This week, clarity about the application of the 39% trustee rate and the timeline restoring interest deductibility for residential investment.

This week, clarity about the application of the 39% trustee rate and the timeline restoring interest deductibility for residential investment.

  • Inland Revenue does not consider removal of commercial buildings depreciation “to be a fair and efficient way of raising revenue”.
  • New 12% online Gaming Duty still leaves $500 million gap in the Government’s tax package.

It’s been a busy week in tax, beginning on Sunday when the Associate Minister of Finance, David Seymour, announced that interest deductions for residential properties would be restored to 80% deductibility from 1st April.

There had been a proposal under the Coalition Agreement for the present 50% deductibility in in the current tax year to increase to 60% with backdated effect, but that has now been dropped. The Minister also confirmed interest on residential investment property will become fully deductible with effect from 1st April 2025, in line with the Coalition Agreement.

Interest deductibility “Yeah, Nah”

The announcement reignited a long running debate over the fairness of the measure restricting interest deductibility. The crux of the argument against it being that businesses are allowed to deduct their costs when deriving income, and the change made to restrict interest deductibility by the last government was contrary to standard business and tax practice.

But when you consider this point keep in mind that under the Income Tax Act, expenses are deductible to the extent to which they are incurred in deriving gross income or to the extent they’re incurred in the course of carrying on a business deriving accessible income.

“The extent to which” is the key phrase and the argument around non deductibility revolves around the fact that the economic return for landlords comprises of fully taxable rental income, and a capital gain which is largely tax free. But legislation generally has ignored this point of possible apportionment between what is taxable income and non-taxable capital income. This leads on to the never-ending debate as to whether we should tax capital gains. And so the argument of deductibility is just another continuation of this question.

It’s also worth noting that businesses with overseas owners are subject to the thin capitalisation regime. This also restricts interest deductions where the New Zealand company’s debt to asset ratio exceeds 60%. Now this measure also contradicts standard tax and business practice, but it’s part of many jurisdictions around the world as a means of countering the risk of excessive interest charges transfer pricing money out of the country. In other words, there are arguments for and against restricting interest deductibility.

Improving the position of renters

On Thursday, the Minister of Revenue released an Amendment Paper for the current tax bill along with five Regulatory Impact Statements two of which covered the restoration of interest deductibility and the reduction of the bright-line test period to two years. There was some interesting commentary by Treasury in both impact statements noting:

“Rental affordability is a significant issue in New Zealand. Based on Household Economic Survey data for the year ended June 2022, a quarter of renting households were spending over 40% of their disposable income on rent housing, and rents have risen faster than mortgage payments. Renters also have higher rates of reporting housing issues like dampness, mould and heating.”

Treasury, Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development all agreed that restoring interest deductibility should have a long-term effect of putting downward pressure on rents, but ‘should’ is doing a lot of work in this space. Other measures are going to be needed to improve rental affordability.

But restoring interest deductibility has the benefits of simplifying matters. Restricting deductibility was an imperfect measure, with a great deal of complexity and arguably went too far in the other direction of apportioning expenses relating to the split between taxable and non-taxable income.

Trustee tax rate increase to 39% confirmed subject to $10,000 exemption

The announcement on interest deductibility was followed on Monday by the Finance and Expenditure Committee (the FEC) reporting back on the Taxation (Annual Rates for 2023-24, Multinational Tax and Remedial Matters) Bill. There’s a great deal of interest around this Bill as it included the proposed increase in the trustee tax rate to 39%.

As had been hinted by Finance Minister Nicola Willis a couple of weeks back, there is going to be a de-minimis introduced for trusts with trustee income (undistributed income) of $10,000 or less. Such trusts will continue to have the 33% trustee rate apply to trustee income. However, for all trusts where the trustee income exceeds $10,000, a flat rate of 39% will apply.  Therefore, if there’s $10,000 of trustee income the 33% rate applies but if it’s $10,001 the new 39% rate will apply on everything. It’s not the first $10,000 is taxed at 33% and the excess at 39%. It’s an all or nothing.

The FEC justified introducing the de-minimis exemption on the basis that the information it had received was that the compliance costs for many trusts were in the region of between $750 and $1,000 per annum. Therefore, the potential $600 benefit of a $10,000 threshold would be swallowed up by compliance costs, which is a fair point. But the reaction among my colleagues and myself is that the $10,000 threshold, although welcome is too low because, by the FEC’s own logic, something closer to $25,000 could easily have been justified.

It’s worth noting that the compliance costs for trusts have increased substantially in the last couple of years. Firstly, following the Trusts Act 2019 coming into force. And then secondly, Inland Revenue’s greater disclosure requirement for the March 2022 year onwards. By the way, we have seen nothing about those greater disclosure requirements being dialled back by Inland Revenue now there is the 39% tax rate in place. Back in 2021 part of the argument for not increasing the trustee rate to 39% at the same time as the individual tax rate went to 39% was to allow Inland Revenue to gather data on whether there was substantial amount of potential income sheltering through trusts. That theory seems to have been ditched for the moment.

