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SMSFs getting practical to invest in land with others

The force of the superannuation law is that investment in land by a SMSF needs to be prudent. An investment needs to be considered in a business-like way.

Limited recourse borrowing is one way to fund investment in real estate. SMSF principals may prefer to arrange equity investment from private connections outside of the SMSF.

Investment as a tenant-in-common?

I am frequently asked about SMSFs participating in land investments as a tenant-in-common with related and unrelated entities of the principals of the SMSF. It is apparent from the NTLG Superannuation sub-committee technical minutes of June 2011, released by the Australian Taxation Office, that tenants in common arrangements for SMSFs are not going to be prudent for the SMSF without careful and restrictive implementation. Wherever other tenants in common could borrow, or use or risk their interest as security, the SMSF tenant-in-common is exposed to uncontrolled risks which would bring into question, for instance, whether the SMSF:

1.    has acted prudently pursuing the investment for members for whom it is bound to provide;

2.    has breached regulations which prevent charges, or the potential for them, being taken over SMSF property; or

3.    has satisfied the sole purpose test.

Investment through a trust?

The tenant-in-common option is frequently turned to because of the restrictive regime that has applied in relation to the investment by SMSFs in related trusts since 1999. Shortly stated, a post 1999 investment by a SMSF in a trust, which is related to the principals of the SMSF, a “related trust”, is treated as an “in-house asset” and more than 5% of the assets of a SMSF in in-house assets can leave the SMSF non-complying.

Non-geared unit trust – expressly relieved from being a related trust

The SIS Regulations provide an express exception. A superannuation fund can invest in a non-geared unit trust (NGUT) to which Regulation 13.22C applies without the NGUT being taken to be a “related trust” and thus the investment isn’t taken to be an investment in an “in-house asset”.

This express exception is especially limited and, aside from relief from “related trust” treatment causing in-house asset difficulty, offers no expansion in the kind of investment that can be pursued with superannuation money. In other words, the investment still needs to address 1 to 3 above, for instance.

The Regulation 13.22C and 13.22D requirements and restrictions on NGUTs essentially mirror the restrictions on regulated superannuation funds. NGUTs cannot borrow and they can only “lend” to operate a bank account. They cannot secure or charge their assets. (A non-SMSF unit holder in a NGUT could give a security over his, her or its units but security could not be given over the assets of the NGUT.) A NGUT cannot run a business – unlike with superannuation funds, this is a direct requirement. Loss of NGUT status, so that the NGUT becomes a related trust triggering in-house asset difficulties follows the merest breach under Regulation 13.22D which can put complying status of a SMSF investor at the mercy of the ATO.

Practicalities

1.    Nevertheless a carefully implemented NGUT can be the most practical way to pursue unitised investment in land by related parties and unrelated parties of a SMSF with the SMSF.

2.    Compliance with the regulations needs to be closely monitored as stated. Any debtor or creditor, aside from a bank for the (credit only) trust bank account, potentially causes loss of protection from related trust status. Funding of, and money flow to and from, the NGUT without breaching the rules is thus practically challenging. The trustee needs to raise equity (unit) funding whenever any extra funding is required. From a practical and paperwork burden perspective, using partly-paid units is a strategy that might be considered wherever the trust needs a flexible equity facility.

3.    The activity of the NGUT that invests in land also needs to be monitored and carefully planned and structured. It is possible for real estate activity by trustees to be considered the carrying on of a business under tax rules. As stated a NGUT cannot carry on a business under the NGUT regulations nor, if it has a trust deed to suit, under its trust deed.

4.    Under the special trust rules in NSW, a special trust pays land tax at the highest land tax rate without a threshold. A SMSF can attract a better land tax rate. A NGUT will not automatically qualify for the rate for a SMSF to the extent a SMSF invests in it. However if the NGUT is a “fixed trust” under the land tax rules then a better rate than the special trust rate can be achieved. Hence there can be advantage to structuring a NGUT with a trust deed so that the NGUT can be treated as a fixed trust under the land tax rules.

5.    A carefully crafted trust deed can be very useful to assist the trustees of a SMSF and a NGUT to keep within the express requirements and restrictions on NGUTs.

Preparing to change land ownership from a company to a trust

A company controlled by X owns land. X would prefer it if the land was held by a trust or in an individual name such as X or Y, X’s spouse.

X_diag

Significant capital gains tax (“CGT”) on the transfer of the land is not expected by X and Y. Is a transfer of the land to a trust or to X or Y or both worthwhile? Here are some tax implications X may want to think about:

Capital gains tax

If the land has increased in value X will want to consider CGT more closely:

If the land is not an active asset, or if the small business CGT concessions or the new small business restructure roll-over, can’t apply for some other reason, the value of the land, when disposed of, will be taken into account in determining CGT. i.e. the market value substitution rule will apply in the event of an undervalue transfer of the land.  An undervalue transfer of the land is rarely likely to be effective under tax rules.

The small business CGT concessions and the new small business restructure roll-over don’t apply if the asset is not an active asset. The land won’t be an active asset if it is mainly used by the company, and related parties of the company, to earn rent. As the land is held in a company, the 50% CGT discount is not available to the company on the transfer of the land.

