Tag Archives: discretionary trusts

When can a trustee favour itself as a beneficiary of a family discretionary trust?

Give it back!

Usually but the answer is nuanced. It is often claimed that a trustee exercising a discretion [Discretion] to favour himself/herself/themselves/itself (HHTI) as a beneficiary of a family discretionary trust (FDT) is acceptable but legal authority for the claim isn’t given. Even the Australian Taxation Office distills the proposition to a sentence. They say:

The trustee may also be a beneficiary, but not the sole beneficiary unless there is more than one trustee.

Trusts, trustees and beneficiaries | Australian Taxation Office

To be fair this comment by the ATO mainly concerns the merger of trusts (considered in our blog post at Bringing trusts to a timely ending ) so maybe full accuracy shouldn’t be expected on the subsidiary point they raise about whether a trustee of a trust may be a beneficiary of the trust.

Conflict of interest

Is not the trustee exercising a Discretion to favour HHTI in a position of conflict of interest? Shouldn’t there be control over a trustee of a trust limiting when the trustee of a trust can exercise the Discretion to favour the trustee?

A primary concern for a trustee who exercises the Discretion is successful suit by a disgruntled beneficiary (DB) where the trustee distributes income or capital of the trust to HHTI instead of to the DB. Another concern is whether the trust is real or a sham: a trustee taking property held on trust for HHI is inconsistent with holding the property on trust.

Fiduciaries

Has a trustee who has done this breached a fiduciary duty?

A trustee is a fiduciary. The law imposes strict standards on a fiduciary:

It is an inflexible rule of the court of equity that a person in a fiduciary position, such as the plaintiff’s, is not, unless otherwise expressly provided, entitled to make a profit; he is not allowed to put himself in a position where his interest and duty conflict. It does not appear to me that this rule is, as has been said, founded upon principles of morality. I regard it rather as based on the consideration that, human nature being what it is, there is danger, in such circumstances, of the person holding a fiduciary position being swayed by interest rather than by duty, and thus prejudicing those whom he was bound to protect. It has, therefore, been deemed expedient to lay down this positive rule.

Lord Herschell in Bray v. Ford [1894] AC 44

and

It is perhaps stated most highly against trustee or director in the celebrated speech of Lord Cranworth L.C. in Aberdeen Railway v. Blaikie, where he said: “[a]nd it is a rule of universal application, that no one, having such duties to discharge, shall be allowed to enter into engagements in which he has, or can have, a personal interest conflicting, or which possibly may conflict, with the interests of those whom he is bound to protect.

Lord Upjohn in Boardman & Anor v. Phipps [1966] UKHL 2; [1967] 2 AC 46 at page 124

A trustee who exercises the Discretion to favour HHTI can be exposed to suit for breach of fiduciary duty under this line of legal authority.

Impartiality

Another duty of a trustee of a trust is to act impartially between beneficiaries. This duty was described in Cowan v. Scargill:

The starting point is the duty of trustees to exercise their powers in the best interests of the present and future beneficiaries of the trust, holding the scales impartially between different classes of beneficiaries. This duty of the trustees towards their beneficiaries is paramount.

Cowan v. Scargill [1985] Ch 270 at 290-292 (Megarry VC)

Context of trustee power

One may infer from the nineteenth century case authorities cited, in particular, that these duties apply universally to all trustees. The inference is incorrect. In Bray v. Ford the exception ”unless otherwise expressly provided” is significant. Inquiry is needed into the the power given to the trustee to understand whether the rule said to be “inflexible” applies. That is, the extents of the trustee duties of fiduciaries and of impartiality to beneficiaries are at least flexibly ascertained in the context of the power given to the trustee.

In the case of a Discretion in a FDT the trustee will ordinarily be given an explicit power and duty to choose between beneficiaries. In the context of the exercise of a discretionary power in relation to a discretionary trust, there will then be no duty on the trustee to ensure impartiality; that is equal treatment of each beneficiary: Edge v. Pensions Ombudsman [1998] Ch 512, Elovalis V. Elovalis [2008] WASCA 141. In Edge v. Pensions Ombudsman, Scott V-C stated of the rule in Cowan v. Scargill:

Sir Robert Megarry was dealing with an issue regarding the exercise by pension fund trustees of an investment power. He was not dealing with the exercise of a discretionary power to choose which beneficiaries, or which classes of beneficiaries, should be the recipients of trust benefits. In relation to a discretionary power of that character it is, in my opinion, meaningless to speak of a duty on the trustees to act impartially. Trustees, when exercising a discretionary power to choose, must of course not take into account irrelevant, irrational or improper factors. But, provided they avoid doing so, they are entitled to choose and to prefer some beneficiaries over others.