Energy Consumer and deceased estates remain at 33%

Separately the FEC confirmed that the trustee rate for energy consumer trusts would remain at 33%. It also made changes to the treatment of deceased estates following submissions. A flat rate of 33%, will apply to all deceased estates rather than the deceased persons personal tax rate as originally proposed. More importantly, the trustee rate of 33% will now apply for the year of the person’s death and three subsequent income years. That was in the in the wake of many submissions pointing out that deceased estates typically don’t get wound up inside 12 months. These changes are welcome.

The Bill also covered off a number of amendments to other key topics, including the introduction of the global anti base erosion rules, the taxation of backdated lump sum payments for ACC and social welfare, rollover relief in respect of bright-line property disposals and relief under the bright-line tests for people affected by the Nelson floods.

Those global anti avoidance rules will take effect in two parts, the so-called income inclusion rule with effect from 1st January 2025 and then the ‘domestic income inclusion rule from 1st January 2026. This is a little later than the rest of the OECD and the intention is to give the affected multinational enterprise entities (those with consolidated revenue above €750 million per annum) time to get ready.

Inland Revenue recommended against removing building depreciation

On Thursday the Minister of Revenue published an Amendment Paper containing details of the proposals regarding the restoration of interest deductibility for residential investment properties, replacing the current five and ten year bright-line tests with a two year bright-line test period, removing the ability to depreciate commercial buildings and introducing a new Casino Gaming Duty. The Amendment Paper was accompanied by a detailed commentary .  and, as I mentioned earlier, the relevant Regulatory Impact Statements. Now as usual, these Regulatory Impact Statements (RIS) contain some interesting reading.

The ability to depreciate commercial buildings is being removed in order to help pay for the Coalition Government’s tax package. However, in the relevant RIS Inland Revenue recommended recommends retaining the status quo and that “the Government reconsider introducing commercial and industrial building depreciation when fiscal conditions allow.”

Citing its last Long-Term Insights Briefing Inland Revenue noted that in paragraphs 19 and 20 of the RIS, that under some assumptions made by the OECD:

“…New Zealand was likely to have had the highest hurdle rate of return for investment in and industrial buildings for the 38 countries in the OECD. This was when New Zealand allowed 2% depreciation on these buildings. Denying depreciation deductions will drive up these hurdle rates of returns even higher and make New Zealand a less attractive location for investment.

This tax distortion does not only impact building owners. To the extent the additional cost is passed on and there is less investment, it also impacts any business that needs to use a building and the customers of such a business. It thereby negatively impacts productivity more generally.”

Inland Revenue conclude in paragraph 32 of the RIS:

“We do not consider the removal of building depreciation to be a fair and efficient way of raising revenue. We are particularly concerned about the efficiency impacts which will make New Zealand even more of an outlier in pushing up cost of capital for commercial and industrial buildings. We therefore recommend retention of the status quo. We note this RIS is not evaluating the merits of the Government’s tax package as a whole.”

So, why is the Coalition Government withdrawing building depreciation? Because doing so is worth $2.31 billion over four years which was understood before the election. Even so it’s fairly interesting and unusual to see such a blunt assessment.

A new Gaming Duty

National’s Election policy included a new online gaming duty which was expected to raise something like $700 million over a four-year period. I was one of the those who was a bit sceptical about the revenue forecast. And it transpires that the numbers were indeed a bit optimistic.

What is now being proposed is a new 12% gaming duty for online offshore casino websites and this is in addition to GST, which is already payable when gambling on offshore sites. This new duty would be in line with how some other countries tax offshore casino websites. It’s estimated to collect $35 million of additional tax revenue in the forthcoming year ended 30th June 2025 and expected to grow by 5% each subsequent year. This still leaves a gap of about $500 million over four-years in the original revenue forecasts.

The Budget in May is becoming more and more interesting for finding out how the Government will follow through on its commitment to increase personal income tax thresholds. Even though they won’t compensate for the effect of inflation since 2010 those threshold adjustments come at a substantial cost. I could see that further cost reductions may be imposed further down the track. Those are political matters which we’ll have to wait and see how they work out.

Foreshadowing a capital gains tax?

Some commentary in the bright-line RIS raised the prospect of a capital gains tax. Treasury, for example, proposed a 20-year bright-line test or longer as it

“…would capture more capital gains, thereby improving the fairness of the tax system and supporting more sustainable house prices.”

Inland Revenue meantime felt the 10-year bright-line test was not an efficient way of taxing capital income before adding “If the government wanted to tax the income, it would be preferable to have a tax on these gains, irrespective of when the assets were sold.”  It’s interesting to see Treasury and Inland Revenue raising the bogeyman of a capital gains tax to address funding and fairness issues within the tax system.

And on that note, 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.  

As-salamu alaykum. Peace be upon you and peace be upon all of us.”

The UK’s Spring Budget drops a big change which will affect tens of thousands of Kiwis and British expats with the end of the remittance based taxation regime.

The UK’s Spring Budget drops a big change which will affect tens of thousands of Kiwis and British expats with the end of the remittance based taxation regime.

