because of a disagreement over whether a written notice had been given on time.

The fact is, whether 15% or 0% GST applies to a land transaction is determined by the GST Act, not by the parties to the contract and not by whatever statements the purchaser might put in the contract about their GST position. While a vendor is entitled to rely on GST statements made in the contract by the purchaser they do not have to. In my view the vendor had options to achieve settlement without exposing themselves to unacceptable GST risks if their focus were on how they could complete the transaction rather than on why it should not be completed.

Willing parties to a contract should be able to get their deals done safely without having them derailed by GST and without protracted litigation.

 

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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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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Fishing quota and coastal permits

Inland Revenue has confirmed GST second hand goods credits cannot be claimed on the purchase of fishing quota, coastal permits and certificates of compliance.

Two binding rulings (BR 15/01 and 15/02) just released by the tax department conclude fishing quota, coastal permits and certificates of compliance are not “goods” under the GST Act and therefore a “second hand goods” input tax deduction cannot be claimed when a non-GST registered vendor transfers these items to a GST registered purchaser.

Fishing quota are not “goods” because they are choses in action which are expressly excluded from the definition of “goods” in the GST Act. Coastal permits and certificates of compliance are granted under the Resource Management Act which provides they are not personal or real property and, therefore, they too do not fall within the definition on “goods” in the GST Act.

This will come as no surprise to most people because these new rulings reach the same conclusion previously published by the Department in earlier and now expired rulings.

The rulings are effective indefinitely.

A copy is attached.BR 15 fishing quota second hand goods

 

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