Edge v. Pensions Ombudsman [1998] Ch 512 at p. 533

The limits of FDT trustee power

Adequately cast discretionary powers of a trustee such as given to the trustee of a FDT are thus unlikely to transgress fiduciary and impartiality duties contextually inapplicable to these powers. What checks on the exercise of a Discretion remain? These are explained in Karger v. Paul [1984] VR 161 where it was found that a trustee with an absolute and unfettered discretion must nevertheless exercise the discretion:

  • in good faith;
  • upon a real and genuine consideration of the interests of the beneficiaries; and
  • in accordance with the purpose for which the discretion was conferred.

In this way the obligation on the trustee not to take irrelevant, irrational or improper factors referred to in Edge v. Pensions Ombudsman is put in more positive terms in Australian courts. These benchmarks from Karger v. Paul were applied, and trustees fell short, in Owies v. JJE Nominees Pty Ltd [2022] VSCA 142 and in Wareham v. Marsella [2020] VSCA 92 (which is also considered in this blog at:

Controlling who gets death benefits from a SMSF )

Real and genuine consideration

The real and genuine consideration of the interests of the beneficiaries’ obligation of the trustee on exercising a Discretion will depend on the kind of trust, the interest of the beneficiary in the trust and the standards to be imposed on the type of trustee. For instance in Finch v. Telstra Super Pty. Ltd. [2010] HCA 36, a professional trustee of a large superannuation fund was found to have an amplified real and genuine consideration obligation extending to giving reasons in writing for the exercise or non-exercise of the discretion to pay total and permanent invalidity benefit benefits to a member of the fund.

In contrast an unpaid trustee, such as a family trustee of a FDT, is ordinarily under no obligation to provide the DB with written reasons for a decision to exercise or not exercise a Discretion. Without written reasons the DB can be left with scant evidence to challenge a trustee who instead favours another beneficiary, beneficiaries or HHTI by an exercise of a Discretion under Karger v. Paul benchmarks.

Freedom of a trustee of a FDT to favour beneficiaries including HHTI over others

Within the context and confines of those parameters a trustee of a FDT can favour one beneficiary over another. It follows that a trustee of a FDT can usually exercise a Discretion to favour HHTI to the complete exclusion of the DB so long as the Karger v. Paul parameters are observed.

But power to favour beneficiaries is exceptional

Whether or not there is an exceptional Discretion turns on the purpose for which the Discretion was conferred evident in the terms of the Discretion which is in the trust deed of the trust. An adequate expression of the Discretion in the trust deed of a FDT is expected and needed so its purpose, as an absolute and unfettered discretion to choose between beneficiaries and as to amount distributed to them, is clear.

Certainty of beneficiaries

Who the discretionary beneficiaries of a FDT also must be clear. Frequently a trust deed of a FDT will prescribe persons who are excluded from being a beneficiary of the FDT and occasionally the trustee can be so excluded because of the perceived conflict of interest or, in New South Wales, for a stamp duty reason.

A FDT for a family which includes trustee or trustees included as discretionary beneficiaries is likely to be accepted as genuine:

  • where the trustee is a merely a discretionary beneficiary among a widely cast class of family beneficiaries; and
  • and is understandable where family members of the family sought to benefit under trust terms are or could be trustees.

So a trust deed of a FDT should be checked to confirm that the trustee is a beneficiary of the trust before the trustee of a FDT exercises a Discretion to distribute to itself. It is only where the trustee qualifies as a discretionary beneficiary under the terms of the trust instrument that a distribution can be safely made to the trustee/beneficiary where the trustee is satisfied that the distribution complies with the Karger v. Paul parameters.

The drafting of the FDT deed

Ideally the trust instrument will expressly confirm that the trustee of the FDT is a beneficiary. It can be the case that the trustee is a member of a class which is included as beneficiaries under the trust instrument but the trust deed might not expressly say that a trustee can be a beneficiary. An exercise of the Discretion in the favour of the trustee is likely OK then too but the trustee runs a risk and could possibly face action asserting the trust instrument ought to be construed on a basis that the trustee is unacceptable as a beneficiary.