  • More on UK trust filings, and why are there so many trusts in New Zealand?
  • Financing local government, time for change?

I’ll be honest, even after 30 years in New Zealand, I miss British budgets. There’s a building sense of anticipation beforehand, as rumours circulate about bold tax plans and the abolition/introduction of new measures. Then on the day itself, we have to deal with the myriad of tax measures introduced, usually always without any warning beforehand, other than leaks to selected media. Being perfectly cynical, they are handy work-creation events, much more so than their New Zealand counterparts.  (That said this year’s May Budget here is looking like it will be the exception, which proves the rule).

This year’s UK Spring Budget, which was released on Wednesday night, did not disappoint. There were a whole raft of measures, some of which, to borrow the phrase the 1974 Lions adopted in South Africa against the Springboks involved “Getting your retaliation in first”. These measures were done simply to hamper what’s expected to be the next Labour government after Britain has its General Election sometime this year.

Ending the Remittance Basis of taxation

So, there’s a lot to consider, but there were two that are of particular interest to New Zealanders, and these are to do with the so-called non-dom rules. The UK has a special set of rules called The Remittance Basis of Taxation for non-domiciled persons. That is people, generally speaking, born outside the UK, and they are able to basically exempt their non-UK sourced income from UK taxation, if they don’t remit it to the UK.

These rules have been around for a long time and there has been a lot of amendments in recent years. And I suspect there is a fair bit of non-compliance going on from people here in New Zealand, who’ve not kept up with those changes.

The UK Labour Party had indicated it would remove the regime as a fundraising measure. Instead, the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, (Finance Minister), Jeremy Hunt, has gone ahead and decided to pre-empt that by abolishing the regime with effect from 6th April 2025. It will be replaced by a regime which looks very similar to the transitional residence exemption we have here. That is, individuals will not pay UK tax on foreign income and capital gains for the first four years of UK tax residence.

There will be some transitional rules which will apply to existing individuals who are claiming the remittance basis. You can claim remittance basis for up to 15 years, but after a period of ten years you have to start paying a Remittance Basis Charge of £50,000. And then after 15 years of tax residency in the UK, you’re deemed to be domiciled in the UK and the exemption no longer applies. It’s long been a very controversial measure. The wife of the present Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is apparently a non-dom and questions have always been asked about whether she made use of that exemption as she comes from an incredibly wealthy family.

I’ve got a number of clients moving across to the UK, or who are all already there, and we’re looking at the question of how to manage the implications of becoming UK tax residents. So, this proposal is interesting to see. More details will emerge, obviously over time, but it is significant in that it will perhaps make it a little easier for people to migrate to the UK without triggering huge tax liabilities or having to manage them extremely carefully under the remittance basis regime.

Domicile and Inheritance Tax – good news for Kiwis & UK migrants?

Related to the end of the remittance basis regime and arguably even more important, are changes to the UK’s Inheritance Tax (IHT) regime. IHT is a unified estate and gift duties, and probably should be still what it was originally called Capital Transfer Tax. At present, IHT applies to all assets situated in the UK or all assets worldwide if the person is domiciled in the UK. 

The proposal is that those current rules will also be replaced from 6th April 2025 with a residency-based set of rules which will probably involve a ten-year exemption period for new arrivals and then a ten-year tail provision for those who leave the UK and become non-resident. What that tail provision may mean is that someone who’s been resident or domiciled meets the test for IHT, may have to be non-resident for ten years to escape the full effect of it.

Now, in my experience, the impact of IHT on Kiwis who’ve been over in the UK or have assets in the UK, and then Brits like myself, who’ve migrated here, is not very well understood. But as the Baby Boomer and older generations are starting to pass away now, there’s a great transfer of wealth going on. The amount of IHT that the UK government is collecting is steadily rising. It’s now up to over £7 billion a year (0.3% of GDP, about $1.2 billion in New Zealand terms), steadily heading towards 0.5% of GDP. So, it’s starting to become a more significant part of the tax take.

These new rules may mean that people who have previously been caught in the regime will be out of it, but it may also mean that people who thought they were outside the regime may be caught. There’s no indication here that the rates that apply – 40% on estates worth more than £325,000 pounds or $650,000 thereabouts – have been changed. It’s a tax that people feel needs reform in that there is plenty of scope for mitigating it. It falls very heavily on relatively smaller states rather than the larger estates where they have the wealth to do some more estate planning.

More tax breaks for the film industry – a lesson for the Government?

And incidentally, just before moving on, I notice this budget also contains a number of measures to promote the UK film industry and theatre as well as the arts. These will provide over £1 billion in additional tax relief over the next five years. One of the things that’s common amongst tax systems around the world is support for the film industry, and the film industry as a whole is pretty cynical about going to where the best incentives are.

I think it’d be interesting to see just how the Coalition Government responds in the May budget about pressures mounting on the Screen Production Rebate, whether that’s going to continue in its present form. The industry here will be lobbying for it to continue because although we can’t compete with more generous exemptions that may be provided elsewhere, the rebate still provides the skills that have been built up here thanks to the likes of Weta Workshop and others which makes New Zealand skills still highly sought after. The Screen Production Rebate is the little kicker which helps get the deals across the line.

