Is it time to rethink child support payment processes?

Is it time to rethink child support payment processes?

  • The FBT prescribed rate of interest to increase.
  • Flood affected homeowners find out about the perils of putting your home in a trust.
  • New survey shows widespread support for taxes on capital gains and windfall profits

With effect from 1st July this year, there was a change in the Child Support system so that from that date whenever a liable parent makes a child support payment, it will be passed on to receiving carers on a sole parent rate of benefit.

 Previously, any such payment was used to pay the cost of providing the benefit. This change is designed to put more money in the pockets of carers.

The change begins with child support payments due for the month of July 2023 onwards. Child support payments are paid by Inland Revenue in the month following deduction. The first payment that receiving carers receive under the new system would have been made by Inland Revenue on 22nd August “as long as the liable payment parent makes their payment on time.”

And that is a very big ‘but’. As an article at the start of the week in Stuff by Susan Edmunds notes, as of the end of August over $1 billion of child support was due. slightly down from the amount owed in August 2022. But of that amount owing $488 million represents penalties charged.

Inland Revenue acts as the intermediary in the system. It calculates the amount due and then payments by liable parents to receiving carers are made through Inland Revenue. This is done when parties after a relationship breakdown can’t agree how financial support is to be provided. Under the Child Support Act 1991 Inland Revenue manage this whole process by collecting payments from liable parents and passing them on to the receiving carers. 

To encourage prompt payment, late payment penalties are payable.  Those penalties have been adjusted recently, but the basic charge is an initial 2% penalty of the amount not paid, and then another 8% is added to that 28 days later, if it still hasn’t been paid. These penalties arise for each payment. So, if you keep missing payments, debt piles up, which is what we’ve seen.

I’ve been a long standing critic of this penalty regime.  It leads to large amounts of debt building up, a very high proportion of which represents penalties. As Susan Edmunds pointed out, for the June 2021 year, Inland Revenue wrote off nearly a billion dollars of debt and then wrote off another $181 million in the June 2022 year. The system has been like this for years, basically it’s never worked as well as people thought it would.

Somehow, we have ended up with a system where the penalties for not paying your child support on time are greater than those for not paying your tax on time. Remember Inland Revenue is just acting as an intermediary. As I told Susan, the current penalty system is outrageous. Really, we need to have a harder think about it.

Can pay, won’t pay?

This is always going to be a difficult matter because relationship breakdowns can get very toxic. Resentment builds up and without some form of compulsion/penalty, the system would probably be even more dysfunctional. Still, we’ve got to find a middle way.

Incidentally Inland Revenue also has a right to issue deduction notices which I’ve discussed before. It can issue these to an employer on the grounds that this person owes X and you are to take an extra 10% of their salary when you are applying PAYE.  I understand quite a substantial number of the deduction notices are that are issued each year relate to arrears of child support.

But even so, it’s a question, I think, for all of us to think about – why is the system like this and what can we do to make it better? There’s been some tinkering around the edges but really, whoever forms the Government after the Election, this is something I’d like to see them think longer and harder about improving.

FBT interest rates to rise

The prescribed rate of interest applies when someone has taken a loan from a company or is a shareholder/director with an overdrawn current account balance.  In such situations interest is calculated using the prescribed rate of interest on that overdrawn balance or loan to determine the FBT payable by the company. This interest rate is to increase on 1st October from 7.89% to 8.41%. As recently as 30th June last year the rate was 4.50% so you can see there’s been a very rapid increase in the rate payable.

The downsides of holding property in trust

A few weeks back Tammy McLeod of Davenports Law was a guest and we discussed the new landscape for trusts in the wake of the Trusts Act 2019. One of the areas we discussed was whether in fact so much property should be held in trust. Are there in fact too many trusts? The reason people set up trusts are manyfold, some tying back to the story at the start of this week’s podcast about relationship breakdowns.

But trusts come with downsides. And one has been illustrated in a story that emerged this week regarding people applying for government assistance following the floods in January and February. It turns out that the assistance package provides up to $160 a week to help with the cost of renting a house because your home has been red or yellow stickered.

However, according to this story from 1News the package only covers displaced homeowners. Those people who have property held in trusts are not covered. And this has come as a quite understandably unpleasant shock for a number of affected people.

