Newsletter: December

Parliamentary update

Editor: The ongoing citizenship saga in Parliament has resulted in the Government losing its one-seat majority in the House of Representatives, thanks to the resignations of Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander.

By-elections have been scheduled in the relevant electorates and, in the meantime, some of the cross-benchers have guaranteed the Government's (current) survival by committing to vote with it on motions of no-confidence and supply.

Tax legislation passed

In other news, the Government has passed changes to the tax legislation that will limit, or deny, deductions for travel expenses and depreciation claims for certain residential premises.

Legislation to impose vacancy fees on foreign acquisitions of residential land has also been passed.

 

ATO relief for SMSFs reporting 'transfer balance account' events

The ATO has announced that, from 1 July 2018, SMSF event-based reporting regarding events impacting a member’s transfer balance account (i.e., via a Transfer Balance Account Report) will be limited to SMSFs with members with total superannuation balances of $1 million or more.

Editor: This new reporting is only required if an event that impacts a member’s transfer balance account actually occurs (e.g., such as starting an account based pension, or commuting such a pension). 

This effectively means that up to 85% of the SMSF population will not be required to undertake any additional reporting with respect to a member’s transfer balance cap, outside of current time frames (as SMSFs with members with account balances below $1 million can choose to simply report events which impact their members’ transfer balances when the fund lodges its SMSF annual return).

However, from 1 July 2018, SMSFs that have members with total superannuation account balances of $1 million or more will be required to report any events impacting members’ transfer balance accounts within 28 days after the end of the quarter in which the event occurs. 

Editor: Whilst SMSFs are not required to report anything to the ATO until 1 July 2018, SMSF trustees should be mindful that, where the $1.6 million transfer balance cap has been breached in respect of a member from 1 July 2017, any resulting tax liability will continue to accrue until the excess amount is commuted (i.e., irrespective of when reporting that breach is required).

 

ATO's annual closure

This year, the ATO's annual office closure is between noon Friday 22 December and 8.00am Tuesday 2 January 2018.

Also, the ATO may have systems maintenance on some weekends, so they recommend that lodgments be made as early as possible, as even returns or activity statements lodged in early December may not be finalised until after 2 January 2018.

 

 

Truck drivers' reasonable amounts for travel updated

Following detailed consultation with the transport industry, the ATO has amended their determination for travel expenses for truck drivers to provide separate reasonable travel allowance expense amounts for breakfast, lunch and dinner for employee truck drivers for the 2017/18 income year.

The reasonable amount for travel expenses (excluding accommodation) of employee truck drivers who have received a travel allowance and who are required to sleep away from home was originally reduced for 2017/18 to a total of $55.30 per day, but this daily rate has now been replaced with the following amounts for all domestic travel destinations for the 2017/18 income year:

            Breakfast         $24.25

            Lunch              $27.65

            Dinner              $47.70

The amounts for each of these meal breaks are separate and cannot be aggregated into a single daily amount, and amounts cannot be moved from one meal to another (e.g., if the full amount for breakfast is not expended, it cannot be carried over to lunch or dinner).

A driver's work diary (as maintained for fatigue management purposes) can be used to demonstrate when meal breaks were taken.

 

Tool for applying the margin scheme to a property sale

The ATO is recommending that taxpayers use their recently updated GST property decision tool to work out if GST applies to their property sales.

The tool can be used to determine GST on the sale, lease or purchase of real property, and was recently updated for easier use on mobile devices.

In particular, after providing the relevant information, the tool will generate a GST decision that:

  •   advises whether GST is payable on a sale;
  •   estimates the amount of GST payable when applying the margin scheme; and
  •   advises whether the taxpayer is eligible to claim input tax credits.

Note that the ATO does not record any personal information and users will remain anonymous.

Other GST News

The Government has released draft legislation on "improving the integrity of GST on property transactions", as announced in the 2017/18 Federal Budget.

They intend to amend the GST law so that, from 1 July 2018, purchasers will withhold the GST on the purchase price of new residential premises and new residential subdivisions, and remit the GST directly to the ATO as part of settlement.

