Permanent Establishment Podcast

In October, I joined the team at Tax & Super Australia to record a podcast on PE’s to accompany my article. You can listen to it here (episode 139):

 

https://www.taxandsuperaustralia.com.au/TSA/Products_Services/Professional_Development/Podcast/TSA/Publications/Tax_Wrap_podcast.aspx

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Permanent Establishments 2.0

This article originally appeared in the September edition of The Taxpayer

https://www.taxandsuperaustralia.com.au/TSA/Products_Services/Publications/The_Taxpayer/TSA/Publications/The_Taxpayer.aspx

 

The 1997 Assessment Act states that, if you are a foreign resident, your assessable income includes the ordinary income you derive from Australian sources (e.g. from sales to Australian customers). In practice, however, it can be difficult for Australia to tax many non-residents on their Australian income. This is because it can be difficult for the ATO to detect business income which has a source in Australia and, where detected, challenging to collect the tax on that income.

In recognition of these difficulties, Australia will not tax the Australian-sourced income of our treaty partners, unless the non-resident has a sufficient presence in Australia. This sufficient presence is referred to as a ‘permanent establishment’ (PE). Practically, this means that a non-resident will likely need to lodge an Australian return if it has a PE in Australia.

What if the non-resident is not from a treaty country?

The bulk of Australia’s trade and investment involves countries with which Australia has entered into a Double Taxation Treaty (DTT). Furthermore, Treasury is frequently negotiating new treaties – for example a treaty was signed with Chile in April 2010. Nevertheless, there are still many countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, where no such agreement is in place. Where there is no DTT in place, Australia does not require non-residents to have Australia to have a PE before it will tax them on their Australian business profits.

Where a non-resident business has a PE in Australia, our DTTs only allow Australia to tax the profits that are attributable to that PE. When calculating which profits to attribute to a PE, the ‘functionally separate entity’ approach is applied. Broadly, this means that the PE will be taxed on the profits it might be expected to make if it were a separate and independent enterprise, dealing with other parts of the enterprise at arm’s length.

 

The OECD Model

Australia’s tax treaties generally closely match the OECD’s Model Tax Convention (model treaty) and therefore this article focuses upon the clauses of this model convention and its official commentary[2]. Under the model convention, there are broadly three types of PEs that can be construed:

  • A fixed place of business PE (Article 5(1)),
  • A construction or project PE (Article 5(3)), and
  • An agency PE (Article 5 (5-6)).

Each of these are discussed in detail below.

 

The BEPS Project

The permanent establishment concept has been around for many years – it dates back to the 1800s and the Austro-Hungarian empire. The OECD’s model treaty can trace its origins to the League of Nations. As you can imagine, international business has grown enormously, and undergone substantial changes during the intervening years.

The OECD’s BEPS (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) project represents the most significant attempt to address the challenges of a modern, complex global economy in decades. The project is divided into 15 ‘actions’, with Action 7 focusing on permanent establishments. Broadly, the OECD is proposing to expand the definition of a permanent establishment to counter multinational enterprises that seek to avoid PE status via what it sees as artificial arrangements.

The OECD’s specific proposals, contained in the final report on Action 7, are discussed in detail below. It is expected that, over the coming 18 months or so, the countries involved (including Australia) will amend their bilateral tax treaties (via a multilateral instrument) to reflect the proposed changes.

 

The general definition

Paragraph 1 in Article 5 of the model treaty contains the general definition of the term “permanent establishment”. It states:

“For the purposes of this Convention, the term “permanent establishment” means a fixed place of business through which the business of an enterprise is wholly or partly carried on.”

A PE therefore has three elements:

  • There must be “a place of business”,
  • That place of business must be “fixed”, and
  • The business of the enterprise must be carried on “through” that fixed place

Place of business

The OECD commentary explains that the term place of business covers premises, facilities or installations, whether or not they are used exclusively in carrying on the business of the enterprise. Furthermore, a place of business may exist where an enterprise merely has a certain amount of space at its disposal (i.e. even if this space is not owned or rented by the enterprise).

Determining when a facility is at the disposal of an enterprise can be a difficult and contentious issue. Clearly the mere presence of a representative of an enterprise at a location does not necessarily mean that the location is at the disposal of that enterprise. However, where an employee of a company is permitted to use an office at the premises of another company (e.g. a subsidiary) for an extended period of time, that office can be said to be at the disposal of the former company. It appears that the extent of the presence at a location, the activities performed at a location and the effective power to use a location may be relevant.

 

Fixed

The commentary explains that there must be a stable link between the place of business and a specific geographic point. Furthermore, the business must have a certain degree of temporal permanency. The ATO has ruled[1], and the OECD has suggested, that, as a guide, six months or more is sufficiently ‘permanent’. However, this is not a hard and fast rule – each case is a question of fact and degree. A place of business may constitute a PE even though it exists for a very short period of time, due to the nature of the business.