Problems with a gift or an undervalue transfer

If full value is not payable to the company for the land then, without more, a transfer of the land could be treated as a dividend taxable in full to the transferee as a shareholder of the company, as a deemed dividend taxable to the transferee as an associate of the shareholders of the company, or may possibly be taxable to the company as a fringe benefit.  Further if the company has taken the approach of gift there may be difficulties establishing that the company was legally entitled to give the land away to the transferee if that is what is done. Indications of a gift might give a creditor of the company additional rights to pursue the transferee for the value of the land that belonged to the company especially if the stance of the company is that the transfer was not any sort of dividend or remuneration to X or Y.

A sale of the land by the company for full value is more defensible. The sale can be on terms rather than for cash payable on settlement. If the transferee doesn’t follow through, and pay the value in cash or on the agreed terms, then the sale for value can be treated as a sham and the consequences of undervalue transfer can then follow.

So defensible transfers of the land include:

  1. sales at full value on (genuine) terms; and
  2. distribution of the value of the land to the shareholders of the company (not in the form of cash) on the voluntary liquidation of the company.

CGT event A1 – but watch out for CGT event E2 if a transfer to a trust

Usually CGT event A1 is attracted when land is transferred from one beneficial owner to another. CGT event A1 is taken to occur at the time of (in the income year of) the disposal, that is, the time of the transfer unless the transfer is made under a contract. If the transfer occurs under a contract and CGT event A1 applies, CGT event A1 is taken to occur at the time of making of the contract.

This can be significant where a contract and settlement straddle the end of an income year, with the time of the contract bringing forward the capital gain into the earlier income year if CGT event A1 applies. If the transferee is a related trust of the vendor then CGT event E2 can apply rather than CGT event A1.  CGT event E2 though, unlike CGT event A1, does not bring forward the time of the CGT event to the time of the contract so, if CGT event E2 applies, the capital gain will be made in the later income year.

Stamp duty on a transfer

Stamp duty varies from state to state but generally applies to acquisitions of land based on the market value of the land, not the price to the transferee/purchaser. Very generally speaking it is usually charged at around 5% of the land value. The states offer limited stamp duty relief when acquisitions occur without a change in ultimate beneficial or economic ownership of the land. For instance, in New South Wales and Victoria relief exists in the form of corporate reconstruction concessions. These concessions are generally not available where the acquisition is by a trust or an individual. Thus stamp duty would need to be budgeted for by X as a further cost of transferring the land.

Goods and services tax

If the company is registered or ought to be registered for the goods and service tax and the land in used in an enterprise carried on by the company then the company may be obliged to charge 10% GST to the transferee on the transfer (taxable supply) of the land. If the transferee is also registered for GST, and will use the land in the transferee’s enterprise, then the transferee can obtain an input tax credit/refund of the GST charged to the transferee. The company and the transferee, if registered for GST, may also:

  1. be able to claim the GST going concern exemption if they take the necessary steps for the exemption; or
  2. be members of a GST group;

which would relieve the company of the obligation to charge GST to the transferee.

Are there limits to interest deductions in Australia in participative loan arrangements involving entities in the same economic group?

Question on taxlinked.net members forum about Participative Loan Taxation

Since 1st January 2015 in Spain, interests are (interest is) not tax deductible when the participative loan is agreed to between entities of the same economic group. Is there similar treatment in your countries?

Response to post

Generally not in Australia.

In Australia interest is deductible if incurred on debt finance obtained to earn assessable income or to carry on a business even if debt finance arrangements include entities not dealing with each other at arms length.

These deductibility tests are serious purposive tests so non-arms length transactions attract particular scrutiny and, like in most jurisdictions, the burden of making out either purpose is on the taxpayer. As well as the general construct of sham there are a numerous specific instances where the Australian law denies interest deductions including:

  • sometimes where deductions are prepaid;
  • where there is not a sufficient relation between the loan and income received after a “commonsense” or “practical” weighing of the circumstances; and
  • where deductions are artificial or contrived or have those elements– if specific anti-avoidance rules do not apply.

Australia has a longstanding general anti-avoidance provision that can apply even if the interest deduction was otherwise available under the law. In international outbound financing the deduction can be lost because foreign income can be treated as other than assessable income. International debt/hybrid mismatch rules are being developed in Australia following some taxpayer success resisting anti-avoidance rules and the international experience.

Deductions are also lost if a “loan” is technically found to have characteristics of equity in substance.

Australian courts look at the role of associated entities to understand their purpose and look at transactions holistically. In other words they will focus on the economic units, rather than on juristic entities which seems to happening in Spain from what you say. Hence an interest deduction to an entity can be reduced, for instance, if the debt finance is on-lent to a related entity to earn income palpably less than the deduction.

Australia also has thin capitalisation rules which apply to limit otherwise allowable large cross border interest deductions.

Chevron Australia is involved in the first major transfer pricing case under the new BEPS regime where the Commissioner of Taxation is fighting to contend that interest paid and deducted exceeded the arms length amount based on BEPS arms length principles. The Commissioner won the first stage of the case in 2015.