More on UK trust statistics and a warning about the perils of overseas trustees

Larger estates in the UK will undertake a fair amount of mitigation to minimise the impact of Inheritance Tax, and that invariably tends to involve the use of offshore trusts. I mentioned in last week’s podcast the extraordinary fact that in absolute terms more tax returns are filed in New Zealand for trusts than in the UK.

This provoked a lively debate in the comments section with some pointing out the UK numbers don’t really reflect trusts that have been set up to go offshore into tax havens such as the Caymans and the Isle of Man. Well yes, that’s right, the UK numbers  don’t reflect this because trusts’ tax returns, for UK purposes are generally required to file tax returns based on the residency of the trustees.

That by the way, is a matter people here need to pay more attention to. If a beneficiary or trustee migrates to the UK, this may inadvertently make a New Zealand trust with New Zealand assets subject to UK taxation. Again, this is another matter which isn’t well understood, and I suspect there’s a fair bit of noncompliance going on.

The UK also has a Trusts Registration Service. This was in response to the EU’s Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive from 2017, which the UK went ahead and implemented despite Brexit. The UK actually went in for a tighter regime than the EU had proposed. According to the same statistics that the HMRC held about trust tax return filings in the UK, the Trust Registration Service had 633,000 trusts and estates registered as of 31st March 2023 and which remain open as of 31st August 2023. This includes 462,000 new registrations in the 12-months to 31st March.  

This surge in registrations is the result of a compliance effort by HMRC to remind people around the world that if any trust has a property in the UK, or even has made loans to beneficiaries in the UK, it may have a UK tax liability, and therefore should register under the Tax Trust Registration Service. This is regardless of where the trustees are tax resident. And again, I suspect there is a fair bit of non-compliance here.

Why are there so many trusts in New Zealand?

But even if you take these greater numbers, we’re still left with the rather astonishing fact that per capita large number of trusts in New Zealand relative to the population. How did that evolve was one of the questions asked in the comments. The short answer would be that the effective abolition of Estate Duty in late 1992 removed the impediments to setting up trusts. What we saw in response was something quite unusual in trust law, where it was now quite possible for a single person to be the settlor (or the person who settles property on the trust), a trustee responsible for managing the property, and a beneficiary. This is very unusual in trust law terms around the world.

I think it has to be said that some lawyers and other practitioners took advantage of that opportunity to market themselves and trusts extremely well. Back in the early 1990s, by putting assets in trusts it was possible to mitigate against the impact of rest home charges. The income of trusts was not then taken into account when determining eligibility for the likes of Working for Families or student allowances.

All that has changed over time and my view is that a substantial number of the estimated 500,000 trusts that we have in New Zealand are no longer necessary. That’s also the view of many other practitioners in this space. So it will be interesting to see what happens over time as people realise the complexities of using trusts and the inadvertent tax issues that are created when trustees, beneficiaries or settlors move to another jurisdiction.

Since the start of the year, I’ve seen an upsurge in requests for advice in relation to trustees, beneficiaries or settlers moving to the UK or making distributions to the UK.

I don’t expect that to slow down, and I think it’s actually the tip of the iceberg.

Beware the information exchanges

I would also add that probably because of the common reporting standards and the automatic exchange of information as various tax authorities work their way through all that information that’s being accumulated and distributed around the world, they will be realising that they many trusts are non-compliant, accidentally or not, and they’ll be starting to crack down on it.

Local government finances, time for reform?

Finally this week, local governments are now looking to set their rates for the forthcoming 2024-25 year. The fact that no replacement for Three Waters has been found and the substantial infrastructure deficit we as a country have allowed to develop, means that rates are likely to be rising quite significantly for many of us. That’s obviously going to generate some pushback. 

Writing on this topic Dan Brunskill noted the quite astonishing stat that local government rates have basically not increased as a percentage of the economy in the past hundred years. 

Basically, local rates have stuck around about 2% of GDP overall across the country about $8 billion in rates are paid. (Not all that you pay to a Council is actually rates based on property values, there’s also the Uniform Annual General Charge together with the various services such as consent fees that councils charge).

As the graph illustrates, apart from the spike around the Great Depression period, when councils and central governments all did more to try and help alleviate the impact of that, rates as a percentage of GDP have been stable for well-nigh 90 years. I think the present rating present funding of councils is unsustainable, because, as the article notes, central governments keep giving local governments more and more to do, but restrict them in the level of income that they can raise. That’s both good and bad. We don’t want what happened with Kaipara District Council, which essentially went bankrupt because it could not fund a wastewater system in Mangawhai. 

There’s scope for reform in this space. I think the crunch points around finance are arriving now and local and central government will need to think harder about how local government can be funded and what funding mechanisms are appropriate. For small councils such as Kaipara or, Waiora over near Tairawhiti East Coast, the funding issues and scope for raising funds are not the same as for Auckland a council with a rating base of over a trillion dollars. The laws need to change in my view, but we’ll have to wait and see developments.

As always, we will bring those to you when they happen. And on that note, 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.