Through

The commentary advises that the word ‘through which’ must be given a wide meaning “so as to apply to any situation where business activities are carried on at a particular location that is at the disposal of the enterprise for that purpose”.

 

The listed examples

Paragraph 2 provides specific examples of a PE. It states that the term includes especially:

“a) a place of management;

  1. b) a branch;
  2. c) an office;
  3. d) a factory;
  4. e) a workshop, and
  5. f) a mine, an oil or gas well, a quarry or any other place of extraction of natural

resources.”

These examples are by no means exhaustive and are to be seen against the background of the general definition.

 

Building sites etc

Paragraph 3 of the model treaty states:

“A building site or construction or installation project constitutes a permanent establishment only if it lasts more than twelve months.”

 

The term ‘building site or construction or installation project’ includes not only the construction of buildings but also the construction or renovations of roads, bridges or canals, the laying of pipelines and excavating and dredging.

 

The twelve-month requirement applies to each individual site or project. The commentary explains that the period commences when the contractor begins work, including preparatory work, in the country where the construction is to be established. Seasonal or other temporary interruptions should be included.

 

The BEPS project identified that some multinational enterprises have split-up contracts between closely related parties in order to abuse the twelve-month requirement and artificially avoid permanent establishment status. To address these concerns, a principal purpose test will be added to the model treaty. The commentary will be updated to explain that, where it would be reasonable to conclude that one of the principal purposes for the conclusion of separate contracts was to obtain the benefit of the exclusion in paragraph 3, it would not be appropriate to grant that benefit. Some states may wish to expressly provide for the time periods of separate contracts between closely related enterprises to be combined.

 

Specific activity exemptions

 

Article 5(4) lists a number of business activities that are not permanent establishments, even if they satisfy a definition contained in one of the earlier paragraph (e.g. even if they are carried on through a fixed place of business). The common feature of these activities is that they are, in general, preparatory or auxiliary activities.

 

The exemptions listed in paragraph 4 are:

  • The use of facilities solely[2] for the purpose of storage, display or delivery of goods

or merchandise belonging to the enterprise;

  • The maintenance of a stock of goods or merchandise belonging to the enterprise solely for:
    • The purpose of storage, display or delivery; or
    • The purpose of processing by another enterprise;
  • The maintenance of a fixed place of business solely for the purpose of;
    • Purchasing goods or merchandise or of collecting information, for the enterprise;
    • Carrying on, for the enterprise, any other activity of a preparatory or auxiliary character;

 

An exemption is also available for any combination of activities mentioned above, provided that the overall activity is of a preparatory or auxiliary character.  While not defined in the model treaty, a preparatory activity can be understood as one that is carried on in contemplation of carrying on the essential and significant part of the activity of the enterprise as a whole. An auxiliary activity is one that is carried to support or supplement, without being part of, the essential and significant part of the activity of the enterprise as a whole.

 

The key criterion, therefore, is whether the activity forms an essential and significant part of the enterprise as a whole. In practice, it is often difficult to distinguish between activities which have a preparatory or auxiliary character and those which are the core or main activities of the business. As a guide, an activity that requires a significant proportion of the assets or employees of the enterprise is less likely to be preparatory or auxiliary.

 

The changing nature of international business means that activities which were previously considered to be merely preparatory or auxiliary may nowadays constitute core business activities. Therefore, some enterprises have been able to artificially avoid PE status via the specific activity exemptions, beyond the intend application of paragraph 4.

 

 

 

Accordingly, most of the countries involved in the BEPS project have agreed to amend the paragraph, so that it explicitly provides that an activity will only excluded where the overall activity of the fixed place of business is of a preparatory or auxiliary character. Therefore, the listed activities will become simply common examples of activities that are covered by the paragraph, not those that automatically qualify for an exemption.

 

Dependent agents

 

In some circumstances, an entity will be treated as having a permanent establishment if it has a dependant agent (e.g. an employee) acting on its behalf in a contracting state, even if it does not have a fixed place of business in that state. As it currently stands, paragraph 5 states that a permanent establishment exists where a dependent agent “has, and habitually exercises, an authority to conclude contracts in the name of the enterprise”.

 

The commentary explains the importance of looking beyond legal formalities.

“Lack of active involvement by an enterprise in a transactions may be indicative of a grant of authority to an agent. For example, an agent may be considered to possess actual authority to conclude contracts where he solicits and receives (but does not formally finalise) orders which are sent directly to a warehouse from which goods are delivered and where a foreign enterprise routinely approves the transactions.”

