Australia to Introduce a Diverted Profits Tax

On 29 November 2016, the Turnbull Government released draft legislation and a draft explanatory memorandum (EM) for the proposed Diverted Profits Tax (DPT) which was first announced in the 2016-17 Federal Budget. It is the latest in a suite of measures to combat multinational tax avoidance that includes the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law (MAAL) which came into effect on 11 December 2015.

The DPT, colloquially known as the Google Tax, is modelled after a similar tax in the UK. Following the introduction of a DPT in the UK, Google agreed to pay the UK government £130 million while Amazon announced that it would start booking British retail sales in the UK, rather than in Luxembourg.

In Brief

The DPT will apply in respect of significant global entities operating in Australia, where it is reasonable to conclude that profits have been artificially diverted from Australia. Where the DPT applies, tax will be payable on the diverted profits at the rate of 40 per cent.

When will the DPT apply?

The DPT will apply to an entity if, broadly:

  • It is reasonable to conclude that a scheme (or any part of a scheme) was carried out for a principal purpose of, or for more than one principal purpose that includes, enabling a taxpayer (the relevant taxpayer) to obtain a tax benefit. Note that the ‘principal purpose’ threshold is lower than the ‘sole or dominant purpose’ threshold that applies for Part IVA anti-avoidance purposes;
  • The relevant taxpayer is a significant global entity (i.e. it has annual global income of $1 billion or more) for the income year in which it would obtain the tax benefit;
  • A foreign entity that is an associate of the relevant taxpayer entered into, carried out or is otherwise connected to the scheme or part of it. Therefore, the DPT will not apply to a scheme with which only Australian entities are connected; and
  • The relevant taxpayer obtains a tax benefit (as defined for Part IVA purposes) in connection with the scheme.

However, the DPT will not apply if it is reasonable to conclude that one or more of the following tests apply to the relevant taxpayer:

  • The $25 million turnover test

This test applies where it is reasonable to conclude that the Australian turnover of the relevant taxpayer and other Australian entities that are members of the same global group does not exceed $25 million. Note that the $25 million turnover test will not apply if it is reasonable to conclude that sales have been artificially booked outside Australia.

  • The sufficient foreign tax test

This test applies where it is reasonable to conclude that, in relation to the scheme, the increase in foreign tax liability is equal to or exceeds 80% of the corresponding reduction in the Australian tax liability. To work out the amount of the increased foreign tax liability, it is necessary to consider any specific tax relief provided by a foreign country to relation to the scheme.

We note that a number of OECD countries and Singapore currently have a corporate tax rate that is equal to or less than 24% (i.e. 80% of Australia’s 30% rate). These include the United Kingdom, Ireland, Poland and Switzerland. If President-Elect Trump’s tax plan is enacted, this list would also include the United States.

  • The sufficient economic substance test

This test applies where it is reasonable to conclude that the income derived, received or made as a result of the scheme reasonably reflects the economic substance of the entity’s activities in connection with the scheme. Therefore, if a multinational entity structures its affairs in a way that reasonably reflects their economic substance, the DPT will not apply. For the purposes of applying this test, consideration should be given to the OECD transfer pricing guidelines.

If the DPT applies

If the DPT applies to a taxpayer, the Commissioner may make a DPT assessment and issue it to the relevant taxpayer. Tax is payable on the amount of diverted profits at a rate of 40 per cent. Furthermore, the DPT due and payable will not be reduced by the amount of foreign tax paid on the diverted profits. The DPT assessment will also include an interest charge.

The assessment and review process

If the Commissioner considers that a taxpayer is in scope of the DPT, he may make a DPT assessment at any time within 7 years of first serving a notice of assessment on the taxpayer for an income year. In practice, the Commissioner would only do this after communication with the relevant taxpayer had failed to reach an agreement about the correct amount of tax that should be paid.

The relevant taxpayer must then pay the amount set out in the DPT assessment no later than 21 days after the Commissioner gives the notice of assessment.

If the Commissioner gives an entity a notice of a DPT assessment, a period of review will generally apply. This review period gives the taxpayer the opportunity to provide additional documents and information relating to the DPT assessment to the Commissioner. This review period will typically end 12 months after the DPT assessment is given but can be shortened (for example if the taxpayer considers that it has provided the Commissioner with all relevant information and documents) or extended (for example where the entity provides information close to the end of the 12 month period and the Commissioner needs additional time to properly examine the material).

