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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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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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Bodies corporate and GST

Last week the Revenue Minister issued another Discussion Document on the GST treatment of bodies corporate.

The IRD seems to have come full circle on this one. See here:

Bodies corporate and GST.

It is proposed our GST legislation will exempt a body corporate under the Unit Titles Act from having to register for GST. In fact they won’t even have the option of registering for GST.

I think this is dangerous ground.

The key background is:

– for years the IRD didn’t allow or require residential bodies corporate to register for GST.
– consequently the IRD says most bodies corporate are not registered for GST.
– IRD lawyers reviewed the position and decided this approach was probably wrong.
– the IRD consulted and received submissions expressing concerns about any change to align with the IRD lawyers’ view.
– accordingly, the IRD now proposes legislation to validate their original interpretation that bodies corporate cannot register for GST.
– the reasons given for the law change are the potential compliance costs if bodies corporate have to register and the apparent inconsistency that would arise between bodies corporate and other residential propoerty owners.

1. Compliance costs. Well I don’t buy this argument. If it’s valid then it’s also a legitimate basis for exempting all businesses from GST and that’s not likely to happen is it?

2. Inconsistent treatment. The apparent concern is that ordinary home owners cannot register for GST in relation to their residential property ownership. It is therefore wrong to require a body corporate under the Unit Titles Act to register for GST in relation to the services it supplies to its residential property owners because they are essentially one and the same entity.

This argument doesn’t appear to be based on GST principle.

Bodies corporate would not have to register under existing law if all they did was provide residential accommodation. But, they actually don’t do that. They in fact provide a wide range of other services to their owners including maintenance, administration and representation. They are no different from a third party entity providing similar services to a group of residential property owners. The third party entity would be required and able to register for GST.

The distinction argued for is that a body corporate is owned by the unit title owners to whom it supplies services, i.e. they are in substance the alter ego of one another.

Do we really want a principle in our GST law that the corporate veil should be looked through, a company cannot as a matter of law supply services to its owners?

Where does that stop?

Nice as it might be to relieve a group of small taxpayers from their obligations under the law to me this is just not what our GST legislation should be doing. It creates a pretty difficult precedent.

Reading between the lines this seems also to be about a perceived advantage for some GST registered bodies corporate which received leaky building settlements (not subject to GST), using those funds to repair their owners’ properties and claiming GST input tax credits for the repair costs. If an ordinary home owner received a leaky home settlement (not subject to GST) they would not be able to claim GST credits on their repair costs.

The IRD sees this as a mismatch needing a legislative cure. I don’t think that’s correct. The difference is simply a question of quantification of loss, i.e. how much the leaky home compensation amount should be. For one party, GST is a cost and the compensation covers it. For the other it is not a cost and that would presumably be reflected in the settlement amount. So they are equalised.

Further, depending on how the settlement occurs, it’s possible a GST registered body corporate could well have an obligation to account for GST on the receipt of the payment so there is ultimately no difference between the parties.

This proposed change just doesn’t stack up in my view.

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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Buying and selling houses

If you’re buying and selling houses on a regular basis be careful of GST.

The Tax Review Authority recently backdated GST registration for a couple’s family trust to 1999 because they traded 11 residential properties in 12 years.

The case is reported at: Case 5/2013 [2013] NZTRA 05 TRA 019/11, 30 September 2013.

Over the 12 year period the couple bought sections, built houses, lived in the houses for a while and then sold them, some for losses but mostly for gains.

They told the Authority they had reasons in each case for selling their home such as difficulties with neighbours, noise, ill health of family members, children’s schooling requirements, concerns about build quality and so on. However the Judge didn’t find these reasons credible and concluded the couple engaged in a pattern of building houses, living in them only until they had completed all work on them and then selling them. This was a taxable activity and they had to register for GST and pay GST on their sale proceeds.

The case also concluded the couple’s Family Trust had to pay income tax on the sale proceeds.

Penalties for “gross carelessness” were imposed because the taxpayers ignored an “obvious and serious” tax risk according to the Judge.

In this case the extent of trading activity is probably towards the high end, i.e. almost one property each year. The challenge for other taxpayers is to determine just where the line is drawn.

How many times can you buy a property, do it up, live in it and sell it before you trigger the “taxable activity” test and have to pay GST? This case won’t tell you that but it will give you a steer on what factors the IRD and a court will look at.

Cheers

Iain

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Starting a new business?

If you’re thinking about starting a new business be careful how much you spend on “preparatory and exploratory” work.

An Australian tax court has just concluded that a couple could not claim back GST on “preparatory and exploratory” expenditure because their business had not yet come into existence.

The couple had bought a rural property they wanted to use for an eco-tourism business. They spent money preparing a business plan, registered a business name, consulted an accountant and lodged a development application with the local council.

However, because they had not yet produced any income from the property the court said their business had not started and they couldn’t claim back the GST.

Could a similar result occur in New Zealand? Yes it could. A person cannot be registered for GST in New Zealand unless they carry on a taxable activity. This is a question of fact and courts will look at the intention of the taxpayer to supply goods and services for money.

Where there is a considerable time difference between incurring preparatory and exploratory expenses and actually earning revenue there is a risk the IRD could refuse GST registration and GST claims for those expenses.

In the Australian case the couple bought the land in 2003 and by 2012 had still not actually derived any income. That’s probably at the extreme end of the scale. Nevertheless there is a real risk for people starting businesses dependent on Resource Management Act approvals because it can be years before they are even allowed to start work developing their property.

Be careful out there.

cheers

Iain

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Good news for non resident businesses

Non resident businesses looking to establish supply chains into New Zealand have to go through hoops to register for GST here and recover the GST on their NZ expenses. Often it means they’re at a disadvantage when compared to businesses established in New Zealand.

Yesterday Revenue Minister Peter Dunne said the Government intended to implement a proposal in an August 2011 Discussion Document to relax the rules for non-residents GST registering in New Zealand. This isn’t about giving non-resident businesses something they couldn’t already get. It’s about making it easier for them with less administration. That’s good for the businesses and good for Government Administration.

It’s also good for New Zealanders who do business overseas. If this change goes ahead we will be more aligned with Australia and other countries around the world with VAT based systems. In some of those countries New Zealand exporters cannot recover VAT costs because our system does not reciprocate. This change means NZ businesses will find it easier to claim back refunds of VAT overseas.

Not a game changer but definitely an improvement.

Iain

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Warning for small operators

A recent Australian court case serves as a warning for very small businesses. The NZ rules are similar.

The taxpayer bought a former fauna park intending to convert it to educational and accommodation use. However the taxpayer didn’t get around to kick starting their new business. They incurred expenses of owning the property and claim GST on those expenses on the basis they were for its business. The only income they had was described by the court as “miniscule” (about 6k) and related to hiring the facility out for a birthday party.

The court decided the level of commercial activity was insufficient to conclude the taxpayer’s expenses related to a business. They were therefore denied the GST credits they claimed on their ongoing costs of the property.

New Zealand has rules requiring sufficient activity to be carried on before GST credits can be claimed on expenses. There are specific rules excluding activities which are really “hobbies”.

Anyone holding significant real estate interests who generates very little income from their property needs to be very careful if they are claiming GST on their holding costs.

Iain