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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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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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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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Certainty in construction

Planning ahead and attention to detail in contractual documentation are essential for retirement village operators wanting clarity of what GST costs they are up for.

That was the key GST message at this week’s Retirement Villages Association finance forum focussing on construction and development. Another outstanding event incidentally run by the able team at the Retirement Villages Association: www.retirementvillages.org.nz.

There aren’t many businesses in New Zealand with more GST headaches than retirement village operators. They live in a complex GST world. Getting it wrong can be expensive not to mention extremely time-consuming.

When constructing a facility, retirement village operators cannot claim GST credits on some construction costs, can claim back all GST on some costs and have to claim a portion of GST on other costs provided they continue to monitor and adjust that portion annually.

Knowing what they can and can’t claim and what costs they have to monitor every year makes for better sleep. Those operators who include GST in their planning when budgeting, concluding contracts and setting up systems will have an easier time and more clarity over their financial position. This involves people throughout their organisation with an appreciation of the GST issues working together. The legal, finance, IT, procurement, sales and property teams need to be working together.

When all systems, processes and controls are set up to deliver a correct and consistent GST outcome life is a lot easier and less risky for a retirement village operator.

Iain

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Visiting sports teams

The recent publicity about AFL players being pinged for income tax as “entertainers” when they played the Anzac Day matches here is interesting. See here:

http://www.3news.co.nz/Wellington-AFL-game-hit-with-tax/tabid/415/articleID/355731/Default.aspx

Like everything in life there’s a GST overtone to this.

The players would have spent money on food, accommodation, transport and other stuff when in New Zealand, all of which would have been subject to GST.

The interesting question is how these players would get on if they sought GST refunds for the costs they incurred here as non-resident “entertainers”. It seems possible under the new GST non-resident registration rules but there are some reasonably strict criteria.

Still, could be a case of the Government taking with one hand and paying back with another?

Iain

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Surprise in body corporate treatment?

A Product Ruling (BR Prd 14/08) published by IRD on 28 July is fascinating as much for what it doesn’t say as the conclusions reached.

Facts briefly:

– Unit title building in Christchurch.
– Mostly commercial property.
– Destroyed in earthquake.
– Body corporate insured building and paid the premiums (including GST). The Body Corporate was the named “insured” not the individual unit owners.
– Claim made. Settlement reached. Insurer paid out in full and final settlement.
– Rather than reinstate the building the Body Corporate resolved to distribute the settlement funds to all unit owners in proportion to their interests.
– The majority of unit owners are registered for GST but the Body Corporate is not.
– CERA purchased the unit owners’ interests at current market value (on an “as repaired” basis) less the amount of the insurance settlement distributed to each Owner.

Ruling:

The IRD have ruled –

1. GST registered owners do not have to account for GST on the receipt of their share of the insurance settlement distributed to them by the Body Corporate.
2. The distribution of the insurance settlement proceeds by the Body Corporate to each GST registered owner is not subject to GST.

This Ruling is fascinating. I don’t necessarily disagree with it but I am intrigued.

It’s a Product Ruling, which means it’s public. Surely it could have been a private ruling?

An entire paragraph is repeated. It’s very unusual for the IRD to have typos that big in rulings. They are generally checked and re-checked.

If the insurer gets to claim an input tax deduction for the settlement payment to the Body Corporate (which it seems to me could be the case) and if the GST registered Owners had used the funds to repair the building isn’t there a potential for a double claim of input tax deductions? They could claim input credits on the repair costs and yet according to the Ruling no one has an output tax liability on the receipt of the settlement. Now, I know that’s not what happened because the building wasn’t repairable. However, if that were not the case would the GST result have been any different?

Also, the Body Corporate paid the insurance premiums and wasn’t registered for GST. That seems odd. So, the GST registered Owners were not able to claim GST input tax deductions for the insurance premiums (because it seems the Ruling has concluded there was no agency relationship between the Body Corporate and the Owners). I wonder how many commercial unit title buildings in New Zealand arrange their insurance this way? I wonder if some Owners are in fact claiming GST input tax deductions whereas this Ruling seems to suggest they wouldn’t be entitled to. Seems like a pretty strange state of affairs.

