Is ‘property flipping’ taxable?

The tax law does not allow you to ‘flip’ a property tax-free even if you are living in it. Most people think that they can move in to a property, renovate it, and then sell it without paying tax. The main residence exemption – the exemption that protects your family home from tax – does not apply if your primary purpose is to ‘flip’ the property for a profit. The fact that you are living in the property does not mean it’s exempt from tax.

Some people reading this are probably thinking, but who is going to know? How can the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) really know what my intention is when I buy a property to live in? Generally, the ATO is looking for a pattern of behaviour or a declaration of intention. For example:

  • You are not employed and earn your income moving in, renovating then selling
  • You have a pattern of renovating and selling properties
  • Your loan documents on your mortgage suggest the property is for flipping and not for the long term
  • You go on national television stating that you are looking to move in, renovate and flip the property (hello The Block contestants).

The ATO’s guide on property is clear: “If you’re carrying out a profit-making activity of property renovations also known as ‘property flipping’, you report in your income tax return your net profit or loss from the renovation (proceeds from the sale of the property less the purchase and other costs associated with buying, holding, renovating and selling it).”

People often make the assumption that any gain made from property flipping will be exempt from tax as long as the property is their main residence for the entire ownership period. However, this is only the case where the property is held on capital account. A property would generally be held on capital account if it is bought with the genuine intention of using it as a private residence or rental property for the foreseeable future and there is evidence to back this up.

The ATO indicates that someone who is renovating a property with the intention of selling the property again at a profit could be taxed on revenue account in which case the main residence exemption does not apply.

The guide identifies three main scenarios and the general tax implications:

  • Personal property investor – this is someone who purchases a property with the primary intention of using it as a long-term rental property or private residence. If this person undertakes renovations and then sells the property earlier than originally planned, then they should still generally be able to argue that the sale is dealt with on capital account, which means that the main residence exemption and/or Capital Gains Tax (CGT) discount could apply.
  • Isolated profit making undertaking – this is someone who buys a property with the primary intention of carrying out renovations and then selling the property when the work is completed. Someone in this category is likely to be taxed on revenue account with no access to the main residence exemption or CGT discount.
  • Business of renovating properties – this is someone who undertakes property-flipping activities on a regular or repetitive basis and where the activities are organised in a business-like manner. As with the category above, there is generally no access to the main residence exemption or CGT discount.

Just because you live in the property for all or part of the ownership period does not automatically mean that the profits from sale are exempt from tax. The main residence exemption can only reduce capital gains; it cannot reduce amounts that are taxed on revenue account.

Beware of the latest scams!

ATO scams

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has warned about the emergence of a scam where scammers are using an ATO number to send fraudulent SMS messages to taxpayers asking them to click on a link and hand over their personal details in order to obtain a refund.

The refund scam follows a more sinister four phase scam stating there is a warrant out for your arrest for unpaid taxes in prior years. The scam starts with a text message purportedly from the Australian Federal Police (AFP). Within minutes, your mobile rings and the caller identifies themselves as being from the AFP and working with the ATO. They then ask for your accountant’s details. You then receive a call purportedly from your ‘accounting firm’ asking you to verify the AFP/ATO claims. Finally, you are provided with a way, if you act quickly, to make the AFP go away by paying a fee before your ‘imminent arrest’.

The ATO states that it will not:

  • send you an email or SMS asking you to click on a link to provide login, personal or financial information, or to download a file or open an attachment;
  • use aggressive or rude behaviour, or threaten you with arrest, jail or deportation;
  • request payment of a debt via iTunes or Google Play cards, pre-paid Visa cards, cryptocurrency or direct credit to a personal bank account; or
  • request a fee in order to release a refund owed to you.

Medicare Scam

A new phishing scam sent text messages purportedly from Medicare advising the recipient that they are owed a $200 rebate from Medicare. Once the person clicks on the reclaim link, they are asked to provide their personal details including bank account details for the ‘rebate.’