Hints that the new 39% trustee tax rate might not apply to all trusts.

Hints that the new 39% trustee tax rate might not apply to all trusts.

  • What connects Pillar One and Pillar Two with the collapse of Newshub?
  • New draft Inland Revenue guidance on employee share schemes.

Today (Monday) I was (virtually) at the Accountants and Tax Agents Institute of New Zealand (ATAINZ) annual conference which, like last week’s International Fiscal Association, (IFA) Conference, was opened by the Minister of Revenue, the Honourable Simon Watts. The Minister repeated much of what he had said to the IFA conference about supporting the Generic Tax Policy Process, his wish for simplification in the tax system and improving compliance being a main driver. As the focus at the IFA conference is very much on tax policy his comments were very welcome.

By contrast, at the ATAINZ conference, the focus is slightly different because the audience there was comprised of tax agents, and we’re more focused on operational matters. So, when it came to Question Time, there were quite a number of questions around operational aspects of Inland Revenue. One of the first questions that was asked was what was going to happen with the trustee tax rate, which you may recall is proposed to rise to 39% under a bill presently before the Finance and Expenditure Committee.

Now we’re expecting to hear back from that fairly soon, but during the week the Minister of Finance, Nicola Willis, hinted that some form of carve-out might be happening, in that the 39% trustee tax rate might not apply to all trusts. So naturally, some questions were directed at the Minister seeking clarification on this point.

He wasn’t able to give more guidance, simply saying that we will have to wait until the Finance and Expenditure Committee reports back, which is expected next week. The Minister got told it is a rather frustrating scenario because we’ve got the run up to the end of the tax year on 31st March, and we will be wanting to plan payments for dividends and other distributions in before then. Unfortunately, the issue remains a bit of a grey area for the moment.

More trusts file tax returns in New Zealand than in the United Kingdom

There’s a couple of statistics that highlight the scale of this issue. According to Inland Revenue for the 2022 income year (typically the year ended 31st March 2022), the number of trusts and estates which filed a tax return totalled 237,226. That’s actually a decrease of more than 19,000 from the prior year.

It so happens that I came across statistics from the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs about the number of trust tax returns that are filed there. And according to the equivalent tax year to 5th April 2022, HMRC received 141,500 returns.

Just pause and think about that. In absolute terms, more trust and estate tax returns are filed in New Zealand than in the UK, despite the UK, with its population of some 67,000,000 being almost 13 times greater than here. So actually, on a per capita basis, it would point to the fact, for every trust tax return that’s filed in the UK, there would appear to be close to 21 filed here. The tax rate for trusts is therefore a big issue in relative and absolute terms and that’s why the tax community and trust community are really keen to get this matter resolved as quickly as possible.

What evidence is available points to the fact that for most trusts – once you include the associated families and beneficiaries that are in there – their income would not exceed $180,000, the threshold at which the 39% top tax rate kicks in. But there is a small and significant group, about 11% according to Inland Revenue, that do receive a very large amount of income. So that’s something we’d like to see resolved soon and hope it’s in time for us to get clients advised and ready for the new tax year changes.

Interestingly, on the other comments the minister made to both the IFA and the ATAINZ conferences about Inland Revenues regulatory stewardship review of fringe Benefit Tax which it did in 2022, it’s clear that there is likely to be a focus on this issue from Inland Revenue on greater audit activity. This is something promoted under the Coalition agreement. What extra resources Inland Revenue is going to have and the full direction that it’s going to take going forward are probably only going to become clearer after the Budget on 30th May. Which, as the Minister pointed out, was not that far off in reality.

How the end of Newshub and the OCED international tax deal are connected

The news that Newshub’s operations will end with effect from 30th June was a big shock to the media community. As someone who has occasionally appeared on various Newshub programmes, my sympathies go out to all those affected. And I do hope that some means is found to keep the operation going, although it has to be said, it’s very doubtful at this point. I’ve always found in all my dealings with journalists of whichever organisation, they have always been incredibly professional, and I’ve appreciated that. And so, as I said, this is not a great day for journalism, and has also been pointed out, it’s not actually a great day for democracy as a whole.

Now one of the many excellent sessions at last week’s IFA Conference was an American perspective on Pillar One digital services tax and Pillar Two, the proposed international tax agreements, which have been under negotiation for some time. The taxation of the tech giants such as Facebook and Google is a key part of Pillar One and Pillar Two, and that’s the connection with the collapse of Newshub.

Newshub is no longer financially viable according to its owners, Warner Brothers, because of collapsing advertising revenues. A couple of days after the Newshub announcement, its competitor TVNZ reported an operating loss of $4.6 million for the six months to 31st December 2023. TVNZ noted that its advertising revenue fell from $171.3 million in the six months to December 2022 to $146.8 million in the six months to December 2023, against a background of rising costs.