 

The OECD has expressed concern that it has sometimes been possible to artificially avoid having a PE under article 5(5) through commissionaire arrangements. Broadly, a commissionaire is a person who acts in his or her own name for the account of a principal. Under a typical arrangement the commissionaire sells products in a State in its own name but on behalf of a principal. That principal is contractually bound to deliver (through the commissionaire) the goods sold to the customer, while the commissionaire is contractually bound to collect the proceeds and remit it to the principal (in exchange for a commission). Importantly, no relationship is created between the customer and the principal. Under civil law jurisdictions, the activities of a commissionaire are not attributed to the principal and therefore, through such an arrangement a foreign enterprise is able to sell its products in another state without creating a taxable presence.

 

Similar strategies that seek to avoid the application of article 5(5) involve situations where contracts are substantially negotiated in a State, but finalised abroad.

 

To address these concerns, paragraph 5 will be amended to state that a permanent establishment will exist where a dependent agent is acting in a contracting state on behalf of an enterprise and:

 

“in doing so, habitually concludes contracts, or habitually plays the principal role leading to the conclusion of contracts that are routinely concluded without material modification by the enterprise, and these contracts are:

  1. in the name of the enterprise, or
  2. for the transfer of ownership of, or for the granting of the right to use, property owned by that enterprise or that the enterprise has the right to use, or
  3. for the provision of services by the enterprise”

 

 

 

The principal role leading to the conclusion of a contract will typically be played by the person who convinced the third party to enter into a contract with the enterprise (e.g. where the conclusion of a contract directly results from the actions of that person). The phrase would not apply where a person merely promotes and markets the goods or services of an enterprise in a way that does not directly result in the conclusion of contracts.

 

Independent agents

 

Paragraph 5 will not apply where the agent is performing their activities in the course of an independent business.

 

As it presently stands, paragraph 6 states that:

“an enterprise shall not be deemed to have a permanent establishment in a Contracting State merely because it carries on business in that State through a broker, general commission agent or any other agent of an independent status, provided that such persons are acting in the ordinary course of their business”

 

An independent agent will typically be responsible to the principal for the results of their work, will not be not subject to significant control with respect to the manner in which that work is carried out and will often represent numerous principals. The distinction between dependent and independent agents is therefore akin to the distinction between employees and contractors for PAYG withholding purposes.

 

There is concern among OECD countries that some agents are being inappropriately being classified as independent, despite being closely related to the foreign enterprise on behalf of which they are acting. To address these concerns, paragraph 6 will be amended to include the proviso that:

“Where, however, a person acts exclusively or almost exclusively on behalf of one or more enterprises to which it is closely related, that person shall not be considered to be an independent agent”.

 

A person is closely related to an enterprise if, based on all the relevant facts and circumstances, one has control of the other or both are under the control of the same person or enterprises. The new paragraph 6 will expressly provide that a person will also be closely related to an enterprise where:

  • Either one possesses, directly or indirectly, more than 50% of the beneficial interests in the other; or
  • A third person possesses, directly or indirectly, more than 50% of the beneficial interests in both the person and the enterprise

 

 

Taxing Issues for Departing Taxpayers

The following article originally appeared in the November 2016 edition of The Taxpayer (professional journal of Tax & Super Australia https://www.taxandsuperaustralia.com.au/TSA/Products_Services/Publications/The_Taxpayer/TSA/Publications/The_Taxpayer.aspx)

 

Simon Dorevitch explains the potential tax issues that taxpayers encounter when relocating overseas.

It is estimated that approximately 5% of Australian citizens live outside of Australia, with
Europe and Asia the most popular destinations. If your client has made the decision to relocate to another country (whether permanently or for an extended period), they should be aware of two potential tax issues:
1. When a taxpayer becomes a non-resident of Australia, they are deemed to have sold
their non-Australian assets for market value (CGT event I1). However, such taxpayers
may make an election to disregard any capital gain and thereby defer any tax payable.

2. Thanks to recent changes, Australians living abroad must now report their income
and make repayments towards their HELP (university) and TSL (apprenticeship) debts
if their income exceeds a certain threshold. These changes have effectively brought the
repayment obligations of Australians living overseas in line with those living in Australia.

 

A SILENT TAXING POINT: CGT EVENT I1

Generally, the assessable income of taxpayers who are tax residents of Australia includes
income from all sources, whether in or out of Australia. In contrast, the assessable income of foreign residents generally only includes income with an Australian source.
In the context of CGT, this means that foreign residents disregard capital gains or losses that happen in relation to a CGT asset that is not taxable Australian property (TAP)
Broadly, TAP includes:

• taxable Australian real property (TARP) – eg land or buildings situated in Australia
(including a lease of land if the land is situated in Australia). It can also include
mining rights.

• indirect Australian real property Interests – ie a membership interest in another entity,
where the interest is a non-portfolio interest (10% or more) and the entity passes the
principal asset test (market value of TARP assets exceeds market value of non-TARP
assets)

• A CGT asset used in carrying on a business through an Australian permanent establishment, and

• An option or right to acquire one of the above assets.