As a result of receiving additional information, the Commissioner may conclude that the DPT assessment is excessive or that the liability should be increased. He may then make an amended DPT assessment. Where an amended DPT assessment is made, interest will be payable (by the Commissioner on the refund where the liability is reduced or by the taxpayer on the additional amount payable where the liability is increased).

Objections to DPT assessments

The relevant taxpayer may object to the DPT assessment by appealing to the Federal Court within 30 days of the end of the period of review. However, any information or documents that were not provided to the Commissioner during the period of review, or that the Commissioner did not already have prior to the period of review, will not be admissible without either the Commissioner’s consent or the leave of the court.

Comments

It is intended that the new law will encourage greater compliance by large multinational enterprises with their tax obligations in Australia as well as greater openness and cooperation with the Commissioner. I applaud these aims and broadly welcomes the government’s efforts to address the issue of multinational tax avoidance.

I, note, however, the following concerns;

  • Critical to the operation of the proposed DPT is the sufficient economic substance test. The EM provides two examples and a brief description of this test. However, given the importance of this test and the complexities of applying it in practice, it is hoped that further guidance will be issued before the law is enacted. In time, it will be interesting to see how the ATO and the courts interpret and apply this test.
  • Treasury is accepting submissions on the proposed legislation until 23 December 2016. This will not leave much time between when this complex legislation is finally enacted and when it commences on 1 July 2017.

 

Disclaimer

  1. The article does not constitute advice and is intended to be a general overview only. While I have attempted to ensure the accuracy of the article I do not give any assurances. Please seek your own professional advice.
  2. The views in the article are mine alone and do not necessarily represent those of my employer or anybody else.
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“Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn” – Deriving Rent and the small business CGT concessions

The following article appeared in the December edition of ‘The Taxpayer’ by Tax & Superannuation Australia. Unfortunately I cannot upload a PDF or link to the article so the unformated text below will have to suffice. Please contact me if you would like to discuss anything in this article.

 

“Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn”[1] – Deriving Rent and Accessing the Small Business CGT Concessions

Simon Dorevitch examines the pitfalls of satisfying the active asset test for assets which are used to derive rent.

Back to basics: The active asset test

To access the small business CGT concessions, certain conditions must first be satisfied. One such condition is that the CGT asset satisfies the active asset test. Satisfying this test requires the asset to be an active asset of the taxpayer for the lesser of 7.5 years and half of the relevant ownership period.

A CGT asset is an active asset at a time if it is used, or held ready for use, in the course of carrying on a business by the taxpayer, their affiliate or an entity connected with them (relevant entities).

However, certain assets are specifically excluded from being an active asset. One such exclusion applies to assets whose main use by the taxpayer is to derive rent, unless the main use for deriving rent was only temporary. When determining the main use of the asset, the taxpayer is instructed to disregard any personal use or enjoyment of the asset by them and to treat any use by their affiliate or entity connected with them as their own use.

Carrying on a business

To qualify as an active asset, a tangible CGT asset must be used or held ready for use in the course of carrying on a business by the taxpayer or a relevant entity. There is no conclusive test for determining whether a business is being carried on. However, in Tax Ruling TR 97/11, the ATO has enumerated several indicators of a business that may be relevant, including;

  • The size, scale and permanency of the activity
  • Repetition and regularity of the activity
  • Whether the activity is planned, organised and carried on in a systematic and businesslike manner
  • The expectation, and likelihood, of a profit

It is highly likely that the operator of a hotel would be conducting a business. In contrast, most residential rental activities are a form of investment and do not amount to carrying on a business. However, the following examples indicate that it is possible to conduct a rental property business.

Example 1 – Taxpayer was conducting rental property business[2]

The taxpayers owned eight houses and three apartment blocks (each comprising six residential units), making a total of 26 properties. They actively managed the properties, devoting a significant amount of time (an average of 25 hours per week) to them. The ATO concluded that the taxpayers were carrying on a business.

Example 2 – Taxpayer was conducting rental property business [3]

The taxpayer owned nine rental properties. Although they were managed by an agent, the taxpayer spent considerable time undertaking tasks in connection with the properties. Despite finding that the taxpayer’s methods were unsophisticated and un-business-like, the AAT concluded that the taxpayer was carrying on a business.