Has the AAT in Bendel reset the treatment of UPEs from trusts as Division 7A deemed dividends?

dismantle

The Commissioner of Taxation’s longstanding practice as to when an unpaid present entitlement (UPE) of a private company beneficiary of a trust will give rise to a deemed dividend under Division 7A of the Income Tax Assessment  Act 1936 has been dismantled by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) in Bendel v. Commissioner of Taxation [2023] AATA 3074.

The Commissioner’s practice

That practice was set out by the Commissioner in Taxation Ruling TR 2010/3 and Practice Statement Law Administration PS LA 2010/4 and is now adjusted by Taxation Determination TD 2022/11 (the Practice).

Unfortunately the AAT decision in Bendel doesn’t directly deal with or critique the Practice, which has been foundational to the administration of Division 7A and trusts, and has dealt with the prospect of a trust UPE loophole in Division 7A, since 2010. It is clear that the AAT has diverged from the Practice by its approach to the Division 7A provisions in Bendel.

Sub-trusts?

The AAT in Bendel found that, despite the Commissioner’s position in the Practice and as a party in Bendel that a sub-trust arises where a trustee holds a UPE to income for a beneficiary of a family discretionary trust (FDT), no new or separate trust arises as a matter of law: On the authority of the High Court in Fischer v. Nemeske Pty. Ltd. [2016] HCA 11 which the AAT found “more to the point”, the AAT observed:

  • it is difficult to see any reason in principle why such an unconditional and irrevocable allocation of trust property must take the form of an alteration of the beneficial ownership of one or more specific trust assets;
  • there was no suggestion that the trustee’s exercise of the power to apply trust property involved a resettlement of trust property so as to result in the creation of a new trust;
  • further, the exercise of that power effected an alteration of beneficial entitlements in property which the trustee continued to hold on trust under the terms of the existing settlement was orthodox as a matter of principle. It was also unremarkable as a matter of practice…; and
  • An absolute beneficial entitlement to some part of a fund of property that is held on trust need not be reflected in an absolute beneficial entitlement to the whole or some part of any specific asset within that fund. That must be so whether the absolute beneficial entitlement to some part of a fund of property that is held on trust is defined by the terms of the trust settlement itself, or whether such absolute beneficial entitlement to some part of a fund of property that is held on trust is defined by an exercise of a power conferred on a trustee under the terms of a trust settlement.

[Italicised are extracts from the judgment of Gagelar J. of the High Court in Fischer v. Nemeske Pty. Ltd. [2016] HCA 11  at paras 95 to 99 included in the AAT decision]

It follows that a UPE remains an entitlement of the beneficiary under the terms of the head or main trust.

But what of explicitly declared sub-trusts in the trust deed?

The AAT in Bendel did not consider the impact of the terms of the trust deed of the FDT on that reasoning. The deed explicitly sought to establish sub-trusts for UPEs arising under the FDT which counters the AAT finding, on the authority of Fischer v. Nemeske Pty. Ltd., that the UPE remains an entitlement under the main FDT. In my estimation these terms “settling” a UPE sub-trust could have been ineffectual in any case due to them having been:

  • internally inconsistent: on the one hand a sub-trust was stated to be held for a beneficiary “absolutely” but on the other the trustee was given wide discretion to resort to and deal with the assets of the sub-trust and, in practice and in the accounts, the property of UPE sub-trusts, if they existed, was intermingled with the property of the main trust and so separate sub-trusts were thus perhaps a sham or without legal effect? and
  • insufficiently clear to establish or “re-settle” sub-trusts or to alter beneficial interests as explained in Fischer v. Nemeske Pty. Ltd.: the sub-trust provisions of the deed had “no work to do” just like the Second Declaration of Trust in Benidorm Pty Ltd v. Chief Commissioner of State Revenue [2020] NSWSC 471.

Is a UPE an extended loan?

