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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 considers $20 import threshold

It looks like Australia will reduce its $1,000 low value import threshold to $20. http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/gst-on-lowvalue-imported-parcels-moving-closer-20150721-gihfgy.html

This issue has been around for ages. The main objection to a reduction has been the administration costs of processing the additional parcels.

Politicians now think new technologies help with the administration. Besides, they say it’s a matter of principle, levelling the playing field for local retailers.

Will New Zealand follow suit?

Well, Australia hasn’t gone there yet, but if they do then in my view it’s only a matter of time before NZ does the same.

Iain

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Vat audits- the whole story

EY’s digitally interactive report on managing indirect tax disputes is definitely worth a read.

http://www.ey.com/indirectcontroversy

The report has a host of useful information about modern indirect tax audits, common errors and how smart businesses are managing their indirect taxes to stay clear of nasty surprises.
Iain

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Overseas companies avoiding GST?

Simon Moutter, Spark’s MD, says overseas companies like Netflix are avoiding GST.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11422160

He has a point, and it’s not news really. But the debate grows as more New Zealand businesses feel the heat from overseas digital competitors.

I’ve no doubt a solution will be found and I agree with Moutter, it will be a technology solution.

VAT /GST regimes around the world apply the “destination principle” i.e. the tax burden lies where consumption occurs. Unless we abandon that policy building block we must find a way to tax the increasingly valuable services being purchased from offshore.

Some countries are forging ahead without waiting for the OECD to come up with a multilateral solution [South Africa, the EU, the Bahamas]. As Moutter points out, the US has rules in place for sales taxes on inter-state transactions, but of course enforcement isn’t as difficult when the two taxing states are part of the same country.

This is a challenge for technology entrepreneurs as much as tax administrators.

Cheers

Iain

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GST and tips

Some discussion lately on tips and GST.

It’s become more common for eftpos devices to offer customers a tipping option when paying their bills. The GST implications of this are more complex than the old-fashioned method of slipping a bit of extra cash to the staff person directly.

Businesses use different methods for sharing out tips that have been paid with eftpos.

In my view some methods could result in GST being payable on the tip because it could be seen as an extra payment for the service received from the business or an agreed adjustment to the price, particularly where it is not paid directly by the customer to a staff member to reward them personally for extra effort.

Inland Revenue has made clear statements about the income tax treatment of tips. It might be timely to extend that guidance to cover other tax implications, such as GST given the technological developments in this area.

Iain

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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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What’s the IRD working on?

IRD has published its Public Rulings work programme for 2014/15.

You can find the full document here:

http://www.ird.govt.nz/resources/7/7/77d3ecdd-6305-408a-8b88-541e509f487b/download-pr-work-programme-2014-2015.pdf

Given GST is by far the most interesting tax here are the key points from the programme:

Currently consulting on (consultation period closed)
Time of supply when no supply made. This ruling covers when, if at all, GST has to be accounted for if a supply does not proceed. It’s pretty esoteric stuff but does have some practical implications for land transactions especially.

Currently consulting on (consultation period still open)
GST treatment of payments made to state schools. This covers school “donations” and other payments to schools and discusses when GST applies. Mainly affects state schools and provides more clarity over the treatment of what is a bit of a minefield.

Items currently in progress (nothing publicly available yet)
Secondhand goods claims for fishing quota/coastal permits and certificates of compliance.
Late return fees for hired goods.
Lotteries, raffles, sweepstakes and prize competitions.
Retirement villages Interpretation Statement update.
Non-profit bodies and section 20(3K).
GST and relationship property agreements.

Watch out for something to be published on the above. Fishing companies, secondhand goods traders, hire businesses, charities, aged care providers and relationship property lawyers will be particularly interested in these.

Known issues but NOT currently being worked on
GST and parking fines.
Partnership capital contributions.
GST under the Project to Reduce Emissions programme.
Single versus multiple supplies.
Directors’ fees and fees for board members.
GST and bare trusts.
Legal services provided to non-residents relating to transactions involving NZ land (a political hot potato).

If these issues concern you then it looks like you’ll be waiting until after 2015 before seeing progress.

It’s a pretty comprehensive work programme, especially when all the other (less interesting) taxes are added in. The IRD will have had to fix priority areas based on internal and taxpayer feedback.

Some of these issues are pretty important and when finalised will go a long way to improving the integrity of the tax system for many taxpayers. It’s a pity some of the not insignificant extra resources given to the IRD in recent years to audit taxpayers could not be diverted to allow this work to be completed more quickly.

Cheers

Iain

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Global VAT alignment edges closer

At the Global Forum on VAT in Tokyo last week 86 countries signed up to the first agreed framework for applying VAT to internationally traded services and intangibles. The new guidelines set out core VAT principles to be applied when taxing services and intangibles, will ensure more consistency between countries, will reduce double taxation and will protect the neutrality of business to business (“B2B”) transactions.

While an important step in the right direction, the more vexing question of how to tax internationally traded business to consumer (“B2C”)services and intangibles has been left for another time.

The Global Forum on VAT occurs under the umbrella of the OECD and provides a platform for global discussions on VAT. The first session took place in November 2012. Last week was the second occasion academics, tax administrators. business representatives and others were invited to discuss VAT policy trends and developments.

The main output from this latest session was a set of new OECD Guidelines on applying VAT across borders.

The Guidelines can be downloaded from the the OECD website – here: http://www.oecd.org/ctp/consumption/international-vat-gst-guidelines.htm

The focus of the Guidelines is B2B transactions. They discuss place of supply rules, the well known “destination principle” (B2B services should be taxed in the country where the customer is located) and mechanisms available to countries to allow non established foreign businesses to recover VAT incurred there.

None of this is startling news for New Zealand. We’re already ahead of this stuff thanks to our super charged GST system. Just this month we’ve seen a new streamlined registration and GST recovery system come into place for overseas businesses incurring GST here.

The really challenging question for New Zealand, and every other country with a VAT, is how do you tax B2C services and intangibles traded across borders? Unlike goods there’s no border control in place to capture internationally traded services and there’s no existing registration system to collect the tax from the customer/consumer.

This really is the more urgent question in my view. Countries are attempting to deal with the issue on their own (eg South Africa and the EU) but global cooperation and alignment are critical. Some States in the USA have implemented mechanisms to apply state taxes to inter-state B2C online sales (such as e-books) and the latest evidence suggests these measures are improving the sales of local bricks and mortar retailers at the expense of online retailers such as Amazon.

Last week’s Forum in Tokyo urged the OECD to finalise work on the VAT treatment of B2C services in time for the next Global Forum on VAT in November 2015. That seems like a long time to wait, but as we all know, achieving global consensus on anything is a slow process.

Cheers

Iain