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Australia leads NZ 2 – 0

The Australian Government looks likely to change its GST treatment of digital currencies. In NZ we’re left wondering what our Government’s position is.

This is the second time in about as many weeks Australia has taken steps to address a well acknowledged GST issue. Just a few days ago we learnt it is now almost inevitable the low value import threshold in Australia will be reduced, perhaps even eliminated; see my 22 July post.

And on 4 August the Senate Standing Committee on Economics released its report on digital currencies. You can find the full report here: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Digital_currency/Report

The Committee was asked to consider the tax treatment of digital currencies and the Australian Tax Office’s (ATO) published position.

The report highlights the practical and commercial issues with the current tax treatment. GST is singled out as the most significant. The ATO, rightly in my view, concluded digital currencies are commodities and GST applies to them in the same way it applies to traditional barter arrangements.

As the Committee points out, this leads to double taxation and can be a permanent cost for private consumers when they’re exchanging real currency for digital currency.

The Committee recommends digital currency (like Bitcoin) be treated the same as money for GST purposes and the Government consult with States to consider changing the GST law. This would remove GST from digital currency and resembles the “exempt” treatment adopted in the UK.

I have no doubt the NZ Government (through Inland Revenue) is following this development just as it is the low value import threshold issue. And, there is sense in staying close to Australia and not blazing our own path on these issues. Nevertheless, it would be good to know where IRD stands on digital currencies and GST.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Election 2014 – your GST vote

This weekend’s New Zealand general election offers some choice in GST policy.

So, if you’re a GST geek like me you might be swayed by what the different parties intend doing about GST.

Here’s what I’ve been able to find out about some of the main parties’ GST policies:

Labour Party – no change to base or rates. Committed to simplifying compliance and supports “one hour, one return, one payment” principle for monthly GST and income tax compliance.

Green Party – no change to base or rates. Propose extra ecological taxes but will leave detail to a commission. Also, propose financial transaction tax. [comment – subject to seeing the detail, the existing GST system could be one way of achieving these new tax imposts].

National Party – no change to base or rates.

Mana Party – propose abolition of GST and replace with “Hone Heke Tax” on financial speculation.

Maori Party – will revisit removing GST on healthy food (fruit and veges) and also increasing GST on sugary drinks.

I couldn’t find any detail from other parties. If anyone knows any more feel free to comment.

Cheers and happy voting on Saturday Kiwis

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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Bahamas VAT

The Bahamas will have a new VAT from 1 January 2015: 7.5% (0% for exports) on a broad range of goods and services, few exemptions, small business concessions, “inclusive” pricing and an extensive public education programme.

Confirmed by the PM and Minister for Finance, The Rt Hon Perry G. Christie on 28 May in his Budget Communication to the House of Assembly.

More details to come when new VAT Bill is available.

Iain

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Fat taxes

“Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health than tobacco” – said UN Investigator Professor Olivier de Schutter to the World Health Organisation annual summit on 19 May.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/19/us-health-food-idUSKBN0DZ15H20140519

Professor De Schutter’s suggested solution is a global pact to tackle obesity similar to the UN convention on tobacco control in 2005. The accord should include taxes on unhealthy products, regulation of food high in saturated fats, salt and sugar and restricting junk food advertising.

This debate has been around for a while and doesn’t look like going away any time soon, particularly in NZ during an election year.

Similar calls are made for environmental taxes which are also about discouraging certain consumption or behaviour.

In New Zealand recently the debate on food taxes culminated in a Bill before Parliament from the Maori Party to remove GST on fresh fruit and vegetables, i.e. “subsidising” healthy foods as opposed to taxing the unhealthy, admittedly because a focus of the policy behind the Bill was the cost of food. The Bill did not get Parliament’s support.

It seems to me the “subsidy” versus “penalty” debate is now pretty settled. Plenty of studies have shown subsidising healthy foods benefit most those who already consume the greater proportions of healthy food (which we are told are higher income households). So, those who least need to change their eating behaviour receive the greatest subsidies.

Another issue with healthy food subsidies is they aren’t as effective in changing consumer behaviour. The money saved by high consumers of unhealthy foods tends to be spent on more unhealthy food or other stuff rather than more healthy food, the opposite of what is sought. In part this is because the amounts they save from the subsidy are too small to make a big difference.