A UPE under a trust is not and is divergent from a loan in the ordinary sense. That is not disputed. Unfortunately, surprisingly and more controversially the AAT does not appear to directly deal with the question of whether a UPE from a trust is what was referred to in TR 2010/3 as a “section three loan” or a loan within the extended meaning of loan under sub-section 109D(3) of the ITAA 1936 (extended loan) although submissions of the parties on the questions of whether or not a UPE is either:

  • a financial accommodation; or
  • an in substance loan;

were received and outlined in the Bendel decision but received scant consideration in the decision.

It isn’t apparent that the AAT accepted the taxpayer’s contentions to the effect that a financial accommodation and an in substance loan are a subset of director/creditor type or loan-like relationships and are inapplicable to a trust entitlement and so concurred that a passive UPE owed to a beneficiary cannot be either a financial accommodation or an in substance loan that triggers an extended loan as considered by the Commissioner in paragraphs 19 to 26 of TR 2010/3. Rather the AAT gave a matrix in paragraph 101 of the decision (see below) to seemingly justify not giving a concluded view on these contentions.

Dictionary definitions and restrictive views

Maybe the AAT had financial accommodation front of mind when the taxpayer’s counsel referred to dictionary definitions being considered out of statutory context and legislative history as: a foundation for error where the outcome is contrary to statutory context and legislative history (SCLH)?

I am not so sure the SLCH, when considered in the context of twelve or more years of the Practice where the Commissioner has clearly relied on his wide view of financial accommodation in sub-section 109D(3) such that it can encompass an omission to pay out a UPE within the standard time frame allowed under paragraph 109D(1)(b), demands the restrictive view of when a UPE can be an extended loan the AAT has apparently taken in Bendel.

What should follow from legislative flaws in Division 7A concerning UPEs perceived by the AAT?

If I understand the AAT decision in Bendel correctly, the AAT have inferred from the SLCH, of which the AAT is critical, that the parliamentary intent on introducing section 109UB and, later, its replacement Subdivision EA, or that the effect of those provisions by dent of design fault, was that they are to apply to UPEs from trusts to the exclusion of the core provision governing what is a loan in section 109D.

If section 109UB, section 109XA et al. in the SLCH are so deficient, why would the AAT give them paramountcy over the core provisions which the Commissioner has been able to satisfactorily administer with the Practice over a long period? Couldn’t the AAT have inferred that the legislature, and the Commissioner prior to his adoption of the Practice, had acted on an unnecessary and untested assumption that a UPE from a trust could not be or would not be an extended loan under sub-section 109D(3)?

Does the Practice really tax two people over the one UPE?

A further departure of the decision from the Practice of the AAT is that applying section 109D:

raises the spectre of taxing two people in respect of precisely the same underlying circumstance, namely the same UPE

see paragraph 98 of the AAT decision in Bendel

In my view it is open to the Commissioner and reasonable, given the legislative policy of Division 7A, to treat the distribution from the FDT to a corporate beneficiary and the UPE arising in favour of the beneficiary as a distinct and earlier in time transaction from the failure to satisfy the UPE by payment within the standard time frame allowed under paragraph 109D(1)(b).

This is just as much taxing two people in respect of the same income as a private company earning income subject to company tax and a shareholder of the company thereupon receiving that already company taxed income as an unfranked dividend which is thereupon taxable to the shareholder. It is to this outcome that Division 7A, as an anti-avoidance regime underpinning the integrity of the company tax system, seems rightly directed.

Interpretation approaches to the provisions

It occurs to me that, that being so:

  • the shortcomings of the Division 7A legislation insofar as it addressed UPEs from trusts set out in the decision;
  • the restrictive reading of it by the AAT in the context of the SLCH;
  • an interpretation based on generalia specialibus non derogant so that section 109UB and Subdivision EA, despite what the AAT says was its flawed passage into law, overrides the general provision: section 109D; and
  • a possible further contention by the taxpayer that a financial accommodation, an in substance loan or both are part of a ejusdem generis list that should be confined to financial accommodations or in substance loans within or comparable to advances of money, provisions of credit and the like viz. strictly debtor creditor financial activity;

are approaches and considerations likely to be or should be subordinated to the need to “ascertain the legislative intention from the terms of the instrument viewed as a whole”: Cooper Brookes (Wollongong) Pty Ltd v. Federal Commissioner of Taxation [1981] HCA 26 understanding that the Acts Interpretation Act (C’th) 1901 provides:

In the interpretation of a provision of an Act a construction that would promote the purpose or object underlying the Act (whether that purpose or object is expressly stated in the Act or not) shall be preferred to a construction that would not promote that purpose or object.

section 15AA of the Acts Interpretation Act (C’th) 1901

and applies to taxing Acts as well as other Acts and that the purpose of Division 7A is directed to maintaining the integrity of the Australian system of taxation of private companies.

