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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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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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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

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IRD comments on short term Christchurch rentals

Inland Revenue’s latest Business Tax Update reminds us people renting out houses in Christchurch short-term have to pay income tax on the rent, less deductions. It’s a pity they don’t mention GST because that’s more interesting.

The update is here: http://www.ird.govt.nz/aboutir/newsletters/business-tax-update/2014/btu-issue-057-11-14.html#06

An extract of the relevant section is quoted at the bottom of this post.

So, in a nutshell, if you own a house in Christchurch and someone rents it of you for, say, one month, fully furnished while their own home is repaired you have to declare the income from that and pay any income tax due. Not exactly a bombshell is it? Sure, a few people might genuinely be stunned by the revelation they have to pay income tax on income they receive from renting out their house, even for a short term. But my guess is for most people the Update might as well be telling them how to extract nutrient from eggs by suction.

The really interesting, and more contentious, point is how GST applies.

Providing residential accommodation in “dwellings” is not subject to GST. However, providing accommodation in “commercial dwellings” is subject to GST (assuming the registration threshold is satisfied).

A “dwelling” is a place the person occupies as their “principal place of residence” and excludes any “commercial dwelling”.

A “principal place of residence” is a place the person occupies as their “main residence for the period to which the agreement for the supply of accommodation relates”.

A “commercial dwelling” includes hotels, motels, boarding houses, hostels, B&B’s and similar premises.

If you rent a house out to someone for, say one month, fully furnished, while they have their own place repaired, are you providing anything more than accommodation that is similar to hotel or motel accommodation, i.e. short term furnished accommodation? Is the tenant occupying your place as their “main residence” during the rental period or is it secondary temporary accommodation while their “main residence” is repaired?

I think there is some doubt over how the GST Act applies in these situations. Sure, most will not be within the annual $60,000 GST registration threshold. However, some of the house owners may be registered for GST in their own right for other purposes, or may even wish to register for GST in relation to the temporary rental activity. Whether they should or can is unclear.

I’d like to see clarity on less obvious issues like these when the IRD is publishing notices telling taxpayers of their obligations.

Cheers

Iain

Extract from Business Tax Update November 2014

Renting out your own home short term

There’s a demand for temporary rental properties in Canterbury because of thousands of families needing accommodation while they wait for earthquake repairs on their homes. Some homeowners are meeting this need by offering furnished homes for short-term rental.

If you rent out your own home, even for a short time, any income you receive is liable for income tax, so you must include it in your tax return.

However, you can claim a deduction for any expenses you incur while your property is rented out. But you can only claim that proportion of ongoing costs for the time your property is rented out. For example, if you rent your home out for three months, you can claim the rates, insurance, interest and any agent’s fees you incurred during that period.

Find out more on what expenses you can claim”

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GST on lotteries, raffles, sweepstakes and prize competitions

The IRD has just released for consultation a “Questions we’ve been asked” draft paper on the GST treatment of lotteries, raffles, sweepstakes and prize competitions.

You can find it here: http://www.ird.govt.nz/resources/a/1/a1b5b4ef-32bc-4315-9c80-09d5b70712f1/qwb0121.pdf

Submissions are due by 24 October.

I recommend all not for profit organisations and others running raffles, lotteries or prize competitions have a read and make sure they understand the implications.

If the entity on whose behalf the raffle, sweepstake or lottery is being run is registered for GST, or required to be registered for GST, then that entity is required to account for GST on the proceeds.

GST is calculated based on net revenue after deducting cash prizes payable. Where prizes are purchased GST incurred on those purchases can be claimed as an input tax deduction. Obviously GST cannot be claimed on donated prizes.

Even if the prizes were donated GST will still apply to the raffle/sweepstake/lottery proceeds.

According to IRD someone conducting a raffle which will have revenue exceeding the GST registration threshold of $60,000 will be liable to register for GST and account for GST.

Much of what is in this document won’t come as a surprise to most raffle/lottery organisers and they will already be complying.

However, a point needing more clarity in my view is when a one-off raffle organised by someone which takes place over a short period of time will be considered a “taxable activity” for GST purposes, thus requiring the organiser to register and account for GST on the raffle (assuming the proceeds are over $60,000.

Cheers

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

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Grant versus fee!

The Woking Museum and Arts and Crafts Centre is a charity set up to “advance the education of the public in local national and international history and arts and crafts”. In 2003 it entered into an agreement with the Woking Borough Council [In the UK] to “provide arts museum and cultural services and a public information service within the Borough of Woking”. The Council agreed to make annual payments to the Centre in return.

The UK Customs and Excise decided the payments made by the Council should not be subject to VAT. They argued the Centre was not a business and the payments were grants rather than “consideration” for supplies of services.

On 10 February 2014 the First Tier Tribunal hearing the case between the Council and the Centre decided the payments are subject to VAT for a number of reasons. Key to the Tribunal’s decision were the following conclusions:

1. The agreement entered into by the parties was a contract for the provision of services by the Centre to the Council and not a grant because there are mutual obligations characteristic of a contract.

2. The services delivered by the Centre provided a direct benefit to the Council in that artefacts of the Council were preserved in the museum by the Centre under an obligation to make space available for them.

3. The arrangements were commercial in nature and the fact the Centre is a charity does not render the relationship un-economic. The purpose and results of an activity are immaterial in determining whether that activity is “economic”.

This sort of analysis is as relevant in NZ as it was to this decision.

There are many organisations providing public benefit services under contracts with local authorities and government bodies. It is not always clear whether those arrangements are subject to GST and in fact we’ve had case law of our own on these sorts of issues.

The crux is how the payment should be treated. Is it a grant or a payment for services? In the end the arrangements and circumstances of each case will determine the outcome but the analysis above should provide some insights into what factors are important.

cheers

Iain