Single touch payroll extended to all employers

From 1 July 2019, single touch payroll – the direct reporting of salary and wages, PAYG withholding and superannuation contribution information to the ATO – will apply to all employers. What employers need to report will also be extended to include certain salary sacrificed amounts.

Employers with 20 or more employees have been required to use single touch payroll since 1 July 2018. The new rules push all businesses with employees into the single touch payroll system. This includes the situation where payments are made to the owners of the business in the form of salary, wages or directors fees.

The ATO has asked software providers to provide new low cost payroll options for micro employers (1-4 employees).  MYOB and Xero have announced new $10 per month offerings (limited to 4 employees) with other software houses following suit.

The ATO also states that to assist micro employers there will be, “a number of alternate options that are not available to employers with 20 or more employees – such as initially allowing your registered tax or BAS agent to report quarterly, rather than each time you run your payroll.”

While the start date for small employers will technically start on 1 July 2019, the Commissioner of Taxation released a statement indicating that small employers can actually start reporting through single touch payroll any time from 1 July 2019 until 30 September 2019. No penalties will be applied to mistakes, missed or late reports for the first year.

Plus, if your business is in an area with no viable internet connection, such as some rural and remote regions, then exemptions may apply.

Under 20 employees? What you need to do.

1 July 2019 is not that far away. If your business does not already use STP compliant software, you may need to upgrade your systems or implement new ones.

STP requires PAYG withholding and superannuation contribution details to be reported to the ATO as payments are made to employees or superannuation funds.

When it comes to PAYG withholding, employers will report details of salary and wages paid to employees as well as the PAYG withholding amount at the time the payment is made to the employee. Employers have the option of paying the PAYG withholding liability at the same time, although this is not compulsory.

What needs to be reported:

  • Salary & wages
  • Director remuneration
  • Return to work payments to individuals
  • Employment termination payments (ETPs) – not compulsory if the employee has died
  • Unused leave payments
  • Parental leave pay
  • Payments to office holders
  • Payments to religious practitioners
  • Superannuation contributions (at the time the payment is made to the fund)
  • Salary sacrificed amounts (from 1 July 2019).

Employers with poor super guarantee payment history outed

Underpayment or non-payment of superannuation guarantee (SG) is a big issue. New laws will enable the ATO to advise employees (or former employees) of their employer’s poor SG payment and reporting history.

If an employee makes a complaint to the ATO, then a taxation officer is able to make a record or advise the employee about a failure or suspected failure by their employer or former employer to comply with their SG obligations. They can also share the Tax Commissioner’s response to the complaint. So, if the Commissioner finds there is a problem with SG payments, they can disclose this information to the complainant.

Are you in the road freight, IT or security, investigation or surveillance business?

The Taxable Payments Reporting system was introduced to stem the flow of cash payments to contractors and rampant under reporting of income. Since the building and construction industry was first targeted in 2012, the reporting system has expanded to include cleaning and courier services. Now, a broader set of industries have been targeted.

If you have an ABN, and are in road freight, IT or security, investigation or surveillance, then any payments you make to contractors will need to be reported to the Australian Tax Office (ATO).

Be careful here as the definition of these industries is very broad. For  example, ‘investigation or surveillance’ includes locksmiths. The definition covers services that provide “protection from, or measures taken against, injury, damage, espionage, theft, infiltration, sabotage or the like.”

IT services are the provision of “expertise in relation to computer hardware or software to meet the needs of a client.” This includes software installation, web design, computer facilities management, software simulation and testing. It does not include the sale of software or lease of hardware.

Road freight is typically goods transported in bulk using large vehicles. This includes services such as log haulage, road freight forwarding, taxi trucks, furniture removal, and road vehicle towing. The addition of road freight to the taxable payments reporting system completes the coverage of delivery and logistics services as businesses in courier services are already obliged to report payments to contractors to the ATO.

