Accounting ‘headache’ looms with GST settlement changes

Accountants believe the changes to the GST withholding obligations at settlement will provide some advisory challenges as well as “a big headache” for some clients.

From 1 July, purchasers of new residential premises or potential residential land are required to withhold an amount from the price of the supply for payment to the ATO.

The amount withheld is generally either 1/11th of the contract price for fully taxable supplies, 7 per cent of the contract price for margin scheme supplies, or 10 per of GST exclusive market value.

The government announced the GST withholding obligation in the 2017 federal budget.

“It is directed at non-compliance by property suppliers who sell properties for a price that includes the GST but who avoid remitting the GST by dissolving their businesses before their next BAS lodgment. This is a form of phoenixing,” the ATO noted.

Speaking to Public Accountant, Sky Accountants chief technical officer Ashley Carmichael said the change is a “classic case of punishing everyone for the sins of a few”.

He also added that “while the full ramifications of the change are yet to be seen, it’s going to be a big headache for some developers”.

“Previously, if you had a developer that was lodging their Business Activity Statement quarterly, and they may have been doing that through an accountant, a tax agent, and they can get lodgement extensions and payment extensions that go with that,” Mr Carmichael said.

“If you sold a property tomorrow and settled tomorrow, if you’re on a quarterly cycle with your GST, the GST wouldn’t need to be paid to the tax office until after the quarter ending 30 September, and the due date for that if you use the tax agent would’ve been about the 25 November or thereabouts.

“That’s a significant period of time that the developer has got that GST money in their working capital, whereas under this new regime, that money is taken and paid to the tax office directly at settlement. When you’re talking about sizeable property developments, it’s sizeable GST money.”

Accodex Partners accounting partner Josh Gloede told Public Accountant said the lack of awareness from clients around the GST withholding obligation has been the most challenging part as an accountant.

“What generically always happens when you’re chatting to a client about it and they tell you their plans and you highlight the associated tax risks involved, the default response is, ‘Well, my mate or my friend did this and they got away with it, it’s all fine’,” Mr Gloede said.

“As with anything to do with tax, it’s always, ‘My friend did this, my friend said that’, and you’re facing an uphill battle when you’re trying to advise them that this is in the law now and this is what we’re going to have to go through.”

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