This is to address tax evasion through "phoenixing arrangements", where developers collect GST from their customers but dissolve their company to avoid paying it to the ATO.

To provide certainty for contracts that have already been entered into, the draft legislation provides a two-year transitional arrangement – contracts entered into before 1 July 2018 will not be affected as long as the transaction settles before 1 July 2020.

Editor: In addition, the GST Act has been amended to ensure that supplies of digital currency receive equivalent GST treatment to supplies of money (particularly foreign currency).

 

Numerous work-related expense claims disallowed

The AAT has denied a taxpayer’s deductions for work-related travel, clothing, self-education and rental property expenses (totalling $116,068 and $140,581 for the 2013 and 2014 income year respectively), and upheld the ATO’s 50% administrative penalty on the tax shortfall for recklessness.

Apart from being unable to prove (or 'substantiate') some claims due to lack of receipts, and documents being in the wrong name, the AAT also criticised the taxpayer for:

  •   claiming work-related travel expenses on the basis of the 'gap' between travel expenses reimbursed by her employer and the ATO’s reasonable rates (which "was clearly not permissible under any taxation law"); and
  •   claiming clothing expenses for "formal clothes of high class”, despite her clothing not being distinctive or unique to her employment at the Department of Finance, and was instead rather conventional in nature (and so was not deductible).

Newsletter: October

No small business tax rate for passive investment companies

The Government has released draft tax legislation to clarify that passive investment companies cannot access the lower company tax rate for small businesses of 27.5%, but will still pay tax at 30%.

The amendment to the tax law will ensure that a company will not qualify for the lower company tax rate if 80% or more of its income is of a passive nature (such as dividends and interest).

The Minister for Revenue and Financial Services said the policy decision made by the Government to cut the tax rate for small companies was meant to lower taxes on business, and was not meant to apply to passive investment companies.

 

ATO to be provided with more super guarantee information

The Government has announced a package of reforms to give the ATO near real-time visibility over superannuation guarantee (SG) compliance by employers. 

The Government will also provide the ATO with additional funding for a SG Taskforce to crackdown on employer non-compliance.

The package includes measures to:

u      require superannuation funds to report contributions received more frequently (at least monthly) to the ATO, enabling the ATO to identify non-compliance and take prompt action;

u      require employers with 19 or fewer employees to transition to single touch payroll (‘STP’) reporting from 1 July 2019;

u      improve the effectiveness of the ATO’s recovery powers, including strengthening director penalty notices and use of security bonds for high-risk employers, to ensure that unpaid superannuation is better collected by the ATO and paid to employees’ super accounts; and

u      give the ATO the ability to seek court-ordered penalties in the most egregious cases of non-payment, including employers who are repeatedly caught but fail to pay SG liabilities.

Editor: Following extensive consultation when STP was originally announced, it was decided that employers with 19 or fewer employees would not be required to comply. 

Given the backflip here, the business community will be hoping the Government does not introduce compulsory real-time payments of SG and PAYG withholding, as well as real-time reporting.

 

 

 

ATO: Combatting the cash economy

The ATO has reminded taxpayers that it uses a range of tools to identify and take action against people and businesses that may not be correctly meeting their obligations.  Through 'data matching', it can identify businesses that do not have electronic payment facilities. 

These businesses often advertise as 'cash only' or mainly deal in cash transactions.  When businesses do this, they are more likely to make mistakes or do not keep thorough records. 

The ATO’s ability to match and use data is very sophisticated.  It collects information from a number of sources (including banks, other government agencies and industry suppliers), and also obtains information about purchases of major items, such as cars and real property, and then compares this information against income and expenditure reported by businesses and individuals to the ATO.

Example: Unrealistic personal income leads to unreported millions

The income reported on their personal income tax returns indicated that a couple operating a property development company didn’t seem to have sufficient income to cover their living expenses.

The ATO found their company had failed to report millions of dollars from the sale of properties over a number of years.

They had to pay the correct amount of tax (of more than $4.5 million) based on their income and all their related companies, and also incurred a variety of penalties.