If your business is impacted by these changes, you need to document the ABN, name and address, and gross amount paid to contractors from 1 July 2019. Your first report to the ATO, the Taxable Payments Annual Report (TPAR), is due by 28 August 2020. This might seem like a long way away but it will come around quickly and you need to ensure that your systems are in place to manage the reporting required easily and accurately.

Who needs to report?

The obligation to report contractor payments to the ATO is already quite broad. The addition of road freight, IT or security, or investigation or surveillance services, adds another layer.

Service Reporting of contractor payments
Building and construction services From 1 July 2012
Cleaning services From 1 July 2018
Courier services From 1 July 2018
Road freight, IT or security, or investigation or surveillance services From 1 July 2019

For businesses providing mixed services, if 10% or more of your GST turnover is made up of affected services, then you will need to report the contractor payments to the ATO.

No tax deductions if you don’t meet your tax obligations

New laws passed by parliament last month directly target the behaviour of taxpayers that don’t meet their obligations.

Tax deductions denied

If taxpayers do not meet their PAYG withholding tax obligations, from 1 July 2019 they will not be able to claim a tax deduction for payments:

  • of salary, wages, commissions, bonuses or allowances to an employee;
  • of directors’ fees;
  • to a religious practitioner;
  • under a labour hire arrangement; or
  • made for services where the supplier does not provide their ABN.

The main exception is where you realised there is a mistake and voluntarily corrected it. For example, if you made payments to a contractor but then later realised that they should have been paid as an employee and no PAYG was withheld. In these circumstances, a deduction may still be available if you voluntarily correct the problem but penalties may still apply for the failure to withhold the correct amount of tax.

The new rules for gift cards – what you need to know

In Australia, around 34 million gift cards are sold each year with an estimated value of $2.5 billion. On average, an estimated $70 million is lost because of expiry dates.

 Until recently, there was no national regulation for the minimum length of time a gift card should last. In late 2017, New South Wales introduced laws* requiring a minimum three year expiry period for gift cards sold in that state and South Australia was in the process of enacting laws, but no uniform standard applied across Australia.

Applying from 1 November 2019, new laws are in effect that introduce a regime for the regulation of gift cards including:

  • A minimum 3 year expiry period
  • Bolstering disclosure requirements, and
  • Banning post-supply fees.

What business needs to do

From 1 November 2019, businesses should ensure:

  • All gift cards have a minimum three year expiry period. Any existing gift card stock should be run down and production reviewed to ensure that once the new regime comes into effect, only compliant gift cards are issued.
  • Ensure disclosure requirements are met. The expiry date or the date the card was supplied and a statement about the period of validity must be set out prominently on the gift card itself. For example, if the supply date was December 2019, “Supply date: December 2019. This card will expire in 3 years,” or “Valid for 3 years from 12/19”. It is assumed that the card expires on the last day of the month where only the month and year are displayed. If the gift card does not expire, the card will need to clarify this by stating words to the effect of, “never expires”.
  • Post-supply fees are not charged. A post-supply fee is a fee that is charged reducing the value of the gift card such as administration fees for using a gift card. Post-supply fees exclude the fees that are normally charged regardless of how someone pays for a product or service. For example, booking fees, a fee to reissue a lost or damaged card, and payment surcharges.

A number of larger businesses have adopted a 3 year expiry period following the introduction of NSW laws. These include David Jones, Myers, Westfield, Rebel Sport, Coles, and Dymocks. Other retailers have no expiry dates including iTunes, JB Hi-Fi, EB Games, Woolworths and Bunnings. Generous expire periods are a point of difference when consumers are working out which retailers gift card to purchase.

What happens if a business ignores the new rules?