So where is that advertising going? Well, most of it is going offshore. From what we can pick out from the financial statements of Google and Facebook New Zealand for the year ended 31 December 2022, it would appear that close to $1.1 billion during those years was paid to offshore affiliates in so-called service fees. Now that’s a substantial amount of money, and those transactions are entirely legitimate under the present tax rules. But it has to be said, even if 10% of that $1.1 billion were to stay in New Zealand, it would be a significant boost to the industry. And arguably the difference between Newshub’s operations continuing and being closed.

The offshore advertising and the service fees and the whole issue around the taxation of tech companies, point to the pressure building on the tech companies because New Zealand is not alone on this. Over in Australia Meta, the owner of Facebook, has said it’s no longer going to go through with the deal to pay news companies who were providing content on its websites.

The presentation at the IFA Conference kept coming back to a key point that I’ve always believed, which is tax is inherently political. The French were one of the first drivers of change in this space but obviously the American companies, which would be the most affected, pushed back by putting pressure on the American government to respond. And so even though the Generic Tax Policy Process tries to depoliticise tax policy as much as possible, ultimately governments are elected with certain political objectives, and those will often trump best tax policy, and that’s just a fact of life.

A digital services tax to help media?

The whole question of the impact on democracy and journalism of Newshub’s closure is beyond this podcast. But the pressure will now mount on the Coalition Government to consider what steps it can do to help the media. On the other hand, the Public Interest Journalism Fund was highly controversial.  

Does that mean that there may need to be a change in tax policy to perhaps try and claw back some of the revenues going offshore through, for example, a digital services tax which is controversial and hated by the tech companies? Does the Government press hard for a resolution to Pillar One and Pillar Two?  Or does Newshub just get shut down and we have to live with the consequences of that? Whatever, pressure will be building for the Government to take some form of action. Watch this space to see whether any such action results in amended tax policy.

Inland Revenue consultation on employee share schemes

Moving on to more routine matters, Inland Revenue has released several draft consultations on employee share schemes. The taxation of employee share schemes underwent major reforms in 2018. Subsequently, there’s been a number of questions to Inland Revenue about how the law applies in certain scenarios and how it interacts with other regimes such as PAYE and FBT.

Inland Revenue has therefore released six items – five draft interpretation statements and one draft Questions We’ve Been Asked, each focusing on a specific aspect of employee share schemes. This has been done rather than producing one single interpretation statement, so that people can more easily focus on the topic of particular interest to them.  Alongside this, Inland Revenue has produced a four-page reading guide briefly summarising what each interpretation statement/QWBA addresses.

This is slightly unusual but it’s an indication of the complexity involved.  Employee share schemes are used by a lot of companies and particularly small growth companies in the growth phase where they don’t have cash but want to attract and keep key employees as they expand until the ultimate goal, whether it’s ultimately a share market listing or perhaps a sale to a larger company.

The first interpretation statement is one of the more important ones, as it considers what represents an employee share scheme. The critical issue is when does the share scheme taxing date arise? That’s often a critical issue because one of the things about share schemes which causes difficulties is if there’s a mismatch between when the tax is due, but when cash might be available for the person who’s being taxed to actually pay the tax due.  In fact, another of the drafts looks at the questions about an employer’s PAYE, student loan and KiwiSaver obligations where an employer wants to fund the tax cost on an ESS benefit provided in shares.

Another important draft reviews what happens with the ACC, PAYE and KiwiSaver obligations, when the employee share scheme benefit is paid in cash rather than shares. The draft concludes cash-settled ESS benefit is an “extra pay” under the general definition of extra pay and therefore a PAYE income payment, regardless of whether an employer elects to withhold PAYE in respect of the benefit.

Of the other draft consultation items, topics covered include what deductions are allowable for employers in respect of employee share schemes, and what is the treatment of dividends that are paid on shares held by a trustee for an employee share scheme. 

Overall, this is very useful guidance and I do like Inland Revenue’s approach of issuing separate interpretation statements rather than consolidating all the items in a single item which would be close to 150 pages. Consultation is open until 26th April.

Thanks Chris

And finally, this week, Chris Cunniffe, CEO of Tax Management New Zealand (TMNZ) for 12 years, has just stepped down from his role. He made a brief presentation at the ATAINZ conference, explaining it coincided with the 44th anniversary of the start of his tax career at Inland Revenue.  We’ve worked with Chris and his team at TMNZ for many years, helping our clients save tens of thousands of dollars. Chris has also been a past guest on the podcast. We wish him all the very best for the future.

And on that note, 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.

What’s ahead in 2024?

What’s ahead in 2024?

  • Inland Revenue guidance on the new 39% trustee rate
  • Briefing the Minister
  • Tax credits or threshold adjustments?

The Finance Minister signed off 2023 rather like a Shortland Street season finale, leaving us all guessing as to the exact extent of the proposed tax cut package and when it might apply. We were told at the Half Year Economic Fiscal Update Mini-Budget on 20th December we could expect more details shortly. But now it’s February and we’re no wiser. It now appears likely we’ll have to wait until the Budget in May for full details.

A 39% trustee tax rate?

On the other hand, the business of government carries on and we will know early next month whether the coalition government will proceed with increasing the trustee tax rate to 39%. That’s when the Finance and Expenditure Committee reports back on the Taxation (Annual Rates for 2023-24, Multinational Tax, and Remedial Matters) Bill. This is the annual tax bill currently before Parliament which proposed the increase to 39%. It must be passed by 31st March.

