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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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