TIP – PASSIVE ASSETS USED IN THE BUSINESS OF AN AFFILIATE OR CONNECTED ENTITY

The Small Business CGT Concessions may still be available where the taxpayer (i.e. owner of the asset) is not carrying on a business. This would be the case, for example, where the CGT asset is used in a business carried on by the taxpayer’s affiliate or connected entity and this other entity is a ‘small business entity’ (broadly one with a turnover less than $2m).

Deriving rent

An asset whose main use by the taxpayer is to derive rent cannot be an active asset (unless this main use was only temporary).

It has been argued that this exception does not apply to properties where the taxpayer carries on a business of leasing properties, but rather only to passive investment assets. The AAT rejected this argument, stating clearly that it does not matter if the taxpayer is in the business of leasing properties or not. [4]

There is no statutory definition of rent that is relevant in this context so the term takes on its common law meaning.

Where there is a question of whether the amount paid constitutes rent, a key factor to consider is whether the occupier has a right to exclusive possession of the property. If such a right exists, the payments involved are likely to be rent. Conversely, if the arrangement allows the occupier only to enter and use the premises for certain purposes and does not amount to a lease granting exclusive possession, the payments involved are unlikely to be rent.

Other relevant factors include the degree of control retained by the owner, the extent of any services performed by the owner (such as room cleaning, provision of meals, supply of linen and shared amenities) and the length of the arrangement.

Example 3 – Payments for use of a commercial storage facility were not rent[5]

Christine carries on a business of providing commercial storage space. Each space is available for hire periods of 1 week or more. She provides office facilities, on-site security, cleaning and various items of equipment for sale or loan. The agreements provide that in certain circumstances Christine can relocate the client to another space or enter the space without consent and that the client cannot assign the rights under the agreement. Having regard to all the circumstances, the ATO concluded that the amounts received by Christine were not rent.

Example 4 – Payments for occupancy of boarding house were not rent[6]

David operates an 8-bedroom boarding house. The average length of stay is 4-6 weeks. Visitors are required to leave the premises by a certain time and David retains the right to enter the rooms. David pays for all utilities and provides cleaning and maintenance, linen and towels and common areas such as a lounge room, kitchen and recreation area. The ATO concluded that the amounts received by David were not rent.

Example 5 – Payments for occupancy of holiday apartments were not rent[7]

Linda owns a complex of 6 holiday apartments, advertised collectively as a motel. Each is booked for periods not exceeding 1 month, with most bookings being for less than 1 week. Guests do not have exclusive possession of their apartment, but rather only a right to occupy on certain conditions. Clean linen, meal facilities and cleaning are provided to guests. The ATO found that Linda’s income was not rent.

Example 6 – Payments for short stays in a caravan park were not rent[8]

The taxpayer owned and operated a caravan park that consisted of fully-furnished self-contained cabins, caravans set up on blocks and sites for guests with their own caravans. Guests also had access to a shared amenities block. The ATO ruled that short-term guests (those staying less than 3 months) did not pay rent while long-term guests (3 months or longer) did.

Example 7 – Payments for occupancy of mobile home park were rent[9]

The taxpayer owned and operated a mobile home park that consisted of 77 sites and a ‘community hall’ with shared facilities such as a kitchen, toilet and recreation area. In reaching the conclusion that the payments for use of the park were rent, the AAT found that the following factors were relevant; the park owner agreed to give vacant possession to a resident on a certain date, the resident was granted exclusive possession and had the right of quiet enjoyment, and the residential site was occupied as the resident’s ‘principal place of residence’.

Example 8 – Payments for short stays in holiday unit were rent[10]

The taxpayer owned a holiday home that was used to provide short term tourist accommodation (i.e. stays of about one to two weeks). Crockery, cutlery and linen were provided but cleaning was done only after the occupants departed. The AAT found there to be little doubt that the occupants regarded themselves as having rented the unit for the period of their stay and as having exclusive possession. Therefore, the payments did constitute rent.

What is the main use?

Where a CGT asset is used partly to derive rent and partly in the business of the taxpayer or relevant entity, it will be necessary to determine the ‘main use’ of the asset. This is because an asset whose main use by the taxpayer is to derive rent cannot be an active asset (unless the main use for deriving rent was only temporary).