Example: Failing to report online sales

A Nowra court convicted the owner of a computer sales and repair business on eight charges of understating the business’s GST and income tax liabilities.

The ATO investigated discrepancies between income reported by the business and amounts deposited in the business owner’s bank accounts, and found that the business had failed to report income from online sales.

The business owner was ordered to pay over $36,000 in unreported tax and more than $18,400 in penalties, and also fined $4,000 (and now has a criminal conviction).

Get it in writing and get a receipt

The ATO also notes that requesting a written contract or tax invoice and getting a receipt for payment may protect a consumer's rights and obligations relating to insurance, warranties, consumer rights and government regulations.

Consumers who support the cash economy, by paying cash and not getting a receipt, risk having no evidence to claim a refund if the goods or services purchased are faulty, or prove who was responsible in case of poor work quality

 

Higher risk trust arrangements targeted

The ATO’s 'Tax Avoidance Taskforce – Trusts' continues the work of the Trusts Taskforce, by targeting higher risk trust arrangements in privately owned and wealthy groups.

The Taskforce will focus on the lodgment of trust tax returns, accurate completion of return labels, present entitlement of exempt entities, distributions to superannuation funds, and inappropriate claiming of CGT concessions by trusts.

Arrangements that attract the attention of the Taskforce include those where:

q      trusts or their beneficiaries who have received substantial income are not registered, or have not lodged tax returns or activity statements;

q      there are offshore dealings involving secrecy or low tax jurisdictions;

q      there are agreements with no apparent commercial basis that direct income entitlements to a low-tax beneficiary while the benefits are enjoyed by others;

q      changes have been made to trust deeds or other constituent documents to achieve a tax planning benefit, with such changes not credibly explicable for other reasons;

q      there are artificial adjustments to trust income, so that tax outcomes do not reflect the economic substance (e.g., where someone receives substantial benefits from a trust but the tax liability on those benefits is attributed elsewhere, or where the full tax liability is passed to entities with no capacity/intention to pay);

q      transactions have excessively complex features or sham characteristics (e.g., round robin circulation of income among trusts);

q      revenue activities are mischaracterised to achieve concessional CGT treatment (e.g., by using special purpose trusts in an attempt to re-characterise mining or property development income as discountable capital gains); and

q      new trust arrangements have materialised that involve taxpayers or promoters linked to previous non-compliance (e.g., people connected to liquidated entities that had unpaid tax debts).

Newsletter: August

ATO warning regarding work-related expense claims for 2017

The ATO is increasing attention, scrutiny and education on work-related expenses (WREs) this tax time.

Assistant Commissioner Kath Anderson said: “We have seen claims for clothing and laundry expenses increase around 20% over the last five years.  While this increase isn’t a sign that all of these taxpayers are doing the wrong thing, it is giving us a reason to pay extra attention.”

Ms Anderson said common mistakes the ATO has seen include people claiming ineligible clothing, claiming for something without having spent the money, and not being able to explain the basis for how the claim was calculated.

“I heard a story recently about a taxpayer purchasing everyday clothes who was told by the sales assistant that they could claim a deduction for the clothing if they also wore them to work,” Ms Anderson said.

“This is not the case.  You can’t claim a deduction for everyday clothing you bought to wear to work, even if your employer tells you to wear a certain colour or you have a dress code.”

Ms Anderson said it is a myth that taxpayers can claim a standard deduction of $150 without spending money on appropriate clothing or laundry.  While record keeping requirements for laundry expenses are "relaxed" for claims up to this threshold, taxpayers do need to be able to show how they calculated their deduction.

The main message from the ATO was for taxpayers to remember to:

n          Declare all income;

n          Do not claim a deduction unless the money has actually been spent;

n          Do not claim a deduction for private expenses; and

n          Make sure that the appropriate records are kept to prove any claims.

 

GST applies to services or digital products bought from overseas

From 1 July 2017, GST applies to imported services and digital products from overseas, including:

u         digital products such as streaming or downloading of movies, music, apps, games and e-books; and

u         services such as architectural, educational and legal.