I’ve got to be missing something here. Can someone help me out?

cheers

Iain

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NZ businesses are getting it wrong

I’m seeing increasing evidence of misunderstanding over how the zero rating rules apply.

From 1 April 2014 non-resident businesses can register for GST in NZ under a new system which allows them to claim GST refunds on business related costs. Historically a business had to supply goods or services in NZ before it could register and claim back GST on its costs here. That is no longer the case.

I’ve been working with a number of overseas businesses wanting to take advantage of the new system.

What’s starting to emerge is surprising. A number of these overseas businesses are looking to reclaim GST they should never have been charged in the first place.

The most common mistake I’ve seen is made by NZ service providers contracting with an overseas business. They’ve charged 15% GST when the transaction should have been zero rated.

To be fair, the zero rating rules are not the easiest in the legislation to follow. There’s quite a lot of case law on them which speaks to some of the complexities.

There seems to be a common misunderstanding that because services are performed in New Zealand (i.e. the work is done here) GST has to apply at 15%. That’s not necessarily the case. Only some services performed here and supplied contractually to a non-resident business are taxed at 15%.

If you’re providing services to overseas businesses I suggest you check how you are dealing with GST. If you’re incorrectly charging it at 15% you may find Inland Revenue comes knocking when your customer tries to register under the new system and claim back GST that should not have been charged.

Cheers

Iain

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Inland Revenue interim operational position for GST and Bodies Corporate - 23 June 2014

Inland Revenue interim operational position for GST and Bodies Corporate – 23 June 2014

The Government recently announed its intention to introduce legislation exempting bodies corporate from GST, back dated to 6 June 2014.

There’s a slight problem in that this legislation can’t be enacted until after the election.

So, bodies corporate are told the law will be changed effective from 6 June but don’t know for sure whether that will actually happen. The election could produce quite a different Parliament. It could be foolish to presume the new Parliament will adopt the current Minister’s position on this.

In the meantime Inland Revenue has issued an interim operational position to help bodies coporate navigate through this period of uncertainty.

Inland Revenue generally must apply the current law which, in its view, allows bodies corporate to register for GST. However, in this instance the Department has stated it will not require an unregistered body corporate to register for GST, even if it receives levies of more than $60,000 per annum (the mandatory registration threshold).

It’s arguable whether Inland Revenue is able to ignore the compulsory GST registration requirements in this way, but, as I’ve said before, its position can be commended for being sound tax administration during this interim period. 

The interim position statement covers a wide range of possible scenarios.

The greatest implications arise for bodies corporate currently registered for GST which, once the proposed legislation is passed, will no longer be entitled to be registered with effect from 6 June 2014. As the statement explains, they will have their GST returns amended and their registration cancelled as at 6 June 2014. This could result in a liability to Inland Revenue or refunds being due from Inland Revenue to a body corporate.

Unwinding GST returns and payments lodged by a body corporate from 6 June 2014 until whenever the proposed amendment is passed (if at all) could be messy. There’ll be potential use of money interest issues and it’s likely tax advisors will have to be called in to help given the complexities.

The greatest risk arises for a body corporate claiming input tax deductions exceeding its output tax liabilities during the interim period. It could be faced with paying back tax to Inland Revenue and having to make submissions asking for use of money interest to be waived (which hopefully would occur but there are no guarantees).

Depending on cash flow requirements and other factors we could see some bodies corporate delaying input tax claims during this interim period so their GST returns are net nil or result in just a little net tax to pay. GST input tax deductions are able to be claimed in later GST periods for up to 2 years. That allows a body corporate to wait and see whether the current Government’s proposed amendment is ultimately passed by Parliament after the election before submitting large refund claims. If the legislation is passed it will be less messy to unwind the GST returns already lodged.  If it isn’t, they can include the input tax claims in a later GST return.

This really has become quite a complicated area for what always seemed to me to be a pretty straightforward issue. It would be much better if the current law stood and bodies corporate were within the GST system just like everyone else. Someone needs to get the horse back in the paddock.

cheers

Iain

 

 

 

 

 

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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