Where a taxpayer ceases to be an Australian resident those assets that are not TAP are taken outside the remit of the Australian tax system. As you might imagine, the government does not like this, so CGT Events I1 and I2 were included in the legislation to tax these assets before they fell out of Treasury’s grip.

 

WHEN DOES CGT EVENT I1 HAPPEN?
CGT event I1 happens when an individual or company stops being an Australian resident. For an individual taxpayer, this will occur when they no longer satisfy any of the four tests of residency – the resides test, the domicile test, the 183-day test and the superannuation test.

In certain situations, it may be difficult to pinpoint precisely when a taxpayer ceases to
be a resident (or even if they ceased being a resident at all). Where such timing could have a significant impact on the taxpayer’s liability it may be prudent to seek a private ruling from the ATO.

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF CGT EVENT I1 HAPPENING?

The taxpayer is deemed to have disposed of their non-TAP assets, and also their indirect
Australian real property interests, for their market value at the time. Therefore, they make a capital gain if the market value is more than their cost base and a capital loss if the market value is less than the reduced cost base.

There are, however, exceptions:
• A capital gain or loss is disregarded if theasset was acquired before 20 September 1985 (ie before the introduction of CGT).
• If the taxpayer is an individual, they may choose to disregard the capital gain or
loss. This choice is evidenced by how the taxpayer prepares their tax return (ie whether
the gain is included or excluded). Note that the choice is all in or all out – it cannot be
made per CGT asset.

 

The ATO has published a fact sheet that contains a rough “rule of thumb” to assist
emigrating taxpayers. Below is an extract from this fact sheet:

If you go overseas temporarily and do not set up a permanent home in another
country…then you may continue to be treated as an Australian resident for tax
purposes.

If you leave Australia permanently…then you will generally not be considered an Australian resident for tax purposes, from the date of departure.

 

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF MAKING THIS CHOICE?

If a taxpayer makes a choice to disregard the capital gain, the assets are taken to be TAP until the taxpayer disposes of the asset or becomes an Australian resident once more. Effectively, the assets are kept within the Australian tax system.
Note, however, that this may be overridden by a Double Taxation Agreement (DTA).

How the ATO will become aware of a foreign resident disposing of non-TAP assets is unclear, though it is noted that data-sharing between tax authorities has increased in recent years.
WHEN SHOULD THE CHOICE TO DISREGARD CGT EVENT I1 BE MADE?

In some cases the taxpayer will simply not have the cash to fund the CGT liability (since, being a deemed disposal, they have not actually received any capital proceeds). In those situations the choice to disregard any capital gain is clear.

In other cases, knowing whether it is in a taxpayer’s interests to make the choice requires a consideration of numerous factors and, ideally, a well-functioning crystal ball! The time between the CGT event and the lodging of the return is an important consideration (see table).

Keep in mind also that non-residents are subject to non-resident rates of tax and no longer have access to the CGT discount. This makes it more likely that the taxpayer will face higher taxation on the future capital gain if a choice is made to disregard the deemed gain.

It may be more favourable to make the choice where

 

It may be less favourable to make the choice where

 

The taxpayer’s taxable income is higher than it is expected to be in the year of disposal (since CGT is applied at marginal tax rates)

 

The taxpayer’s taxable income is lower than it is expected to be in the year of disposal (since CGT is applied at marginal tax rates)

 

The asset is expected to fall in value (and therefore the capital gain in the future will be lower)

 

The asset is expected to rise in value (and therefore the capital gain in the future will be greater)

 

Being able to defer payment to a later date is important

 

The taxpayer intends to return to Australia (and the market value is expected to rise whilst they are away)
The subsequent disposal will not be taxable in Australia (e.g. because of a DTA)  

Keep in mind also that non-residents are subject to non-resident rates of tax and no longer have access to the CGT discount. This makes it more likely that the taxpayer will face higher taxation on the future capital gain if a choice is made to disregard the deemed gain.

What if the taxpayer becomes a resident again?

On becoming a resident, a taxpayer is deemed to have acquired their non-TAP assets for market value. Therefore, a former resident, having not made the choice to disregard a capital gain from CGT event I1, who returns to Australia (and becomes a resident once more) receives an uplift in the cost base of their non-TAP assets. For CGT discount purposes, the date of regaining residency (and not the original date of actual acquisition) is used to determine whether the asset has been held for 12 months.

Example

In June 2016 James decides he has had enough of Australia and emigrates to France, vowing never to return. He is considered to have terminated his Australian residency at this time. Upon departure James owns the following assets:

·         A home in Toorak

·         An investment property in the United States

·         50% of the shares in Gemba Pty Ltd, a company whose major asset is a farm in NSW

When James’ Australian residency ends, CGT Event I1 happens. He is deemed to have disposed of his investment property and shares for their market value, triggering a capital gain.

James decides not to make the choice to disregard the gain. However, having been out of work since August 2015, James taxable income in the 2016 financial year is very low and therefore low marginal tax rates apply to the capital gain.