Once the new rules come into effect, if a gift card is supplied with less than a three year expiry period, the disclosure requirements are not met, or post-supply fees are charged, a penalty may be imposed of up to $30,000 for a body corporate and $6,000 for persons other than a body corporate. In addition, the ACCC has the ability to impose infringement notices. Each infringement notice is 55 units (currently $11,500) for a body corporate and 11 units (currently $2,420) for persons other than a body corporate.

What happens if a business becomes insolvent or is sold?

The consumer’s rights do not change if the business becomes insolvent or bankrupt. The consumer becomes an unsecured creditor of the business.

If a business changes owners, the new owner must honour existing gift cards and vouchers if the business was:

  • sold as a ‘going concern’. That is, the assets and liabilities of the business were sold by the previous owner to the new owner.
  • owned by a company rather than an individual, and the new owner purchased the shares in the company.

*Amendments to the NSW Fair Trading Act 1987 require that most gift cards and vouchers sold from 31 March 2018 have a 3 year expiry period. In addition, no post-purchase fees can apply to redeem the voucher (including activation fees, account keeping fees, balance enquiry fees, telephone enquiry fees and fees applied when a card is inactive or not being used). See Fair Trading for more details.

New immediate deduction for primary producers

Legislation that passed Parliament in September will enable primary producers to claim an immediate deduction for fodder storage assets such as silos and hay sheds used to store grain and other animal feed. The deduction is available if the primary producer first uses the asset or has the asset installed and ready for use on or after 19 August 2018. The immediate deduction can be claimed in the year the expense is incurred. Prior to this date, primary producers could generally only deduct the cost of these assets over 3 years.

This is one of several measures announced as part of the Government’s package of drought assistance measures which are intended to aid drought-affected farmers.

Working from home: What deductions can you claim?

For a while now, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has been concerned about tax deductions individuals have been claiming for a whole host of expenses. The latest on their ‘hit list’ are home office expenses.  We guide you through what you can and can’t claim if you work from home.

Last financial year, 6.7 million taxpayers claimed a record $7.9 billion in deductions for ‘other work-related expenses’ which includes expenses for working from home. While the ATO appreciates that technology has led to more people working from home and greater flexibility, they don’t believe that all of the claims being made are legitimate. Take the example of the school principal who claimed $2,400 for electricity and phone expenses incurred during the year. The principal had a letter from the school verifying that they were required to work from home outside of school hours but could not explain how she calculated the claim. The principal ended up voluntarily reducing the claim by 70%. Or, the advertising manager who claimed her rent as a tax deduction because she worked from home at irregular hours to manage the timeframes of overseas clients. Her deduction for rent was rejected.

A major bugbear for the ATO are the people who claim 100% of their expenses like mobile phone plans and internet services when they are mostly for personal use. If you claim 100% of your phone and internet and you are not running a business from home, you can expect the ATO to look closely at your claims (that goes for subcontractors as well!).

What can you claim?

Working from home

A lot of people do some sort of work from home. It might be simply answering emails on the couch or working from home a few days a week. So, what can you claim if you’re putting in extra hours?

If you don’t have a dedicated work area but you do some work on the couch or at the dining room table, you can claim some of your expenses like the work-related portion of your phone and internet expenses and the decline in value of your computer. This of course assumes that your employer doesn’t reimburse you for your phone and internet expenses and you purchased your computer for yourself.

You can claim up to $50 for phone and internet expenses without substantiating the claim (although the ATO may still ask you to prove that you actually incurred the expense), or you can work out your actual expenses (see Working out the work-related portion of your expenses).

If you have a dedicated work area, there are a few more expenses you can claim including some of the running costs of your home such as a portion of your electricity expenses and the decline in value of office equipment (see Working out the work-related portion of your expenses).

Running a business from home

If your home is your principal place of business, you might be able to claim a range of expenses related to the portion of your home set aside for your business. What the ATO is looking for is an identifiable area of the home used for business. Take the example of a hairdressing business that runs out of the hairdresser’s home. One room is dedicated as a salon and is not used for any other purpose other than the salon. For the portion of the house taken up by the salon, the hairdresser can claim running expenses such as electricity and the interest on the mortgage.