The story is also interesting in that you can see a number of common misconceptions about trusts pop up, such as one affected homeowner saying, “I own the trust I have that owns my house. I’ve had it for 20, 30 years”. That’s not the case. You may be a trustee, but you don’t own the trust. And then a representative from Ministry of Social Development who’s handling these claims saying “a trust is a separate legal entity.” No, that’s not the case either, the property is registered in the name of the trustees of the trust but a trust does not have any separate legal status, whatsoever.

This misrepresentation might actually be hopefully a window of opportunity for the affected homeowners. Someone looked at this and think, well, if there are trust beneficiaries who are also trustees living in that house, then technically they are homeowners and they then may qualify for support.

I’ll keep an eye on this story and see how it pans out. But it’s another example of what Tammy and I discussed, at the time a trust was set up, it served a very specific purpose. But over time, life changes and maybe those original purposes are no longer valid. It may therefore be time to rethink and perhaps wind up the trust.

Just on the other hand, like I said at the top of the podcast, you may have gone through a relationship breakdown. You’re going into a new relationship and you may wish to protect your assets from the impact of another relationship breakdown through settling a trust. There are other mechanisms that might apply there, but the use of trusts by parties to second or third marriages is not uncommon.

A public mood for change?

The Election campaign is still rumbling on with just two weeks to go. This week a survey run for Tova O’Brien’s podcast Tova indicates widespread support for taxes on excess profits and capital gains.

Both suggestions have been ruled out by National and Labour but what’s interesting is the apparent cross-party support amongst voters for the proposals.

What makes this poll a bit more interesting is the fact that when it was broken down across the various parties, there was still fairly widespread support for a capital gains tax even amongst National and ACT supporters.  

Cross-party support for a windfall profits tax was also surprisingly strong with 74% of ACT supporters and 75% of National supporters in favour.

This is interesting to see and whether any party follows through on any of this is of course a matter which we will only find out after the Election. But even so, the survey perhaps indicates the electorate in some ways thinks there may need to be changes. But on the other hand, as some people rightly pointed out, the Labour Party ran on introducing a capital gains tax in both 2011 and 2014 and got nowhere. Subsequently both Jacinda Ardern and Chris Hipkins ruled out capital gains tax on their watch. The question remains where exactly does the political will amongst the electorate really lie on this issue?

Haere ra Geof Nightingale

Finally this week, haere ra to Geof Nightingale who retired yesterday as a partner from PWC after what can only be described as an distinguished career. Amongst his many accomplishments Geof was a member of the last two tax working groups and has been one of the leading tax professionals in the country for many years. As the many comments on his LinkedIn post announcing his retirement attests, I am one of many he has given sage advice and guidance and it was a delight to have him as an early guest of this podcast. I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear from Geof on tax but for now thank you Geof and go well in your new direction.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’m Terry Baucher and you can find this podcast on my website 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 to rā. Have a great day.

Proposed changes to the late payment penalty regime for Child Support.

  • Proposed changes to the late payment penalty regime for Child Support.
  • Millionaires want tax increases but the EU’s bite of Apple goes sour.
  • And last days to organise a tax pooling payment for the 2019 tax year


Longtime readers, listeners of this podcast, will know that I am a long-standing critic of the late payment penalty regime which currently applies across various taxes. I see it as inefficient and not actually achieving very much.

But the worst late payment penalty regime is that which applies to Child Support payments, which is rather odd because the Government in this particular case is acting as an intermediary.

At present, if you pay Child Support late, there’s an initial penalty of 2% of the late paid amount immediately and then a further 8% of the late paid amount still outstanding eight days after the due date. So that’s a 10% straight up penalty. By contrast, if you are late paying tax, the initial late payment penalty is 5% if you haven’t paid it within eight days.

In addition to this initial penalty, incremental penalties are then applied.  These are 2% of the outstanding amount, including penalties, from one month after the due date for the next twelve months, and then 1% of the outstanding amount, again including penalties, each month thereafter from 13 months after the due date.

Now, the issue of Child Support is enormously emotional and attracts quite a great deal of heat whenever I raise the topic as no one seems entirely happy with how the regime operates.  As taxpayers, we ought to be very interested in this, even when not directly affected, because the late payment penalty regime for Child Support is hopelessly inefficient and in fact ineffective.

For example, as of January 2019, the Child Support debt was $2.2 billion dollars. Now of that, only $558 million was unpaid Child Support.  The other $1.6 billion dollars being penalties. During the year ended 31 March 2019, Inland Revenue wrote off $244 million of Child Support penalties. That was actually down from $594 million written off in the previous year.  Currently, Inland Revenue writes down 97% of Child Support penalty debt at initial recognition because it doesn’t expect to collect the debt. So, a very good question is why has Inland Revenue persisted with a regime that doesn’t work?  There’s never been a really satisfactory answer to that.