Five years later, with his favourite Australian sporting team competing for their fourth-straight premiership, James decides he misses Australia too much and returns permanently. He is deemed to have reacquired his investment property for its market value when he becomes an Australian resident once more. Any increases in value that occurred whilst he was in France will not be subject to Australian tax.

 

 

HELP Debts

In November 2015, the government passed legislation closing a loophole which enabled university graduates living overseas to avoid making student loan repayments. From 1 July 2017, the HELP (Higher Education Loan Program) and TSL (Trade Support Loan) repayment obligations for overseas residents will be brought in line with those who remain in Australia.

From 1 January 2016

Taxpayers with an existing HELP or TSL debt who leave Australia and intend to be overseas for more than six months in any 12-month period will need to need to notify the ATO within seven days of leaving Australia. Those who already live overseas will need to update their details no later than 1 July 2017.

It does not matter whether the taxpayer is overseas for work, study or travel.

Taxpayers should notify the ATO by updating their contact details, including international residential and email addresses, using the ATO’s online services via the myGov website. This means that, if they haven’t already, such taxpayers will need to register for a myGov account. The ATO should also be informed if there are any further changes to a taxpayer’s contact details whilst they reside overseas.

From 1 July 2017

Taxpayers who are living overseas and are not Australian residents for tax purposes will need to self-assess the world-wide income they have received in the 2016-17 financial year and submit details to the ATO via myGov. Foreign income will be translated to Australian dollars using the average exchange rate for the financial year.

They should do this, even if their income is below the threshold (or if they have not worked at all). Income details should be submitted by 31 October each year.

The ATO have indicated that, at this stage, their first priority is to educate taxpayers and encourage self-compliance. However, they have also confirmed that individuals who do not comply with their obligations will potentially be subject to the same range of penalties that apply under broader taxation law.

Taxpayers who remain Australian residents despite being overseas will continue to file tax returns and will therefore not need to report income via myGov.

If the taxpayer’s income for repayment purposes exceeds the minimum repayment threshold, they will be required to make compulsory repayments towards their debt. Non-resident taxpayers will make repayments via myGov.

The repayment income threshold for the 2016-17 financial year is;

Repayment income Repayment rate
Below $54,869 Nil
$54,869 – $61,119 4.0%
$61,120 – $67,368 4.5%
$67,369 – $70,909 5.0%
$70,910 – $76,222 5.5%
$76,223 – $82,550 6.0%
$82,551 – $86,894 6.5%
$86,895 – $95,626 7.0%
$95,627 – $101,899 7.5%
$101,900 and above 8.0%

These rates are identical to those that apply to taxpayers who remain in Australia. As with resident taxpayers, non-resident taxpayers may also make voluntary repayments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Australia’s Diverted Profits Tax now Law

The following article originally appeared on the FTI Tax website in April 2017.

http://fti.tax/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/AA_2017_DPT_20170434_v_final.pdf

 