Australian GST registered businesses will not be charged GST on their purchases from a non-resident supplier if they:

q         provide their ABN to the non-resident supplier; and

q         state they are registered for GST.

However, if Australians purchase imported services and digital products only for personal use, they should not provide their ABN.

Imposition of GST on 'low-value' foreign supplies

Parliament has passed legislation which applies GST to goods costing $1,000 or less supplied from offshore to Australian consumers from 1 July 2018.

Using a 'vendor collection model', the law will require overseas suppliers and online marketplaces (such as Amazon and eBay) with an Australian GST turnover of $75,000 or more to account for GST on sales of low value goods to consumers in Australia.

The deferred start date gives industry participants additional time to make system changes to implement the measure.

Editor: It should be noted that this is a separate measure to that which applies GST to digital goods and services purchased from offshore websites, as outlined above.

 

New threshold for capital gains withholding

From 1 July 2017, where a foreign resident disposes of Australian real property with a market value of $750,000 or above, the purchaser will be required to withhold 12.5% of the purchase price and pay it to the ATO unless the seller provides a variation (this is referred to as 'foreign resident capital gains withholding').

However, Australian resident vendors who dispose of Australian real property with a market value of $750,000 or above will need to apply for a clearance certificate from the ATO to ensure amounts are not withheld from their sale proceeds.

Therefore, all transactions involving real property with a market value of $750,000 or above will need the vendor and purchaser to consider if a clearance certificate is required.

 

Action to address super guarantee non-compliance

The Government will seek to legislate to close a loophole that could be used by unscrupulous employers to short‑change employees who choose to make salary sacrificed contributions into their superannuation accounts.

The Government will introduce a Bill into Parliament this year that will ensure an individual’s salary sacrificed contributions do not reduce their employer’s superannuation guarantee obligation.

 

Change to travel expenses for truck drivers

Editor: The ATO has released its latest taxation determination on reasonable travel expenses, and it includes a big change for employee truck drivers.

For the 2017/18 income year, the reasonable amount for travel expenses (excluding accommodation expenses, which must be substantiated with written evidence) of employee truck drivers who have received a travel allowance and who are required to sleep away from home is $55.30 per day (formerly a total of $97.40 per day for the 2016/17 year).

If an employee truck driver wants to claim more than the reasonable amount, the whole claim must be substantiated with written evidence, not just the amount in excess of the reasonable amount.

Editor: The determination includes an example of a truck driver who receives a travel allowance of $40 per day in 2017/18 ($8,000 over the full year for 100 2-day trips), but who spent $14,000 on meals on these trips.

 

In terms of claiming deductions for these expenses, he can either claim $14,000 as a travel expense (if he kept all of his receipts for the food and drink he purchased and consumed when travelling), or just rely on the reasonable amount and claim $11,060 ($55.30 x 200 days) as a travel expense (in which case he will need to be able to show (amongst other things) that he typically spent $55 or more a day on food and drink when making a trip (for example, by reference to diary entries, bank records and receipts that he kept for some of the trips)).

 

Car depreciation limit for 2017/18

The car limit for the 2017/18 income year is $57,581 (the same as the previous year).  This amount limits depreciation deductions and GST input tax credits.

Example

In July 2017, Laura buys a car to which the car limit applies for $60,000 to use in carrying on her business.    As Laura started to hold the car in the 2017/18 financial year, in working out the car’s depreciation for the 2017/18 income year, the cost of the car is reduced to $57,581.

 

Div.7A benchmark interest rate

The benchmark interest rate for 2017/18, for the purposes of the deemed dividend provisions of Div.7A, is 5.30% (down from 5.40% for 2016/17).

Newsletter: July

Removal of the Temporary Budget Repair Levy from the 2017/18 income year

The 2% Temporary Budget Repair Levy (or ‘TBRL’), which has applied to individuals with a taxable income exceeding $180,000 since 1 July 2014, is repealed with effect from 1 July 2017. 

Up until 30 June 2017, including the TBRL and the Medicare Levy, individuals earning more than $180,000 faced a marginal tax rate of 49%.