But at least this week the Government announced some changes to the late payment penalty regime. The proposal is that from 1st April 2021, incremental penalties – that is the subsequent 2 % for the first month for the first 12 months and then 1 % per month thereafter – will be abolished. This measure has been brought in as part of a supplementary order paper to an existing tax bill. It’s a welcome move.

But as you can tell from the numbers I’ve just cited, will it actually really change anything? The late payment penalty regime doesn’t seem to work to encouraging people to pay on time. And there’s still this anomaly that somehow Inland Revenue acting as an agency is entitled to charge twice the amount for late payment penalties, than it charges for people paying taxes late. That conceptually doesn’t make much sense to me.

As I said, there’s a lot of emotion around the Child Support regime so there’s never going to be an entirely satisfactory answer to the issue. But it is actually good to see some movement on a sore point.

Taxing the rich

Sir Stephen Tindall was one of 83 millionaires who signed a letter to governments around the world which concluded,

So please. Tax us. Tax us.  Tax us. It is the right choice. It is the only choice. Humanity is more important than our money.

This is part of a large and growing debate around the role of taxation and how much tax governments here and around the world are going to need over coming years.

The Greens have rolled out a proposal for higher income tax rates and a wealth tax. Speaking to Wallace Chapman and Radio New Zealand panel on Tuesday, I raised the issue of perhaps a capital gains tax or a wealth tax being on offer.

And a land tax was one of the other proposals that former Act MP Heather Roy suggested was an option. It’s one I think is certainly worth looking at, although it comes with quite a number of hooks in it, like any tax does, leaving aside the whole politics of the matter.

But interestingly, this whole question of tax reform is going to be very difficult. Apart from the politics of it as I noted, but also because for some governments, it’s going to mean significant changes to their tax system.

EU judges this week ruled that, no, that ruling was wrong and in fact, Ireland had not acted inappropriately. The European Commission had not succeeded in “showing to the requisite legal standard” that Apple had received an illegal economic advantage in Ireland.

Now Ireland, even though it was going to receive €14.3 billion, actually backed Apple in this case because they have a very low tax regime for corporates. The Irish corporate tax rate is 12.5% and Ireland wanted to keep it that way as a means of driving economic growth, very important in this pandemic world.

And so the situation shows that although on one side you have people saying, ‘You know, we’re going to need tax and we’re happy to pay more tax’, governments might not necessarily be keen to follow that lead.  And by the by, it’s often said here that we want to tax the multinationals more, but this case also showed how difficult that would be.

One of the counter-arguments that was advanced by Apple, which appears to have been successful, is that the Irish subsidiaries of Apple are not involved in creating the intellectual property behind Apple’s products, because those are all developed in California.  Therefore, the economic rationale for taxing the Irish subsidiaries more heavily didn’t exist. And that same argument would apply very much more down here.

So, there’s a lot going on in the international tax space and the OECD will continue to try and get a global consensus on the matter. But the American Treasury Secretary has torpedoed that move. And the American tech giants are obviously quite happy that nothing happens because they would be the main targets of any major changes.

Last days

And finally, a reminder that if you want to organise a tax pooling payment in relation to your tax for the 2019 income year, you have until next Tuesday 21st July to put that in place.

As part of its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Inland Revenue extended the deadline for using tax pooling payments, effectively giving a further twelve months to pay the terminal tax for the March 2019 year.

And if you listen to the excellent podcasts I’ve had with Josh Taylor of Tax Traders and Chris Cunniffe of Tax Management New Zealand, on the use of tax pooling, you’ll know what a useful tool it is.

In order to qualify you have to have a tax pooling contract in place with a tax pooling intermediary such as Tax Management New Zealand or Tax Traders by 21st July. You must also show that in at least one month between January and July this year your business experienced or is expected to experience a significant decline (that is 30 % or more) in revenue as a result of COVID-19.

So, you’ve got a few days left to make use of tax pooling and set up a contract and payment schedule to pay your 2019 tax over time and by the extended terminal tax due date next April.

Well, that’s it for this week. I’m Terry Baucher, and you can find this podcast on or wherever you get your podcasts. Please send me your feedback and tell your friends and clients. And until next time, thanks for listening. Ka kite anō.