On 4 April 2017, the Diverted Profits Tax Bills received Royal Assent and became Australian Acts No. 21 and 27 of 2017. The new law applies to income years commencing 1 July 2017 (whether or not a relevant transaction entered into before that date) and targets ‘significant global entities’ that have a global income of more than A$1 billion and an Australian income of more than A$25 million and provides for 40% tax on diverted profits; 30% franking; payment of tax to object; 12 months to supply documents in defence; and with limited rights of appeal.
Background
The Diverted Profits Tax (DPT), first announced in the 2016-17 Federal Budget, is the latest in a raft of measures (including the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law (MAAL)) designed to combat multinational tax avoidance.
The Australian Treasury indicates there are approximately 1,600 taxpayers with income sufficiently large to potentially fall within the scope of the new law, though it is expected that the DPT will apply in only very limited circumstances. Treasury estimates that the tax will raise A$100 miilion in each of the 2018-19 and 2019-20 financial years.
When will 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. This ‘principal purpose’ threshold is lower than the ‘sole or dominant purpose’ threshold that applies for Part IVA anti-avoidance purposes (Australia’s GAAR). Taxpayers may however provide evidence to support the non-tax financial benefits of the scheme;
• The relevant taxpayer is a ‘significant global entity’ (i.e. it has annual global income of A$1 billion or more being either a global parent entity or member of a group of entities consolidated for accounting purposes) for theincome 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.
When will DPT not apply
The DPT will only apply if it is reasonable to conclude that none of the following tests are satisfied:
The $25 million turnover test
The DPT does not apply where it is reasonable to conclude that the Australian turnover of the relevant taxpayer and other entities that are members of the same global group does not exceed A$25 million. This test has been broadened to take into account the Australian assessable income of foreign entities (not just Australian entities) that are part of the same global group.
The sufficient foreign tax test
The DPT does not apply 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. Where the tax benefit is an allowable deduction and the taxpayer must withhold an amount in respect of withholding tax, the Australian tax liability is reduced by the amount withheld.
We note that many countries 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, Russia, Croatia, Sweden, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Singapore and Hong Kong. The United States will be added to this list if President Trump’s tax policies are enacted.
The sufficient economic substance test
The DPT does not apply where it is reasonable to conclude that the profits 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, having regard to the functions, assets used and risks assumed by the entity. For the purposes of applying this test, consideration should be given to the OECD transfer pricing guidelines.
A carve-out has also been created for managed investment trusts, foreign collective vehicles with a wide membership, foreign entities owned by a foreign government, complying superannuation entities and foreign person funds.
Interaction with the thin capitalisation and CFC provisions
The DPT’s interaction with the thin capitalisation and controlled foreign company (CFC) provisions have been clarified. In particular;
•If a taxpayer is subject to the thin capitalisation provisions and the DPT tax benefit includes a debt deduction, when calculating the DPT tax benefit, the rate is to be applied to the debt interest actually issued (rather than to the debt interest that would have existed if the scheme had not been carried out).
• In relation to the CFC provisions, where an amount of attributable income is included in the assessable income of the relevant taxpayer or their associate, it should be excluded from the taxpayer’s DPT tax benefit.
If DPT applies
If the DPT applies to a taxpayer, the Commissioner may make a DPT assessment and issue it to the relevant taxpayer. The ATO will establish a DPT panel (similar to the existing General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR) panel) and will generally seek
endorsement from this panel before issuing an assessment.
Tax is payable on the amount of diverted profits at a penalty rate of 40% . 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 DPT will only give rise to franking credits at 30% and not the 40% penalty rate.
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 60 days of the end of the period of review. Previously under the draft legislation this period was 30 days. 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.
What should businesses be considering with regards to potential DPT exposure?
Businesses should first review existing and proposed arrangements, having regard to the the following DPT threshold questions:
1. Is the Australian company (or permanent establishment) a significant global entity (being a member of a group with annual global income of AU$1 billion or more)?
2. Is it reasonable to conclude that annual Australian income is less than AU$25 million (though this includes any DPT benefit)?
3. Is it reasonable to conclude that sufficient foreign tax (effectively over a 24% rate) has not been paid/imposed in all jurisdictions directly or indirectly relevant to the
supply chain into Australia?
4. Is it is reasonable to conclude that the sufficient economic substance test is not satisfied? The taxpayer must prove the arrangement reasonably reflects the economic substance of the entity’s activities. In most cases, this will require a ‘two-sided analysis’, applying an Australian transfer pricing examination to the functions, assets and risks of the activities carried out in Australia and those activities carried out in one or more other overseas jurisdictions; and/or
5. Was obtaining a tax benefit a principal purpose (or one of the principal purposes) behind the taxpayer carrying out the scheme? This is a lower threshold than the existing
Part IVA/GAAR, which requires a ‘dominant purpose’ of obtaining a tax benefit.
We expect that ATO transfer pricing reviews and compulsory Country By Country Reporting may signal to the ATO the existence of potential DPT arrangements. Therefore it is incumbent upon affected taxpayers to review and understand their positions and have in place robust documentation.
Further, the DPT may also encourage multinational taxpayers to engage in a dialog with the ATO in relation to their cross-border activities such that they may consider Advance Pricing Agreements (APAs) to provide greater certainty with respect to their international arrangements and transfer pricing.
The ATO has significant power to raise DPT assessments and taxpayers should be prepared.

Low Value Goods and Digital Products: the New Black

The following article appeared in the February 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.

Simon Dorevitch reviews important changes to GST and cross-border transactions

 

  1. Taxing the internet shopper

When the GST Act and Regulations were drafted in 1999, e-commerce was in its infancy – it was not fully envisaged that people would prefer to shop from the comfort of their mobile devices rather than visiting a bricks and mortar shop! Over the years, however, Australian internet sales have grown rapidly and are now in excess of $20 billion per annum.

This has caused dismay from Australian businesses who have increasingly complained about an unequal playing field, since Australian consumers are often able to avoid incurring GST on their internet purchases from non-resident businesses. Online video-on-demand provider, Netflix is a prime example where a subscription to their services is currently not subject to GST under existing laws.

In response to these concerns, the government has introduced amendments that extend GST to supplies of digital products, certain services and low value goods imported by consumers.

As a result of these amendments, Australian consumers will soon find themselves paying 10% more for many online purchases. In addition, many overseas suppliers will be required to register and pay GST, though in some cases the GST liability may be shifted to an electronic distribution platform or goods forwarder. To ease the administrative burden, the Commissioner will permit some foreign businesses affected by the amendments to hold a limited GST registration.

 

  1. Existing GST framework

By way of background, GST is payable on “taxable supplies” and “taxable importations”.