The FEC heard oral submissions last week, and I note that (previous podcast guest) John Cantin thinks it’s most likely that the tax rate will go ahead. This is even though such evidence as we’ve seen suggests that a 39% tax rate for trusts probably represents over taxation of many trusts once the wider family context is considered.

I tend to agree with John that the rate increase will go ahead, in part because it is a base protection measure as it aligns the trustee rate with the top individual tax rate. But also, the Government will probably be grateful for some additional revenue to counterbalance the lost revenue from the proposed tax threshold adjustments. That said, I know a number of submissions proposed that some sort of de minimis threshold is introduced, and the rate of 39% will only apply on the excess.

Inland Revenue’s view on tax planning for the new 39% rate

Meantime, and rather helpfully, Inland Revenue released last Friday some high-level guidance about how it might perceive taxpayer transactions and structural changes ahead of a rate change. General Article GA 24/01 proposed increase in the trustee tax rate to 39% has been released in response to requests since the rate was proposed for guidance on how Inland Revenue might perceive some transactions.

GA 24/01 contains several examples of possible transactions and how Inland Revenue would view the transaction. The first example is a company owned by a trust which changes its dividend paying policy. Inland Revenue considers a company is entitled to change its dividend paying policy and while taking into account the funding needs of shareholders and applicable tax rates, it “is unlikely without more (such as artificial or contrived features) to be tax avoidance.”

The example then notes Inland Revenue might have concerns if the company could pay a dividend by crediting shareholder current accounts, but “objectively has no real ability to pay those credit balances if it was to be liquidated.” In other words, the company tries to pay a dividend ahead of the trustee rate increase but doesn’t have the funds to pay the dividends in cash in full.

Another example is of a trustee choosing to wind up a trust. Again, GA 24/01 suggests such a step is “unlikely without more (such as artificial or contrived features) to be tax avoidance.” GA 24/01 also looks at the question of trustees investing in Portfolio Investment Entities instead of other available investment options. The advantage here is that the maximum rate applicable to Portfolio Investment Entities is 28%   Again, Inland Revenue concludes such a step is unlikely without artificial or contrived features to be tax avoidance.

That said, Inland Revenue is going to continue to gather information on trusts and something it has said would be of concern to it is where income is allocated to a beneficiary taxed at a lower rate, and then instead of actually being paid out or being fully available to the beneficiary, is resettled back on the trust. In effect, the beneficiary has not benefited from the distribution.

The allocation of income to a beneficiary, where the beneficiary actually doesn’t know of an allocation or has no expectation of receiving the income together with replacing dividend income with loans “in an artificial manner”, are other alternatives which would concern Inland Revenue if there’s no real commercial reality behind the arrangement.  And then artificially altering the timing, ie: bringing forward or deferring any taxable deductible payment, particularly it’s linked to existing contractual terms or practise for the date of payment.

These are just a number of scenarios which might play out. And clearly Inland Revenue’s watching. As I said, we really won’t know what the state of play will be until early next month when the FEC reports back, and when it does, we’ll let you know. But as I said, the expectation I have is we should see that tax rate increase.

The Tax Principles Act may be gone but its first draft report lives on

Moving on, one of the first things the coalition government did was repeal the controversial Tax Principles Act. Nevertheless, the draft report that was due to be produced under the Tax Principles Act has been proactively released and it makes for some interesting reading.

The report gives a background as to why it’s being prepared, its reporting obligations, and it explains what are the tax principles that were measured. These were included in the Act – efficiency, horizontal equity, vertical equity, revenue integrity, compliance and administration costs, flexibility and adaptability and certainty and predictability. Incidentally, a lack of certainty and predictability was one of the objections that was made about the Tax Principles Act because didn’t go through the full generic tax policy process.

Inland Revenue was required to assess the principles, against four measurements:

  • Income distribution and income tax paid;
  • Distribution of exemptions from tax and of lower rates of taxation;
  • Perceptions of integrity of the tax system, and
  • Compliance with the law by taxpayers.

The report has lots of interesting graphs including the taxable income distribution for individuals for the 2022 tax year which shows a wee spike around the $180,000 mark.

I think that’s rather revealing even if there are apparently only 4,000 individuals involved. But still for those taxpayers you may need to have a good explanation of what’s going on.

There’s a graph showing how average tax rates rise as income rises. This graph tops out at $300,000, by which point the average tax rate has risen to 32.3% for someone of that income.

But what I thought was quite interesting were the graphs looking at the average tax rates from 2012 to 2022. In particular the graphs illustrated the effect of inflation combined with the non-adjustment of thresholds. That’s an issue I’ve talked about frequently and threshold adjustments we think will be at the core of the Government’s proposed tax relief package expected to be rolled out later this year.

The report notes between 2012 and 2017, the average tax rate for the most common regularly employed worker increased by 0.1 percentage points. Not too bad. But from 2017 to 2022 it increased by 1.2 percentage points. That’s quite a more significant example. Overall, in the period between 2012 and 2017 it rises from 14.9% to 15% and then rose between 2017 and 2022 to 16.2%.

