New powers for the Commissioner if he is concerned you won’t pay your tax

In a new Bill before Parliament (Treasury Laws Amendment (Combating Illegal Phoenixing) Bill 2019) the Commissioner gets some new powers.

First, this Bill will allow the Commissioner to retain tax refunds where a taxpayer has failed to lodge a return or provide other information that may affect the amount the Commissioner refunds. The Commissioner may retain the refund until the return or other information is provided, or an assessment is made.

And second, this Bill allows the Commissioner to collect estimates of anticipated GST liabilities. Yes he can guess what your GST on the future might be and ask you to pay it!

But neither of these methods comes close to the way the German’s do it… Pay your tax or we will take your dog! From the BBC…

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Buying listed shares in a company?

I know, I know… This is a stupid idea as you lose the CGT discount…

But remember that the discount could be 25%, not 50%, if there is a change in Government in May. And the highest marginal tax rate goes to 49% if there is a change in Government. And some companies will have a tax rate of as little as 25% in a few years time…

So, if all this happens will it ever be better to buy shares in a company than in your own name?

In the attached document I compare buying shares that have a fully franked 6% yield and 3% capital growth where you reinvest the dividends each years for 5 years, first in your own name and then a company… And the company wins… Including paying out the amount to the individual.

I never thought it would be so close.

Idea

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If I don’t exist you can’t tax me…

In country Victoria, when they get caught for not lodging tax returns, they try (and fail) to avoid having to do so by arguing they do not exist.

Has he ever heard of “Cogito, ergo sum” (I think therefore I am) from René Descartes. Maybe he should have said “Cogito ergo uectigalis” (I think therefore I pay tax. But my Latin is a bit rusty…

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Proving deductions for home office expenses, mobile phones and internet

Sometimes it is good to remember the basics, especially when the Commissioner is focusing on it. So lets go back to 2001 and have a look at one of my favourite Practice Statements – Practice Statement Law Administration PS LA 2001/6 Verification approaches for home office running expenses and and electronic device expenses.

What I like the most are the examples, primarily because they don’t say that you can just pick a percentage and claim that amount of the cost of your phone and internet costs (and why is it alway 80% that taxpayer guess anyway?).

S0 how do we work out the deduction for the calls and data on or phones and devices? According to this Statement…

Taxpayer’s can calculate their device usage expenses by:

  • keeping records and written evidence to determine their work-related proportion of actual expenses, or
  • claiming up to $50 in total for all device usage charges (being phone calls, text messages and internet use for all devices) with limited documentation. This approach is appropriate where their device usage is incidental.

There are two options, being only claim $50 for the year and no more or have written evidence and records to justify the claim above $50 – no “I just estimated a percentage” allowed!

Have a look at this example.

Example  internet expenses – time basis

Ben is an employee IT technician who generally works from home three days per week (eight hours per day). In order for Ben to log on to his employer’s network he is required to use his personal home internet connection. This expense is not reimbursed by Ben’s employer.

Considering Ben’s usage is more than incidental he decides to calculate his actual expenses incurred using the ‘time basis’ method.

Ben has determined his time using the internet for work over a representative four-week period as 96 hours (24 hours per week). However, to determine his time using the internet for non-work purposes Ben considers all of the private devices that use the internet connection. This includes his:

  • gaming console for online gaming
  • smart TV for streaming television and movies, and
  • mobile phone to browse the internet.

Ben estimates that he is directly or indirectly (for example, automatic updating) using the internet connection in relation to these devices for four hours per weekday and 16 hours on the weekend. This equates to 144 hours over a representative four- week period. Based on this analysis, Ben is using the internet for a total of 240 hours in a four- week period, of which 96 hours, or 40%, is work-related.

Ben’s wife also uses the internet connection for a similar period of time – that is, 144 hours over a representative four-week period. In this situation, the internet connection is used for a total of 384 hours in a four-week period, of which 96 hours, or 25%, is Ben’s work-related portion.

Internet expenses = 25% of monthly expenses ($60) x 11 months (taking into account Ben’s four weeks annual leave) = $165.00

Either claim $50 or keep a time record of all the use of you and your family of the internet. And to be clear, “but I have to have a connection for work” does not mean you get a 100% deduction.

And a similar but easier analysis is needed for home office expenses. However, you only need work hours.

Example – home office running expenses

Betty is an employee accountant working for a city-based firm that expects her to complete a specified amount of work each day. In order to achieve this, Betty has elected to take some of her work home at night so that she can spend more time with her family. Betty spends an average of two hours per night Monday to Friday working in her home office.

Betty has two options for calculating her home office running expenses. She can calculate the proportion of actual home office running expenses that are work-related, or use the rate of 52 cents per hour. Betty opts to use the rate of 52 cents per hour and keeps a record showing she worked at home for 10 hours per week for 48 weeks in the year. Her deduction is calculated as:

Running expenses = 52c per hour x 10 hours per week x 48 weeks = $249.60

So you should track the time you work from home.