Taxable supplies

For a supply to be taxable it must, among other things, be connected with Australia.[1]

In the context of physical goods brought to Australia, a supply is connected with Australia if the supplier either imports the goods or installs or assembles them in Australia. Therefore, if the consumer imports the goods, the supply will generally not be connected with Australia and will not be a taxable supply.

In the context of supplies other than physical goods or real property (e.g. digital products and other services), a supply is connected with Australia if:

  • The thing is done in Australia;
  • The supply is made through an enterprise that is carried on in Australia; or
  • The supply is the supply of a right to acquire another thing that is connected with Australia.

If the location of performance is not in Australia, a supply by a foreign entity will generally not be connected with Australia and will not be a taxable supply.

Taxable importations

For an importation to be taxable it must be of tangible personal property. Therefore, an importation of digital products or services is not a taxable importation as these are not tangible goods. Furthermore, GST regulations specify that an importation of low-value tangible goods (i.e. those with a customs value of $1,000 or less) is a non-taxable importation and therefore no GST is payable.

 

  1. Applying GST to Digital Products and Other Services

Amendments to the GST Act[2], which take effect from 1 July 2017, extend the scope of the GST to digital products and other services imported by Australian consumers.

The media have dubbed the amendments the ‘Netflix tax’ and have focused on their application to digital products such as streaming or downloading of movies, music, apps, games and e-books. However, what may be missed is that the amendments apply equally to supplies of services such as consultancy and professional (e.g. architectural, legal or educational) services.

Australian consumer

As a result of the amendments, a supply of digital products and other services will be connected with Australia (and therefore potentially a taxable supply) if the recipient of the supply is an ‘Australian consumer’.

An Australian consumer, in relation to a supply, is an Australian resident (as defined for income tax purposes) who is not entitled to an input tax credit (ITC) in respect of the acquisition. To be entitled to an ITC, a consumer must be registered for GST and the supply must be acquired to some extent for an enterprise they carry on. The amendments are therefore intended to capture private consumption only.

Example: [3]

Global Movies supplies Fellini with video on demand services. The supply is not performed in Australia and Global Movies does not carry on an enterprise in Australia.

Fellini is a resident of Australia, does not carry on an enterprise and is not registered for GST. The supply by Global Movies is connected with Australia as a result of the amendments.

Had Fellini not been a resident of Australia, the supply would not have been connected to Australia, even if he was in Australia when the supply was made.

Reasonable belief safeguard

It may not always be practical for a supplier to determine if the recipient of a supply is an Australian consumer. Recognising this, the amendments provide a safeguard; if the entity that would be liable for GST takes reasonable steps to establish whether the recipient of a supply is an Australian consumer and, having taken these steps, reasonably believes that the recipient is not an Australian consumer, they may treat the supply as if it had been made to an entity that was not an Australian consumer.

Example:[4]

Peter, an Australian resident who is not registered for GST, orders a videogame online from a non-resident supplier while visiting family in London. He pays using a credit card from a UK bank and gives the address and phone number of his relatives as contact information. The supplier reasonably believes that Peter is a not an Australian resident and may therefore treat him as not being an Australian consumer and the supply as not connected with Australia.

In some circumstances, the process for making a supply may be largely automated. Such supplies may also be covered by this safeguard if the business systems and processes provide a reasonable basis for identifying if the recipient is an Australian consumer.

Penalties for misrepresentations by customers and extending the reverse charge provisions

Australian consumers may have incentives to avoid GST by misrepresenting their status. To address this, the amendments broaden the existing administrative penalties for making false or misleading statements.

Furthermore, the amendments extend the compulsory reverse charge rules so that they apply where an Australian business has made a wholly private or domestic acquisition but has made representations that it is not an Australian consumer in respect of the supply. The operation of this reverse charge rule will mean the supply is a taxable supply and the recipient, not the supplier, is liable for GST.

Example:[5]

Leslie, an Australian resident registered for GST, acquires a movie from Online Movie Co (OMC) for a wholly private purpose. She is therefore an Australian consumer in relation to the supply. However, Leslie provides OMCS with her Australian Business Number (ABN) and declares that she is registered for GST. Accordingly, OMC does not charge GST. Under the extended reverse charge provisions, Leslie is obliged to pay the GST.

Electronic Distribution Platforms

Consumers may purchase digital products and services via an electronic distribution platform (EDP). The Apple App Store is an example of an EDP, Amazon is another.

The operators of EDPs are often better resourced and therefore better placed to comply with Australia’s GST laws. On this basis, where supplies are made through an EDP and are connected with Australia under these amendments, responsibility for the GST liability is generally shifted from the supplier to the operator of the EDP. In other circumstances the supplier and operator of the EDP may agree that the operator will be liable for GST on the supply.

Registration and Limited Registration

Supplies that are connected with Australia because they are made to an Australian consumer will generally count towards the GST registration threshold of $75,000. However, these supplies may also be GST free because they are used or enjoyed outside Australia.

