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Is a transfer to a SMSF by a related holding trust, after repayment of a LRBA to purchase residential property, prohibited by s66 of SISA?

Is a transfer to a SMSF by the trustee of a holding trust, who happens to be a related party of the SMSF, after repayment of the borrowing under a limited recourse borrowing arrangement – LRBA, to purchase residential property, prohibited by section 66 of the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 (“SISA”)?

Section 66 of the SISA prohibits a SMSF from acquiring residential property, which is not business real property, from a related party of the fund.

Returning an asset that is already in the SMSF

A similar question arises when a SMSF receives a return of an asset of the fund from a custodian or an investment manager, which incidentally happens to be a related party, which is similarly not covered by any exemption in section 66. Technically the SMSF has acquired the asset from a related party; the legislation could be clearer providing exceptions in section 66 for these cases especially as the scope of acquisition prohibited by section 66 is expressed in very wide terms: see paragraphs 88 to 109 of SMSFR 2010/1.

But an acquisition, being the return or resumption of the asset, not for consideration (value) from a related party, does not really explain the actual transaction happening. In these cases, the SMSF is acquiring or resuming title or legal ownership of an asset it already owns beneficially. So, in the case of a LRBA of residential premises, section 66 would be concerned with who the residential property was originally acquired from, not with the” acquisition” of the asset from the related holding trust once the borrowing is paid out.

As with a custodian or investment manager, the power of the related bare trustee of a holding trust to hold the asset, and the power to transfer the asset back to the trustee of the SMSF, is stated or is implicit in the SISA itself – see sections 67A and 123.  As a matter of statutory interpretation those powers should prevail over the prohibition in sub-section 66(1): generalia specialibus non derogant   Nevertheless a clearer description of the scope of the acquiring prohibited, and of exceptions, would be preferable to relying on that maxim though SMSFR 2010/1 issued by the Commissioner of Taxation does helpfully state at paragraph 113:

It is therefore necessary to take a holistic approach to the transaction to determine objectively what it is that the trustee or investment manager is actually acquiring. If, for example, something is being purchased by a trustee or investment manager, a relevant question is what is the trustee or investment manager paying money to acquire. While many transactions involve rights, an acquisition is of rights only if the substance of the transaction is rights.

What is the whole LRBA really about?

From a holistic viewpoint the SMSF, which already holds beneficial ownership of the residential property, is, in substance, concluding the acquisition from the original vendor by taking legal title to the residential property by the transfer from the holding trust. It follows that the acquisition of legal title from the related holding trustee is the exercise of a right to acquire legal title which is not the “substance of the transaction”.

The Australian Taxation Office may not necessarily take the same view.