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Avoiding tax can lead to a longer life?

Go to Wikipedia and look at the list of the verified oldest people and coming in first is Jeanne Calment, who it is claimed was born on 21 February 1875 and passed away on 4 August 1997 at the ripe old age of 122 years, 164 days.

What was the secret of her long life? It appears it may have been tax fraud!

It is now claimed that Mrs Calment died in 1934 and her daughter, Yvonne, then pretended to be her mother from that time. The daughter’s name was put on the death certificate rather than her mother’s name. So why would the family do this?

At the time of the death, Mr and Mrs Calment owned 50% each of a very successful, multi story department store, and if she died in 1934, 50% of the value of the entire business would have been taxed at what was an amazingly high inheritance tax rate of 38%.

In other words, if Mrs Calment did die in 1934, Mr Calment would have been the 100% owner of the business, but he would need to find cash equalling 19% of the business’ value to pay in inheritance tax.

So, it is alleged that to save a great deal of tax, they made sure the correct person died.

I have no idea if this is what happened, as it is denied by the researchers who confirmed her age at her death, but I am pretty sure there are people who would go this far to avoid some tax.

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A new way to get people to pay their tax and lodge their returns – don’t let them vote

I was reading the 24th Amendment of the United States Constitution on a Saturday night (doesn’t everyone read comparative international tax for a big night out on Saturdays?) and found that Congress and the states cannot stop people voting in elections if they have not paid “a poll tax or other types of tax”.

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Southern states run by the Democratic Party adopted these poll taxes voting rules as a measure to prevent African Americans from voting in the first third of the 1900s.

I looked in our Constitution and could not find any equivalent specific rule stopping the Australian government from stopping people who don’t pay their taxes from voting… But why would 21st century Australia want to bring in this type of rule?

If tax is not theft (as some will argue) and it is not a payment for services (which it is hard to argue it is) then it is a payment we make to the government under some form of social contract. We get to vote for who decides how to use the money that we collectively agree we all should pay. And if this is the case, then a rule like this makes sense.

If you don’t make your payments, you don’t get to decide who get to work out how to spend it. Put simply, if you don’t pay your taxes you don’t get to vote. While you have a tax debt of a certain amount you are unable to vote.

But what is the High Court going to say if this law was brought in? To answer this we can look at the felony disenfranchisement rules we have had in Australia – the rule that convicted felons cannot vote.

We have had rules in Australia since 1902 that have denied voting for certain felons (either all felons or longer than 5 years). In 2006 this ban was extended to all prisoners, but in 2007, the High Court of Australia in Roach v Electoral Commissioner found that the Australian constitution enshrined a limited right to vote. Therefore, citizens serving relatively short prison sentences (generally less than three years) cannot be barred from voting.

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Chief Justice Murray Gleeson held that the right to vote was constitutionally protected as the constitution states that our politicians will be “directly chosen by the people of the Commonwealth” (sections 7 and 24). But he agreed limitations could be put on this as long as the reasons were worth of such extreme consequences. The law that he was considering stated it wanted to remove the right to vote for serious misconduct. This was acceptable. However, the law identified what was serious criminal misconduct by saying where any prison sentence was given. The Chief Justice stated that short-term sentences could be imposed for arbitrary reasons, such as location or homelessness, that were unrelated to the seriousness and so this rule was not valid. He argued that a term of three years would be appropriate.

What guidance would this give us for our “unpaid tax, no vote rule”? Just like the Roach case, as long as the bar is set high enough, I would expect the High Court to accept it. If the bar was $10,000 of debts, not under a payment agreement and outstanding for 6 months, this may be enough. And what if an individual has not lodge say three years of tax returns?

So how about this as the new tool for the Commissioner to get people to lodge their outstanding returns and pay their tax? An I kidding myself that anyone would care enough about their chance to number some boxes and eat a badly cooked sausage to change their tax practices? Probably…

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An amnesty that is too late…

On 24 May 2018, the Government introduced the Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Superannuation Measures No. 1) Bill 2018, proposing a Superannuation Guarantee Amnesty, so that if you let the Commissioner know of any unpaid super all the way back to 1992, and make the payment by 23 May 2019, the payment will be deductible and the $20 per employee per period penalty will not apply.

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As at 6 December 2018, our hard working parliamentarian concluded for the year, but they were too busy to enact this Amnesty bill. The Bill had made it to the Senate so all we need is approval from the Senate.

But how many days will the Senate sit before 23 May 2019, when the amnesty runs out? The Senate will sit on 12, 13 and 14 February and then not again until 13, 14, 15 and 16 May.

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If you have a client who missed some super, you won’t want to miss this Amnesty, but if the Senators cannot approve the Bill as it is without any changes, it will go back to the House of Reps and return for final approval in mid May.

It looks like you will have 10 days (16 May 2019 to 23 May 2019) to tell the Commissioner of the underpayment and make the payment with certainty of the penalty…

 

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