Will the IRD be able to deliver the cost-of-living payment?

Will the IRD be able to deliver the cost-of-living payment?

  • Will the IRD be able to deliver the cost-of-living payment?
  • Potentially unwelcome GST surprise for farmers selling up.
  • The latest developments from the OECD


In the wake of the Budget, a Cost of Living Payments bill was introduced and has now been enacted. As part of the enactment a supplementary analysis report was released giving background to the proposed $350 payment. And this supplementary analysis has some very interesting commentary.

It appears the Cost of Living Payment was put together very much at the last minute as a response to the adverse effects of inflation on low to middle income households. According to these documents, this report was finalised on May 4th, barely two weeks before the Budget was delivered, which is very late in budget terms.

According to the document, Inland Revenue recommended against being the delivery agency for this Cost of Living Payment. The reason it gave was that it was concerned, that being asked to administer the payment would significantly impact its services to customers – taxpayers in plain English.

“The addition of this payment to their portfolio of services Inland Revenue already delivers will compromise Inland Revenue’s already stretched workforce and affect the taxpayer population, including the families and individuals that the payment would be intended to support them.”

Inland Revenue correctly identified that as soon as the announcement was made, they would get contacted about it which would put strains on their systems. It calculated a maximum of approximately 750 full time equivalent staff would be required to handle the payments to be made in the weeks of 1st August, 1st September and 1st October. Now, to put that in context, Inland Revenue staff as of 30th June 2021 was 4,200 full time equivalents. It would therefore need to use the equivalent of 18% of its staff to handle the delivery of this Cost of Living Payment. Quite clearly this would put strains on its system.  The $816 million appropriation for the Cost of Living Payments includes $16 million to Inland Revenue for delivery of the services.

It’s therefore likely that Inland Revenue will need to hire additional staff, presumably contractors, on a short-term basis. And as we’ve discussed previously, the issue of contractors hit the courts with the Employment Court ruling that the contractors were not employed by Inland Revenue although I understand that decision is being appealed.

It also seems the Inland Revenue poured a bit of cold water on how the payments would be structured. According to the report, 55% of the total payments to be made will be to the middle 40% of households, 20% would be made to the bottom 30%, and 25% would go to the top 30%. There would be an estimated 478,000 households with children and 610,000 households without children who would receive a Cost of Living Payment. Although around 60% of all potentially eligible recipients will have annual income below $70,000, 10% would have family income of between $70 and $100,000 and 30% will have family incomes over $100,000.

And this led Inland Revenue to point out that potential equity concerns could arise because using individual income to calculate the eligibility for the payment rather than household income may result in different outcomes for households with the same income level. For example, a single person earning $100,000 won’t receive a payment, but a household with two people working who each have income of $50,000 would both receive the payments.

There’s also some analysis regarding how the eligibility is dependent on a person’s prior year’s income, which means the tax returns for the March 2022 must be filed. The paper notes that by the time Inland Revenue begins making payments on 1st August, it expects to have already raised individual tax assessments for approximately 3.2 million individuals, about 75% of individual taxpayers. But that leaves about 500,000 individuals, who may not initially receive the payment between the August to October payment run period because they haven’t filed their tax return. And this includes people who file through tax agents and have in theory until 31st March 2023 to file last year’s tax return.

This underlines a point I made in last week’s Budget commentary that you can probably expect tax agents to come under more pressure to get tax returns done on time so that those people who think they’re eligible may get a Cost of Living Payment. Overall, it’s some interesting insights into the administration of these systems and the Budget process.

GST pitfalls for the unwary

Now moving on, GST is probably the best example you can find of the broad-base low-rate approach to taxation policy. But even though it’s a highly comprehensive tax, that does not make it a simple tax. In fact, it’s full of pitfalls for the unwary. And I’ve been alerted to one which may affect farmers who are selling up.

Back in 2020, Inland Revenue caused some consternation when it issued Interpretation Statement IS20/05 on the supplies of residences and other real property.  The Interpretation Statement reversed a long-established policy since 1996 on the sale of the farmhouse where the farmer might have used part of the property for their taxable activity, for example a home office in the homestead. Previously Inland Revenue’s position was that the sale of a farmhouse would generally be a supply of a private or exempt asset and not subject to GST.

However, in IS 20/05, Inland Revenue reversed that position and now said that the sale of the dwelling would have been useful for families who would now be subject to GST. The example the Interpretation Statement gave was if a GST registered farmer was claiming an automatic 20% deduction for farmhouse expenses, an Inland Revenue would expect that the property was therefore being used 20% of the time in the taxable activity and consequently sale of the farmhouse would be a supply in the course or furtherance of a taxable activity and therefore subject to GST.