This is the fiscal drag (or bracket creep) I discussed with Susan Edmunds of Stuff. It’s been an issue for quite some time. As wages rise faster, they drag persons on average incomes into a higher tax bracket.  It will be interesting to see how the Government addresses it, and I’ll talk about that in a few minutes.

There’s plenty of other material to consider. There’s an interesting stat that the top decile of taxable income earners paid 44% of personal income tax. The report notes that the same group earned 33% of total income and suggests this is a better indicator of progressivity in the tax system than the fact that 44% of tax is paid by the top decile.

The arguments will rage around the progressivity and fairness, David Seymour of the Act Party for one has been talking about this area. Overall, there’s a lot to consider in the report.  Interestingly, in the note to Cabinet regarding the repeal of the Tax Principles Act, the new Minister of Revenue Simon Watts suggested that much of this data could be made separately available, perhaps as part of Inland Revenue’s annual report. I hope we do see that, because for some time I’ve felt that the discussion around bracket creep, fiscal drag and thresholds has been sort of sidelined because governments have been not too keen to discuss it in great detail.

Briefing the Minister

Mentioning the new Minister of Revenue Simon Watts, another report released last Friday was the Briefing to the Incoming Minister. I think some of the data that’s been included in this draft report under the Tax Principles Act, would normally go into the Briefing for Incoming Minister.

What I found interesting in the Briefing was Inland Revenue’s discussion around where it’s at and the effect of the completion of the Business Transformation Programme which has allowed it to “deliver significant cost savings”. For example, the Briefing notes the amount of revenue collected for the year ended 30 June 2023 grew by 62.5% compared with the year ended 30 June 2016, the last full year before transformation began. Over the same period, the number of Inland Revenue full-time equivalents reduced by 29%.

There’s been a lot of talk about government cuts for the public sector, but I think the Briefing subtly, or not too subtly, you might say, raises a good question – if an organisation has managed to reduce its headcount by 29% and its funding is not tracked with inflation since 2017, which appears to be the measure for the basis of these public spending cuts, why would you add further cuts?

My view would be, and I think I wouldn’t be alone in thinking this amongst tax practitioners, is that Inland Revenue is under a bit of strain. We know it probably needs to boost its investigations efforts. So why it should be on the chopping block when it’s already done much of what any government would want it to do – more with less. But we’ll see how that plays out.

I thought the amount of commentary in the Briefing around the question of funding this point was quite interesting. It notes that for the year, to June 2024, the department gets about $800 million a year. And at October 31st 2023 its workforce was 4,231. Whereas back in June 2016 it was 5,662. And by the way, the report also notes the department has planned for taking a $13.9 million reduction for the year to June 2025, which was announced by the previous government in August 2023.

According to the Briefing funding would be running around about $700 million going forward, but then adds something the government should probably pay attention to.

“Our primary cost pressures in out years will be remuneration and inflationary cost pressures on technology as a service contracts, accommodation, leases and other operating costs. We are currently developing options for meeting these costs and we’ll report back to you on these matters.”

I know speaking as an employer and along with other colleagues, finding staff is difficult at the moment, so that puts pressure on salaries, obviously. And Inland Revenue is not immune to that because it needs to pay near market rates to attract good quality people, because as the gamekeeper, so to speak, it needs to match the poachers on the other side. Like so much in the year ahead it will be interesting to see how the Minister settles in and what happens with Inland Revenue’s funding.

The shape of things to come – tax credits or threshold adjustments?

And finally, coming back to what lies ahead, as I mentioned at the start, the Half Year Economic Forecast Update left us none the wiser as to the nature of the threshold adjustments, which we think are going to happen. In that gap. David Seymour of ACT has come forward and talked about the ACT policy, which is to simplify the tax rate structure down from the current five rates down to three, with a top rate of 33%. This is moving back to the rate structure which applied from 1989 through to 2008. Basically, until 1 April 2000 (when the 39% rate was introduced) there were two main rates with a tax credit adjustment for low-income earners.

David Seymour talked about tax credits similar to the existing Independent Earner Tax Credit. But as I told RNZ while the concept’s not uncommon, there’s still the issue we discussed earlier. What about adjustments for inflation and keeping the true value of that, otherwise lower rate/ lower income earners will face higher effective marginal tax rates.

There’s also a certain complexity with tax credits. The thing about applying thresholds across the board to everybody, it’s pretty straightforward. Whereas with tax credits, if there’s a claim process that’s involved, not everybody will claim that. It introduces a bit of complexity at the bottom end, which Inland Revenue’s Business Transformation was determined to do the opposite in order to try and make it as easier for most taxpayers to comply.

As mentioned, we have the independent earned tax credit, but it starts cutting out at $44,000 and then drops out at $48,000 once income crosses that threshold. We’ll have to wait to see what happens and in the meantime there will be plenty of debate ahead. We will bring all of those developments to you as usual.

In the meantime, that’s all for now. 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.

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.