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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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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

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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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Good news

Might as well start the year with a bit of good news, even if it’s a little old by now.

On 11 December the Government gave us a xmas present with the announcement by the Minister of Customs the Temporary Import period for yachts, launches and small craft will be extended from 12 months to 24 months.

This means visitors coming to NZ on their yachts or launches can stay here longer without having to pay duty or GST on the value of their vessel. They’ll be able to have more work done by our brilliant marine businesses, will be able to spend more time visiting NZ’s amazing tourist attractions and will be able to spend more money here.

Around 700 private craft visit NZ every year of all shapes and sizes. Marine industry representatives reckon this measure will increase that number by 25%.

This is surely good news. An incentive for visiting yachties to stay longer.

Cheers and Happy New Year

iain

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The GST cost of eradicating cats

Gareth Morgan wants cats to be eradicated from New Zealand. NZ Herald 22 Jan

I haven’t seen any analysis of the tax impact of this policy so thought I’d run some quick numbers myself.

Apparently there are more than 1.4m cats in New Zealand (a world record per capita).

It is estimated each year New Zealanders spend 680m on cat food, vet services and other cat related items.

If cats are eradicated the GST revenue lost to the Government will be in the region of $88m each year. That’s more than twice the amount spent by the Department of Conservation each year on species conservation programmes.

Always got to consider the GST angle aye?

Iain

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NZ tax department reveals its compliance focus

Our new tax Commissioner has just released a document outlining her department’s key compliance programmes for 2012/13.

http://www.ird.govt.nz/resources/6/6/661d18004c5fb8aea1cde57bdeadb8e8/our-compliance-focus-2012.pdf?CACHEID=661d18004c5fb8aea1cde57bdeadb8e8

The 32 page document discusses many risks tax investigators have identified for special attention.

In the GST area the focus is very much on the hidden (“black” or “cash”) economy where some recent wins have already been chalked up by the Commissioner. They’re looking for the traders who take cash and keep it outside of their business records so that it is not declared in tax returns.

Property transactions continue to be a big GST focus, although, as they point out in the document, many concerns have largely been resolved by the new requirement to “zero rate” most land transactions between GST registered entities.

There’s a strong message for central and local government entities that they can expect close scrutiny of their GST systems and processes. The document points to the restructuring and reorganisation in government bodies throughout the country and concludes there are added risks for GST compliance where implementation is lacking.  

If taxpayers believe they may be one of those targeted by these programmes the suggestion from the Department is that they review their own systems now and make sure they are compliant. If there are errors it’s better to deal with these up front with the Department before they come knocking on the door.

With the back drop of continuing pressure on the Government’s tax take and a few recent wins in the courts there’s little doubt in my mind tax collectors have a mandate for ongoing focus in these areas.

 

Iain

 

 

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GST and non-profit bodies

Inland Revenue released their updated “Public rulings work programme” on 5 October. This is where they announce key policy areas they are working on at the moment. It means we can expect some sort of discussion document, legislative announcement or ruling on certain aspects of tax.

Once again there’s an item relating to non-profit bodies and GST. In the programme Inland Revenue have described it like this:

QWB00078 GST – non-profit bodies and section
3A(4A)
Does a non-profit body need to conduct a taxable activity and make supplies in the course of that
taxable activity to claim input credits?

All GST registered non-profit bodies need to be alert to this. The question posed by Inland Revenue implies they are thinking about whether non-profit bodies should have less ability to claim GST on expenses.

Section 3A(4A) of the GST Act was enacted in 2002 as a concession for non-profit bodies. Broadly speaking it meant a GST credit could be claimed by a non-profit body on any expense as long as that expense was not incurred for the principal purpose of making exempt supplies (being supplies of residential accommodation or financial services).

This was quite generous because other GST registered businesses actually need to show a connection between the expense and their business outputs before they can claim a GST credit. This concession means non-profit bodies could claim GST on expenses which generally related to their non-commercial or charitable activities as long as they weren’t mainly connected to supplies of residential accommodation or financial services.

Section 3A(4A) was technically repealed from 1 April but its effect still exists in a new section 20(3K).

All non-profit entities need to consider how this might impact their budgets.

Inland Revenue have not given a timetable for release of any proposals or discussion document so it’s a waiting game at the moment. At some stage in the next 12 months it would appear we can expect some movement. Then there should be an opportunity for those affected to have their say.

Iain

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Late payment fees or penalties?

Yesterday’s tax bill proposes a new provision saying “a fee charged for the late payment of an account” is treated as subject to GST.

It will be back dated to 2003 to prevent the Government being inundated with refund claims.

My issue is with the drafting. It applies to “late payment fees” but according to the commentary does not apply to “penalty or default interest”. Yet there’s nothing in the proposal to help taxpayers determine the difference.

I’ve been thinking through some examples and frankly I don’t think it’s always obvious when something is a “fee” for late payment and when something might be a “penalty” for late payment. There are no relevant definitions in the legislation.

If the IRD is not careful this could backfire on them. On a literal interpretation of the new provision it seems to me there’s a more than reasonable argument it applies to IRD “late payment penalties” under the Tax Administration Act. These penalties are not “interest” because use of money interest is imposed under different sections in addition to late payment penalties. When they were introduced we were told late payment penalties recognised the extra administrative costs incurred by the department when taxpayers paid their tax accounts late. That description is amazingly similar to the language in the Official’s Commentary on the new bill which talks about a late payment fee representing the “cost of administering the late payment”.

If IRD late payment penalties are subject to GST then businesses who have incurred them over the last few years might be entitled to ask the IRD for a tax invoice once this legislation is enacted and claim an input tax credit for the GST component.

This is a classic sledgehammer to crack a nut and needs more thought.

Iain