This change has caused some consternation although some relief was given in the recently enacted Taxation Annual Rates for 2021-2022, GST, and Remedial Matters Act. This included a provision which allowed a deduction for the private use portion of a sale. Coming back to that 20% example I mentioned a moment ago, if 20% of the homestead was used for farming business and 80% for private purposes, there would be an adjustment for the output tax of 80% of the private portion. But that would still mean that 20% of the current value of the farmhouse at the time of sale would be subject to GST, which would be an increased tax burden for many farmers and undoubtedly a surprise for some.

Apparently Inland Revenue is now indicating that it may reconsider its position in its Interpretation Statement, which is a classic example of the military maxim “Order, counter-order, disorder”. But until that point is clarified, farmers who are selling their farm should be aware of this potential liability and seek advice on that transaction.

How the OECD influences our tax policy

And finally this week, a couple of updates from the OECD. Firstly, it released its annual report on the taxation of wages. This includes its tax wedge analysis, which looks at the difference between labour costs to the employer and the corresponding net take home pay for the employee. Basically, the tax wedge is the sum of the personal tax income tax payable by the employee plus any employee and employer social security contributions plus any payroll taxes less any benefits received by an employee. (I think ACC is included for these purposes).

As can be seen New Zealand, scores very highly with a tax wedge of 19.4%, which is the third lowest in the OECD. The average in the OECD is 34.6%.

What this tax wedge measure also points to is the significance of Social Security and payroll taxes in other jurisdictions. One of the criticisms of the Government’s proposed social insurance scheme is it would be the first real Social Security tax that New Zealand has. It seems from early feedback this is one reason employers are pretty reluctant about the scheme. But even if the scheme was introduced, we’d still be down the lower end of the tax wedge.

Now the second OECD report was titled Tax Cooperation for the 21st Century. This was prepared by the OECD for the G7 finance ministers and central bank governors when they met recently in Germany. It’s particularly interesting because it picks up on what’s been happening with the adoption of the Two Pillar solution for international taxation we’ve talked about recently.

The OECD was asked to prepare was a report that would focus on the further strengthening of international tax co-operation and what recommendations it has in this field. This is looking beyond the implementation of the Two Pillar solution which makes it very significant, in my view, about the future administration of international tax.

For example, a key recommendation is tax administration should be seen as a common mission by tax authorities rather than a potentially adversarial exercise. The development of international cooperation is one of the biggest themes in international taxation in the 21st Century and is also probably one of the least understood. And I will repeat what I’ve said beforehand, most people are oblivious to the amount of information that is being shared by tax authorities at all levels.  China, incidentally, has just signed up to the mutual agreement and protocols on that.  So every major jurisdiction in the world is cooperating or looking to cooperate on international tax at some level. This is why this paper is important because it starts to map out and where that international co-operation might be going.

The report focuses initially on corporate tax saying there needs to be a reliable framework for cross-border investment. As just noted, tax administration should be seen as a common mission. There should be a collaborative approach with early and binding resolution.

The impact of going digital is emphasised and that it needs to speed up to improve engagement with taxpayers. There are also recommendations beyond corporate tax about moving to real time data availability for taxpayers and tax administrations to make efficient use of evolving technologies while maintaining data privacy and confidentiality.

The issue of data privacy and confidentiality is a developing area where taxpayers are starting to push back against tax authorities because they are concerned, rightly, whether everything is secure as it should be. Furthermore, some are, understandably, not too happy about information sharing.

Finally there’s a recommendation that advanced economies should commit to supporting developing economies so that they can fully benefit from the policy changes. This means building capacity which is going to be needed, especially for the implementation of the Two Pillar solution. Overall, this is a relatively brief but fascinating paper with potentially significant implications.

And just incidentally, on the international Two Pillar solution, the Secretary General of the OECD has now indicated that he expects that implementation will be delayed by a year until 2024. That doesn’t surprise me, given the scale of the project, because there’s a lot of legislation that needs to be put in place by the middle of next year at the latest. Inland Revenue have only just started consultation on the matter.

Still, the Two Pillar project has moved on quicker than some cynics might have expected. But as I’ve said previously, politics is likely to get in the way, particularly the upcoming US Congressional midterm elections. Anyway, as always, we shall bring you the news as it develops.