With the benefit of the removal of the 2% TBRL, from 1 July 2017, individuals with a taxable income exceeding $180,000 face a marginal tax rate of 47% (including the Medicare Levy). 

Editor: Don’t forget to add another 1.5% for the Medicare Levy Surcharge for certain individuals that don’t have Private Health Insurance.

 

Simpler BAS is coming soon

The ATO is reducing the amount of information needed to be included in the business activity statement (or ‘BAS’) to simplify GST reporting.

From 1 July 2017, Simpler BAS will be the default GST reporting method for small businesses with a GST turnover of less than $10 million.

In relation to GST, small businesses will only need to report:

G1 - Total sales

1A - GST on sales

1B - GST on purchases.

This will not change a business’ reporting cycle, record keeping requirements, or the way a business reports other taxes on its BAS.

Simpler BAS is intended to make it easier for businesses to lodge their BAS.  It should also reduce the time spent on form-filling and making changes that don't impact the final GST amount.

The ATO will automatically transition eligible small business' GST reporting methods to Simpler BAS from 1 July 2017.

Small businesses can choose whether to change their GST accounting software settings to reduce the number of GST tax classification codes.

Editor:  Call our office if you need help with the transition to Simpler BAS or to decide whether your business will use reduced or detailed GST tax code settings in its GST accounting software.

 

Changes to the foreign resident withholding regime for sales of Australian real estate

Since 1 July 2016, where a foreign resident has disposed of real estate located in Australia, the purchaser has had to withhold 10% of the purchase price upon settlement and remit this amount to the ATO, where the market value of the property was $2,000,000 or greater. 

As a result of another 2017/18 Budget Night announcement becoming law, in relation to acquisitions of real estate that occur on or after 1 July 2017, the withholding rate has increased to 12.5% and the market value of the real estate, below which there is no need to withhold, has been reduced to $750,000. 

Editor:  Unfortunately, even if a sale of real estate with a market value of $750,000 was to take place between two siblings on or after 1 July 2017 (both of whom have been Australian residents for 50 plus years), withholding must occur unless the vendor obtains a ‘clearance certificate’ from the ATO – despite the two siblings clearly knowing the residency status of each other!

These changes highlight the need to obtain clearance certificates where the vendor is an Australian resident and the real estate is worth $750,000 or more - not a high exemption threshold given the sky-rocketing values of Australian real estate!  If you are buying or selling real estate worth $750,000 or more (including a residential property, i.e., home) please call our office to see if a clearance certificate is needed.

Change to deductions for personal super contributions

Up until 30 June 2017, an individual (mainly those who are self-employed) could claim a deduction for personal super contributions where they meet certain conditions. One of these conditions is that less than 10% of their income is from salary and wages.  This was known as the “10% test”.

From 1 July 2017, the 10% test has been removed.  This means most people under 75 years old will be able to claim a tax deduction for personal super contributions (including those aged 65 to 74 who meet the work test).

Editor: Call our office if you need assistance in relation to the application of the work test for a client that is aged 65 to 74.

Eligibility rules

An individual can claim a deduction for personal super contributions made on or after 1 July 2017 if:

  •          A contribution is made to a complying super fund or a retirement savings account that is not a Commonwealth public sector superannuation scheme in which an individual has a defined benefit interest or a Constitutionally Protected Fund;
  •          The age restrictions are met;
  •          The fund member notifies their fund in writing of the amount they intend to claim as a deduction; and
  •          The fund acknowledges the notice of intent to claim a deduction in writing.

Concessional contributions cap

Broadly speaking, contributions to super that are deductible to an employer or an individual, count towards an individual’s 'concessional contributions cap'. 

The contributions claimed by an individual as a deduction will count towards their concessional contributions cap, which for the year commencing 1 July 2017 is $25,000, regardless of age.  If an individual’s cap is exceeded, they will have to pay extra tax.

Editor:  Call our office to discuss the eligibility criteria and tax consequences of claiming a tax deduction for a personal contribution to super for the year commencing 1 July 2017.