Increasing taxes on unhealthy products can be effective. Tobacco is a good example. Various trials with taxes on sugary drinks in the US and Ireland and a 2013 study in Norway indicate small tax increases are hardly worth doing. Real behavioural change comes when the tax is at least 20%.

The big problem with extra taxes on food is their regressive impact, i.e low income households end up paying a higher proportion of their income on the tax than better off households. Supporters of these taxes will argue this is exactly why they can be so effective (i.e. the tobacco example).

Reportedly lower income households are more highly represented in poor health statistics. One reason we’re told is that unhealthy food per calorie is cheaper than healthy alternatives and, therefore, low income households tend to consume proportionately more unhealthy food resulting in poorer health outcomes. Thus, supporters of fat taxes would argue they may be “regressive” but their outcomes are “progressive”.

If countries follow Professor De Schutter’s advice and those arguing for fat taxes New Zealand could well find itself grappling with how best to tax unhealthy food.

The tobacco model would suggest some sort of excise tax.

Personally I think GST has to be the preferred mechanism for implementing this sort of policy. Sure it flies in the face of our “pure” GST system, of which we have every right to be very proud. It’s the most efficient VAT/GST in the world. However, it just makes sense to me. Why add another tax to businesses and the IRD when they already have a collection system that they’re quite used to?

Yes, there’s complexity with having a higher GST rate for certain products but that’s going to arise whatever mechanism is used for any fat tax. The legislation is going to have to be very clear on what’s in and what isn’t. As long as that part is got right the added complexity for most businesses will be no more than businesses all over the world already deal with.

The problems with differential rates in VAT/GST systems arise mainly from definitional issues. What items are caught by the higher rate? Any legislation taxing unhealthy foods would have to find a clear, scientific way for identifying those items. Provided that can be done I think the best way to impose any such tax is to have a higher GST rate for those items.

Cheers

Iain

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“Australia should follow NZ GST”?

NZ’s GST is certainly the most efficient form of VAT in the world.

The “VAT Revenue Ratio” is used by the OECD as a measure of VAT efficiency. The average in the OECD is about 50%.

The least efficient is Turkey’s VAT at about 30%. NZ ranks top at a little more than 95%, followed closely by Luxembourg.

Australia’s VAT Revenue Ratio is around 45%.

The Australian Treasury Secretary thinks they can learn from NZ’s GST and argues for a further shift in Australia from income taxes to GST. See: http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/world/9900014/Aussies-should-follow-our-GST-lead

If efficiency is the goal then the evidence seems compellingly in favour of the Secretary’s argument.

However, political realities seem to pull most countries in the opposite direction.

Yes VAT is spreading around the world as the tax of choice for governments but, increasingly those governments are voting for multiple rates, exemptions and zero rating when designing their version of VAT.

When the GFC hit we saw governments making greater use of reduced rates to stimulate activitiy. There is now a growing trend to use penal VAT rates as policy tools to discourage certain “undesirable” consumption (e.g for environmental reasons). Policies like these make a VAT system less efficient but they also make it more politically acceptable and relevant.

Perhaps the questions are: how long can NZ resist these political pressures and is it more likely we will follow the Aussie lead?

Iain

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At least it’s a start – UPDATE on E-commerce in South Africa

At least it's a start.

An update on the South African proposal to require non-resident e-services suppliers to register for VAT.

The effective date for the new rules has been stretched out to 1 June 2014 (an extension of 2 months) to allow businesses more time to get ready. Registration is open however from 7 April for those wishing to beat the rush.

Following consultation the scope of services caught by the new registration requirement has been narrowed in an attempt to exclude some common business to business transactions. This should eliminate some unnecessary compliance obligations for businesses and the South African tax authority.

This is clearly a work in progress for the South African government, as it is for every other country, so more changes to the detail are expected (such as to the registration threshold for example). They intend to continue with a wider review on the taxation of electronic services, particularly in the financial services sector.

You can read more about this here: http://www.treasury.gov.za/comm_media/press/2014/2014032801%20-%20Press%20Release%20-%20Electronic%20Services%20Regulations.pdf

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