Well, that’s all for this week I’m Terry Baucher and you can find this podcast on my website www.baucher.tax or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening and please send me your feedback and tell your friends and clients.

Until next time kia pai te wiki, have a great week!

Terry looks at what’s ahead in the world of tax this year and finds some big issues.

  • Terry Baucher looks at what’s ahead in the world of tax this year and finds some big issues
  • some lingering from the past
  • and some new ones to be grappled with


2022 is only four weeks old, but as was the case last year and in 2020, COVID-19, this time in the form of the Omicron variant, will dominate the news and fiscal policy.

Tax responses to the pandemic

What exactly the Government’s fiscal response to Omicron will be is not yet clear. There’s no mention so far of a new round of Resurgence Support Payments or a general wage subsidy. And now, since we’ve moved into the red traffic light setting as of midnight on 23rd January, there’s concern many employees will soon be unable to work because they’re either sick or self-isolating from Omicron.

So what support is available? Well, at the moment it’s just the Leave Support Scheme or the Short-Term Absence Payment scheme. These have replaced the wage subsidy. The Leave Support Scheme is a payment for when a person or a dependent is required to self-isolate due to Covid-19 either because they’ve been exposed to it, or they’re considered high risk if they were to contract it. The Short-Term Absence Payment, on the other hand, is designed to help employees who are self-isolating while they’re awaiting the result of a Covid-19 test. In order to be eligible for the Leave Support Scheme the Short-Term Absence Payment the employee needs to be unable to work from home.

The Leave Support Scheme is paid at a rate of $600 a week for full time workers, those doing more than 20 hours a week, and $359 a week for part time workers, i.e. less than 20 hours a week. The rules around these payments are set out in the Covid-19 guidelines, and for the moment, that’s all that’s available. And by the way, both payments are administered by the Ministry of Social Development and will be made regardless of the financial position of the employer.

Industries such as hospitality, tourism and the performing arts sector have all been hit hard and will be affected by the move to the red traffic light system. But at present, nothing in the form of an updated Resurgence Support Payment or something new has been mentioned.

Any response to this issue is clearly a matter of politics although it will have a fiscal impact. Bernard Hickey, the economic commentator and journalist, has put together an analysis of the impact of the Covid-19 support to date and who has benefited from that, and the numbers are quite eye watering. In his daily newsletter, he says that the government’s interventions to print $58 billion through the Reserve Bank and give $20 billion in cash to business owners helped make owners of homes and businesses $952 billion richer since December 2019. This is one of the greatest transfers of wealth New Zealand has ever seen. It’s also highlighted the pressure on those at the other end of the scale. The poorest New Zealanders now owe $400 million more to MSD and need twice as many food parcels as they did before Covid-19.

Now as I said most of this is political, and we’ll see if the optics of such huge changes will affect how the next form of fiscal support will be designed. Will it be as generous, or, as many people have said, should the funds be going directly to employees and those infected rather than through their employer?

Taxation of capital

More importantly, the never-ending issue of the question of the taxation of capital will re-emerge on this. We’ve already had discussions with one or two other people in the policy space around what we think could be happening in the year ahead and the question of inequality and taxation of capital has popped up again. Although it seems incredible to think the last election wasn’t so long ago, there’s an election next year, and I imagine there would start to be some jockeying around positioning for that.

So Omicron and Covid-19 and God forbid, any further variants, will play out on the economy. What type of support the Government gives and how it funds it will have tax implications. It might be, for example, the Government might have a look again at whether it allows the carry back of tax losses. They were going to push ahead with, a permanent scheme, but dropped it for fiscal costs. They may have a think again because the fiscal cost might not be so great as expected or feared, and can actually be concentrated on sectors which are getting hit hard anyway. So that’s something to look out for.  So, watch this space and we’ll bring you news of developments throughout this year as they happen.

International tax reform

The next area I think we will see, and again repeating a theme from last year, will international tax reform and following through with the implementation of the agreement on the taxation of the largest multinationals and the digital tech giants. This year the detail of that agreement is to be worked out. The OECD released last week the transfer pricing guidelines for multinational enterprises and tax administrations for 2022.

140 odd jurisdictions have committed to the reforms of digital taxation and will be working on making sure that it meets these pretty ambitious deadline to be in place by the end of the year, so we’ll see a string of developments in that field.

How our tax system is run

And finally, on the domestic front, the issue which I think will dominate is what next for Inland Revenue now it’s completed its Business Transformation? Basically this is about how the tax system is run. Now, this may sound like a dry topic, but there’s already been quite a bit of manoeuvring around what is the future of tax administration.