The term main use is not defined in Division 152 (which contains the small business CGT reliefs). Tax Determination TD 2006/78 states that no single factor will necessarily be determinative and resolving the matter is likely to involve a consideration of factors such as;

  • The comparative areas of use of the premises,
  • The comparative times of use of the asset and, most importantly.
  • The comparative level of income derived from the different uses of the asset.

Example 9 – Mixed use[11]

Mick owns land on which there are several industrial sheds. He uses one shed (45% of the land area) to conduct a motorcycle repair business and leases the other sheds (55% of the land by area) to unrelated third parties. The income derived from the repair business is 80% of the total income, while the income derived from leasing the other sheds is only 20% of the income. Having regard to all the circumstances, the ATO considers that the main use of Mick’s land is not to derive rent.

Example 10 – Mixed use[12]

The taxpayer owned a shopping centre. Most the shops (constituting 73% of the floor space) were rented by unrelated shopkeepers but some (27% of the floor space) were used by the taxpayer to conduct business. Despite this, the ATO ruled that the main use of the shopping centre was not to derive rent because the majority (63%) of the income generated from the asset was from the business and only 27% was generated from rent.

In a recent AAT case[13], the taxpayer argued that the word ‘use’ in ‘main use’ could include non-physical uses such as holding a property for the purposes of capital appreciation. This argument was rejected, with the AAT finding that the concept of use was a reference only to physical use.

Treat use by affiliate/connected entity as taxpayer’s own

When determining the main use of the asset the taxpayer is instructed to treat any use by a relevant entity as their own use.

Example 11 – Use by affiliate[14]

John rents 80% of a property to his affiliate Peter and uses the remaining 20% in his business. Peter uses 60% of the area rented to him in his business and rents the remaining 40% to an unrelated party. 32% of the property (80% x 40%) is being treated as being used to derive rent. However, the remaining 68% is either actually used in John’s business (20%) or is treated as being used in his business (48%, being 80% x 60%). Therefore, the main use of the property is not to derive rent.

 

Ignore private use

When determining the main use of the asset the taxpayer is also instructed to disregard their own personal use or enjoyment of the asset. This point can be illustrated by the following example;

Example 12 – Private use disregarded[15]

Neil rents 60% of a property to his affiliate Andrea, uses 15% in his business and the remaining 25% for his own personal use.  Because personal use by the owner or relevant entity is ignored in determining the property’s main use, the above proportions must be adjusted. Following the adjustments Neil rents 80% (60% x (100/75)) of the property to Andrea and uses 20% (15% x 100/75) in his business.

Is the main use only temporary?

Finally, a CGT asset whose main use is to derive rent will not be precluded from being an active asset if this main use is only temporary. There is scarce guidance regarding what is  considered temporary in this context. However, in the context of whether a share in a company or interest in a trust is an active asset, an example in the explanatory memorandum[16] indicates that a failure to satisfy the 80% look-through test for two weeks would be of a temporary nature only and therefore would not prevent the share or interest from being an active asset.

 

As always I would like to remind readers that

  1. The article does not constitute advice and is not intended to be comprehensive. While I have attempted to ensure the accuracy of the article I do not give any assurances. Please seek your own professional advice.
  2. The views in the article are mine alone and do not necessarily represent those of my employer or Tax  & Superannuation Australia

[1] Rapper’s Delight by Sugar Hill Gang, 1979

[2] ATO’s Guide for rental property owners (NAT 1729-06.2016)

[3] YPFD and Commissioner of Taxation [20-14] AATA 9

[4] Jakjoy Pty Ltd v FACT [2013] AATA 526

[5] Example 2 of Tax Determination TD 2006/78

[6] Example 3 of Tax Determination TD 2006/78

[7] Example 4 of Tax Determination TD 2006/78

[8] PBR 1012886042948

[9] Tingari Village North Pty Ltd and Commissioner of Taxation [2010] AATA 233

[10] Carson and Commissioner of Taxation [2008] AATA 156

[11] Example 5 of Tax Determination TD 2006/78

[12] PBR 70707

[13] The Executors of the Estate of the late Peter Fowler v FCT [2016] AATA 416

[14] Example 2.13 of Explanatory Memorandum to Tax Laws Amendment (2009 Measures No. 2) Act 2009

[15] Example 2.14 of Explanatory Memorandum to Tax Laws Amendment (2009 Measures No. 2) Act 2009

[16] Example 1.12 of Explanatory Memorandum to Tax Laws Amendment (2006 Measures No. 7) Act 2007