The downside to claiming occupancy expenses such as interest on a mortgage is the impact it has on your tax-free main residence exemption for capital gains tax (CGT) purposes. In general, your home is exempt from CGT when you sell it. However, if you use your home to earn assessable income like the hairdresser, then you might only qualify for a partial exemption on the sale. If you are claiming part of your home as a business expense, then it is unlikely that any gain you make on your home will be fully CGT-free. You might also need to obtain a valuation of your home at the time it was first used to generate business income.

Working out the work-related portion of your expenses

You need to be able to prove how you came up with your expense claim. This includes having a documented method of calculating the work related portion of that claim if the item you are claiming is used for private and work purposes. For phone and internet expenses for example, you might look at the number of work calls, the time spent, or data downloads as a portion of the total bill. The other method is to complete the equivalent of a log book or diary over four weeks to track your work use of the item, then apply the work percentage over that four weeks to your annual expense. If for example you used your phone for 20% of the time over the four weeks you documented in your diary, you could then claim 20% of your annual phone expense as a home office expense (assuming your circumstances don’t change across the year).

What home office expenses can be claimed?

Running expenses – if you have a dedicated work area such as a study set aside for work, the essentials to keep the work area running like electricity, cleaning, office equipment etc., can be claimed as an expense. Of course, any claim can only be for the work-related portion of the expense. If your family use your home office as well or you use it for personal use, then you can only claim a portion of the expense. Running expenses can be claimed:

  • at a fixed rate of 45 cents per hour – you will need to track either the actual amount of time you work from home or keep a log book over 4 weeks that can be applied to your expenses across the year.

or

  • as an actual expense – to claim an actual expense you need to document the total expenses for lighting, cleaning, heating and cooling for your home for the year, work out the floor area of the part of your home that you use for work as a percentage of the total floor area, and then work out the percentage of the year you used that part of your home exclusively for work.
  • Occupancy expenses – expenses such as rent, interest on your home loan, property insurance, land taxes and rates can only be claimed if your home is your ‘place of business’ and no other work location has been provided to you. A place of business is unsuitable for any other use other than business, like a doctor’s surgery connected to a home or a hairdressing salon in a room of the house. Occupancy expenses can be claimed by calculating your total expenses × floor area × percentage of year that part of your home was used exclusively for work. Generally, occupancy expenses are not a deduction available to employees.
  • Work related phone and internet expenses – unless you run your business from home and you have a dedicated phone and internet line it’s unlikely you can claim 100% of your phone and internet expenses. If your employer provides you with a phone, you cannot make any claim for these expenses. If you are a casual worker you cannot claim a deduction for phone rental expenses. For the rest of us, you can claim up to $50 for phone and internet expenses without substantiating the claim (but the ATO still might expect you to prove the claim), or you can work out your actual expenses. Claims for actual expenses can be made by working out the work-related use of the phone and internet and then applying that percentage to the expenses.
  • Decline in value – for depreciable assets such as computers and printers, you might be able to claim decline in value if the cost of the item was over $300. Decline in value deductions might also be available for office furniture used for work purposes in a home office, but not if the individual is using the fixed rate of 45 cents per hour to claim running expenses.

 

Expenses Home is principal workplace with dedicated work area Home not principal workplace but has dedicated work area You work at home but no dedicated work area
Running expenses Yes Yes No
Work-related phone & internet expenses Yes Yes Yes
Decline in value of a computer (work related portion) Yes Yes Yes
Decline in value of office equipment Yes Yes No
Occupancy expenses Yes No No

Source: Australian Taxation Office

 

Who gets a tax cut from 1 July?

1 July 2018 is the start date for the seven year income tax plan announced in the recent 2018-19 Federal Budget. The seven year plan benefits low and middle income earners in the first few years before expanding out to a broader restructure of the tax rates and brackets for everyone.