On this, I would recommend reading a paper prepared by Business New Zealand in conjunction with tax experts (some of whom included members of the Tax Working Group, such as Robin Oliver) on the future of tax administration. I understand sometime soon we’ll see a Government Green Paper on tax administration, which would explore what tax administration could look like in future and how to make best use of Inland Revenue’s completed Business Transformation project.

What Business New Zealand and its working group have done, is put together a roadmap including a series of revised tax principles applicable for tax administration. This is talking about the delivery of tax policy and administration, not about actual tax policy settings, per se.

One of the things that’s stands out from this paper is that Business New Zealand, and from my initial discussions with Inland Revenue on the topic, see Inland Revenue moving more to focus on system management and partnering and assisting a wide range of participants in the tax system other than taxpayers themselves. This is a bit of a change in the whole approach. Inland Revenue is no longer adopted a top down “It’s my way or the highway” around how tax is administered and delivered.

The paper sets out seven tax administration principles. Firstly, “The purpose of ongoing reform is to reduce the risks and costs for all participants in the tax system and improve national wellbeing”. Nothing too controversial about that, totally agree.

Secondly, “The tax system is built to assist those who voluntarily comply, with robust enforcement for those who do not.”

I wholeheartedly agree with that. Voluntary compliance is undermined if Inland Revenue does not throw the book at those who are not complying.

One of the issues raised in this paper and which has been picked up in other papers on tax administration I’ve seen from around the world, is that sometimes this means tax authorities have to take an approach to a particular sector or area of enforcement where it might not necessarily see there’s a lot of money in it for them. For example, the fringe benefit tax issue around the infamous twin cab Ute. Inland Revenue has said, “Well, yeah, we think there’s an issue there, but we don’t know whether it’s worth our while”. Under this tax administration principle, it’s, “No, you really do need to look at that, there are wider integrity issues as to why you should do so”.

Three. “Everyone understands their rights and obligations through clear, unambiguous legislation and guidance.”

Very strong support of that principle. And as we talked about last year, one of the pressures that’s coming into the tax system is we’re getting less clear legislation and guidance. This is because the Government is doing things a little bit ad hoc as it responds to pressures, inevitable pressures sometimes, but the tax policy process has not been as robust as it could have been.

And there are two obvious example to talk about here. Firstly, the interest deduction rules and secondly, the proposals to ask high wealth individuals to provide more details about their assets and how they’re held. Both those policies have been done one would argue, a little bit on the hoof, and this certainly caused pushback as a result.

Following through on this, the fourth principle is “Tax rules are designed and administered in a way which reduces compliance and administration costs.” And again, everyone can get behind this. Business NZ paper points out this is something that’s actually much more important for small businesses and microbusinesses where the costs fall heaviest on them, and often they don’t have the tools in terms of the resources to manage their tax liabilities.

The fifth principle is “Tax policy proposals are critically evaluated against the ability to automate outcomes.” Very straightforward. No issues there.

Sixthly, “A well-functioning tax system recognises the role and importance of intermediaries.” Now, regular listeners of the podcast will know that sometimes as tax agents, we felt unhappy about how Inland Revenue had interacted with us and about how the Business Transformation process was implemented.

And what this paper points out is intermediaries such as tax agents and other software designers are incredibly important to the tax system going forward. To be fair to Inland Revenue, that seems to be also coming through on what I’m hearing from them. A very important change there and a welcome one, too.

And finally, “Taxpayers and intermediaries are held responsible only for matters within their knowledge or control.” This is a fair point setting some boundaries so that taxpayers are not held accountable for errors beyond their control or knowledge.  This might happen because sometimes information wasn’t available or can never be made available to a taxpayer or an intermediary. At present the tax system can come down hard on the reporting person because they should have known, when in fact they may not have done or could not have done.

The paper suggests for example that Inland Revenue which has better knowledge should be responsible for advising taxpayers and intermediaries of incorrect tax rates and tax codes.  So this is an issue of increasing fairness in the tax system.

Now I understand that Inland Revenue is going to produce a Green Paper for discussion and is considering holding a symposium later this year to discuss these matters. Although it sounds like an arcane topic it’s certainly, going to be quite an important issue for the year going forward. And as always, we will bring you developments as they happen.

Well, that’s it for this week. I’m Terry Baucher and you can find this podcast on my website www.baucher.tax or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening and send me your feedback and tell your friends and clients. Until next time, kia pai te wiki, have a great week.