Posts

, , , , ,

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

, , ,

Overseas companies avoiding GST?

Simon Moutter, Spark’s MD, says overseas companies like Netflix are avoiding GST.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11422160

He has a point, and it’s not news really. But the debate grows as more New Zealand businesses feel the heat from overseas digital competitors.

I’ve no doubt a solution will be found and I agree with Moutter, it will be a technology solution.

VAT /GST regimes around the world apply the “destination principle” i.e. the tax burden lies where consumption occurs. Unless we abandon that policy building block we must find a way to tax the increasingly valuable services being purchased from offshore.

Some countries are forging ahead without waiting for the OECD to come up with a multilateral solution [South Africa, the EU, the Bahamas]. As Moutter points out, the US has rules in place for sales taxes on inter-state transactions, but of course enforcement isn’t as difficult when the two taxing states are part of the same country.

This is a challenge for technology entrepreneurs as much as tax administrators.

Cheers

Iain

, , , , , , , ,

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

, , , , , ,

Charges for failing to turn up to parties

A parent in the UK invoiced the parents of a five year old GBP15.95 because their son failed to turn up to a birthday party after they had accepted the invitation on his behalf.

See the story here: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cornwall-30876360

They’re threatening to sue to recover the money!

So what are the VAT implications here, even if the claimant has only a snowball’s chance of recovering the money?

VAT probably wouldn’t apply because it’s likely to be viewed as a “compensatory” payment rather than consideration for goods or services.

Also, the claimant probably isn’t registered for VAT in relation to the birthday party activity.

However, if the claimant were a professional birthday party organiser VAT might apply. It would have to be established there were legal relations intended between the organiser and the invitee and a term of that contract was that the invitee, having accepted the invitation, would pay a fee if they failed to show up.

So, there was a contract, the customer failed to honour their side of it and a fee is charged. In New Zealand that fee might be subject to GST if the fee effectively is an adjustment to the originally agreed price. However, if it’s to “compensate” the organiser for a loss suffered because of the no-show then GST probably wouldn’t apply.

The IRD recently stated their view on the GST treatment of late hire charges and certain fines:http://www.ird.govt.nz/resources/1/5/1552acab-6838-4617-817d-86bfe0ab86b4/qb1414.pdf

The statement illustrates some of the same principles.

These things get complicated when you scratch beneath the surface don’t they?

cheers

Iain

, , , , , , , , ,

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

, , , ,

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

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

VAT and online sales

This is a very good item on the wider business implications of proposed changes in Europe to the VAT treatment of online digital media sales.

http://performance.ey.com/2014/02/20/vat-change-online-sales-just-tax-concern/

Cheers

Iain

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Global VAT alignment edges closer

At the Global Forum on VAT in Tokyo last week 86 countries signed up to the first agreed framework for applying VAT to internationally traded services and intangibles. The new guidelines set out core VAT principles to be applied when taxing services and intangibles, will ensure more consistency between countries, will reduce double taxation and will protect the neutrality of business to business (“B2B”) transactions.

While an important step in the right direction, the more vexing question of how to tax internationally traded business to consumer (“B2C”)services and intangibles has been left for another time.

The Global Forum on VAT occurs under the umbrella of the OECD and provides a platform for global discussions on VAT. The first session took place in November 2012. Last week was the second occasion academics, tax administrators. business representatives and others were invited to discuss VAT policy trends and developments.

The main output from this latest session was a set of new OECD Guidelines on applying VAT across borders.

The Guidelines can be downloaded from the the OECD website – here: http://www.oecd.org/ctp/consumption/international-vat-gst-guidelines.htm

The focus of the Guidelines is B2B transactions. They discuss place of supply rules, the well known “destination principle” (B2B services should be taxed in the country where the customer is located) and mechanisms available to countries to allow non established foreign businesses to recover VAT incurred there.

None of this is startling news for New Zealand. We’re already ahead of this stuff thanks to our super charged GST system. Just this month we’ve seen a new streamlined registration and GST recovery system come into place for overseas businesses incurring GST here.

The really challenging question for New Zealand, and every other country with a VAT, is how do you tax B2C services and intangibles traded across borders? Unlike goods there’s no border control in place to capture internationally traded services and there’s no existing registration system to collect the tax from the customer/consumer.

This really is the more urgent question in my view. Countries are attempting to deal with the issue on their own (eg South Africa and the EU) but global cooperation and alignment are critical. Some States in the USA have implemented mechanisms to apply state taxes to inter-state B2C online sales (such as e-books) and the latest evidence suggests these measures are improving the sales of local bricks and mortar retailers at the expense of online retailers such as Amazon.

Last week’s Forum in Tokyo urged the OECD to finalise work on the VAT treatment of B2C services in time for the next Global Forum on VAT in November 2015. That seems like a long time to wait, but as we all know, achieving global consensus on anything is a slow process.

Cheers

Iain

, , , , , , , , ,

“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

, , , , , , , ,

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