From 2018-19, the top threshold of the 32.5% personal income tax bracket will increase from $87,000 to $90,000. Dovetailing into the tax bracket change is the introduction of the Low and Middle Income Tax Offset for those with taxable incomes up to $125,333. The offset is a non-refundable tax offset that you receive when you lodge your income tax return.

If your annual taxable income is $80,000 in 2018-19, then the personal income tax changes provide an annual tax reduction of $530 per year. If your annual taxable income is $120,000, then the changes give you an annual reduction of $215.

The legislation enabling the personal income tax cuts and the new tax offset is not yet law and currently before the Senate.

Assuming the legislation comes into effect, further changes are planned from 1 July 2022 culminating in the removal of the 37% tax bracket from 1 July 2024. The changes will allow you to earn more before facing a higher tax bracket.

Your essential EOFY checklist

No one wants to pay more tax than they need to or face unnecessary risks. We’ve provided a list of  tips for you.

Donate – If you are going to donate to charity, now is the time. Any donations you make to deductible gift recipients can be deducted this year. Remember, if you received something in return for the money, like goods purchased at a charity auction, you may not be able to claim a deduction for the full payment. There are special rules dealing with this situation that need to be taken into account.

Work related deductions – you can claim a deduction for business expenses you have incurred that have not been paid by your employer. But be careful, you need to be certain that what you are claiming is a legitimate business expense and able to be claimed. For example, you cannot claim the cost of dry cleaning the clothes you wear to work unless it is protective clothing, a uniform required by the business, or occupation specific clothing (like the checked pants some chefs wear).

To be legitimate, the expense must be for something you need to do your job. Items like laptop bags have been in the news lately because some handbags can be used to carry laptops. This does not mean that your Gucci bag is suddenly deductible. It is really up to you to justify the deduction that you are claiming, keeping records of the actual usage of the item can help with this.

Home office expenses – if you work from home as part of your employment, you may be able to claim items such as phone expenses, running costs for your home, and equipment. Just bear in mind that expenses need to be in proportion to your use of the home for work purposes. If your home is a place of business and you are entitled to claim a deduction for interest expenses or rent, then this will generally impact on your ability to claim the full main residence exemption from CGT when you sell the home.

Earning extra cash from AirBNB style services – The tax treatment of what you earn by renting all or part of your house through AirBNB and similar services is the same as any other residential rental property arrangement. You must include the rental income in your income tax return, but you can also claim tax deductions for expenses associated to the rental, such as the interest on your home loan, professional cleaning, fees charged by the facilitator, council rates, and insurance. Expense claims need to be in proportion to the rental, that is, how much of the house is used and for how long. Also, beware that this type of activity can restrict your ability to claim the CGT main residence exemption when you sell the property if it is or has been your home.

Uber – If you drive for Uber or a similar service, the income you earn needs to be declared on your income tax return. Plus, you need to be registered for GST. You can claim expenses for your car that relate to transporting passengers (relative to the kilometres travelled with passengers).

Danger zones – Expense claims that are high on the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) hit list include:

  • Travel expenses – Problems arise when people make claims for expenses that they did not actually incur. Typically, this happens when someone receives an allowance for travel but does not spend it (they might stay with family or friends instead). While the ATO publishes some reasonable rates each year for food and accommodation expenses, these only provide limited relief from the full record keeping rules. You cannot claim a deduction for the ATO reasonable rate amount if you spent less than this on food and accommodation.
  • Self-education expenses. Any study you claim as self-education must be connected to the income you are currently earning (either to maintain or improve your specific skills or knowledge) or is likely to result in increased income from existing income earning activities. Merely doing a course while working full time does not make the course deductible. Be careful of excessive claims for travel overseas and luxury courses. You need to prove that these expenses are essential to your current work.

You can no longer claim – If you are a property investor, you can generally no longer claim the cost of travelling to and from your investment property.