It would be unnecessary for foreign suppliers to register for GST if the only supplies they make that are connected to Australia is also GST-free. Therefore, the amendments ensure such supplies are only included in GST turnover if the supply is made through an enterprise carried on in Australia.

Some entities that are required to register under these amendments will not have any other connection with Australia. These entities will have no claim to ITCs and will therefore not need to claim GST refunds.

To ease the administrative burden on such entities, the Commissioner will allow them to opt to be a ‘limited registration entity’. Such entities will only be required to provide minimal information when registering for GST and lodging business activity statements. Limited registration entitles are not entitled to claim ITCs or to have an ABN. They will report quarterly.

 

  1. Applying GST to Low Value Imported Goods

The government has also released draft legislation[6] to amend the GST Act to ensure that GST is payable on certain supplies of low value goods that are purchased by consumers and imported into Australia. This amendment again is intended to level the playing field between local and overseas businesses.

The changes, if passed, will also apply from 1 July 2017.

Supplies of low value goods that are connected with Australia

As a result of the amendments, a supply of goods will be connected with Australia if:

  • The supply involves the goods being brought to Australia with the assistance of the supplier;
  • The goods are low value goods; and
  • The recipient acquires the supply as a consumer.

Bringing goods to Australia with the assistance of the supplier

The supplier provides assistance where it makes arrangements with third parties for the transport of the goods or facilitates the consumer making such arrangements. However, if a supplier merely makes the goods available for collection or provides contact information to unrelated transport companies it will not be providing such assistance.

Low value goods

Broadly, a low value good is tangible personal property that has a customs value of $1,000 or less at the time of supply.

If multiple goods are supplied and each is individually below $1,000 but the total is above the threshold, the supply is a supply of low value goods unless it would be unreasonable to treat each good as a separate supply (for example the supply of 100 floor tiles). A supply that involves both low value and other goods is treated as two or more separate supplies.

Acquired as a consumer

A recipient, who may not be the person to whom the goods are delivered, is a consumer in relation to a supply if they are not entitled to an ITCs for the acquisition.

A business can confirm that a recipient is not a consumer by requesting their ABN and a declaration that they do not acquire the goods for an enterprise they carry on in Australia. Unlike the amendments relating to digital products and other services, there is no requirement that the consumer be an Australian resident.

Example:[7]

Wei, a resident of Hong Kong purchases artwork valued at $700 in Vietnam and arranges for the seller to deliver it to his niece in Australia. The supply is connected with Australia, despite the fact that Wei is not a resident and outside of Australia when the purchase is made.

Supplies not connected with Australia

A supply that satisfies each of these three requirements will not be connected to Australia if the supplier reasonably believes that the goods will be imported as a taxable importation and the goods are imported as a taxable importation. If the supplier’s reasonable belief turns out to be incorrect, they will include the additional GST payable on their next Business Activity Statement and no penalties will apply.

Electronic distribution platforms

Where low value goods are supplied through an EDP, the GST liability will generally shift from the supplier to the operator of the platform. This is consistent with the EDP rules applying to cross-border supplies of digital products and other services – discussed above.

Goods forwarders

Goods forwarders may help arrange a purchase, take delivery of the goods and/or arrange for their pick-up, make storage arrangements and deliver, or arrange delivery of the goods to the consumer.

In contrast, entities that merely deliver goods to Australia are not treated as goods forwarders. If a supply to a consumer involves goods being delivered outside of Australia and brought to Australia with the assistance of a goods forwarder, then the supply will be connected with Australia and the goods forwarder will generally be treated as the supplier.

Example:

Sam is an Australian resident who is not registered for GST. Sam purchases a hockey stick valued at $300 from a US store. Sam instructs the store to send his purchase to a mail forwarding service (MailMe). MailMe then sends the hockey stick to Australia and delivers it to Sam. MailMe, and not the US store, is treated as making the supply and will need to register if it has a GST turnover of $75,000 or more.

Limited Registration

The amendments allow non-resident suppliers (including operators of EDPs treated as suppliers) and non-resident goods forwarders of low value goods to be limited registration entities

Simon Dorevitch is Senior Tax Consultant

A&A Tax Legal Consulting

 

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] The GST Act now refers to the “Indirect Tax Zone” rather than Australia. However, for simplicity, this article will continue use the term Australia.

[2] Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (2016 Measures No .1) Bill 2016

[3] Example 1.1 from Explanatory Memorandum to Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (2016 Measures No .1) Bill 2016

[4] Example 1.4 from Explanatory Memorandum to Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (2016 Measures No .1) Bill 2016

[5] Example 1.5 from Explanatory Memorandum to Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (2016 Measures No .1) Bill 2016

[6] Treasury Laws Amendment (2017 Measures No. 1) Bill 2017

[7] Example 1.5 from Explanatory Memorandum to Treasury Laws Amendment (2017 Measures No. 1) Bill 2017