I think it unlikely that a court would be confused by or would miss the purpose of the provisions due to the AAT’s questionable matrix set out as follows:

Having regard to:

    (a)          the policy of Division 7A to tax those who in substance enjoy the benefit of corporate profits without bearing taxation that would arise had the company paid dividends in the usual way;

    (b)          statutory construction principles that call for

        (i)          regard to statutory context and legislative history; and

        (ii)         potentially competing provisions to be construed in a manner which ‘gives effect to harmonious goals’;

    (c)          there being no tiebreaker provision which mandates which of two competing assessing provisions would apply if an unpaid present entitlement constituted a loan within the meaning of s 109D(3);

    (d)          the s 109RB discretion not being designed to allow relieving discretions to be exercise outside the s 109RD(1)(b) gateways of honest mistakes and inadvertent omissions and thus not a discretion that would relieve inappropriate double taxing;

    (e)          Subdivision EA being a specific, and therefore lead, provision containing an express set of rules that can be regarded as a particular path has been chosen to deal with the taxation effect of unpaid present entitlements in favour of corporate beneficiaries in prescribed circumstances;

    (f)          the lack of clarity as to the nature of an unpaid present entitlement and the separate trust concept often broached in conjunction with the unpaid present entitlement topic;

    (g)          the expressed explanation accompanying s 109UB, the predecessor of Subdivision EA, to the effect:

        (iii)        that an unpaid present entitlement in favour of a corporate beneficiary and a contemporaneous loan by the trustee to a shareholder in the corporate beneficiary (or associate) is in substance a loan by the company to the shareholder; and

        (iv)         that an amount to which a company is entitled ‘held on a secondary trust for the benefit of the company’ is regarded as unpaid and within the ambit of s 109UB;

    (h)          the operation of Subdivision EA which taxes the shareholder in the foregoing circumstances as if the company had lent money directly to that shareholder which falls squarely within the Division 7A policy framework;

    (i)          there being no provision in either of the Assessment Acts that anyone points to that expressly allows assessment of two people arising out of the same circumstance with one of those people potentially not enjoying any benefit of the corporate profits that are the underlying cause of the assessment,

the necessary conclusion is that a loan within the meaning of s 109D(3) does not reach so far as to embrace the rights in equity created when entitlements to trust income (or capital) are created but not satisfied and remain unpaid. The balance of an outstanding or unpaid entitlement of a corporate beneficiary of a trust, whether held on a separate trust or otherwise, is not a loan to the trustee of that trust.

para 101 of the AAT decision in Bendel

Towards a purposive construction of the provisions

In adopting a purposive construction of these provisions of Division 7A I would be surprised if a court would replicate the AAT’s disdain for parliament’s efforts to plug the UPE loophole with section 109UB and, later, its replacement Subdivision EA. If I read the AAT decision correctly, these provisions and the manner of their introduction prejudice the Commissioner and the Revenue such that the language of sub-section 109D(3), as a generality, can no longer be applied to UPEs from trusts.

Ironically if the AAT decision is correct, and what is an extended loan is constrained by it, then the legislative clarity from the government the AAT appears to urge and seek in Bendel can no longer be achieved by the repeal of Subdivision EA.

In any case one can expect the government to amend the UPE rules in Division 7A to reverse Bendel should the Bendel decision originated by the AAT persist as authority.

It is clear from Fischer v. Nemeske Pty. Ltd. that a UPE from a trust is different to a loan but the differences between a trust and a loan conflate in that case too. Gagelar J. states:

In challenging the Court of Appeal’s holding concerning the effect in law of the Trustee going on to record a liability to Mr and Mrs Nemes in the sum of $3,904,300 in the Trust’s balance sheet, the appellants do not dispute that a trustee who admits to having an unconditional obligation to pay a specified amount of money to a beneficiary can thereby become liable to an action at law for the recovery of that amount as money had and received to the benefit of the beneficiary, so as to overlay the equitable relationship of trustee and beneficiary with the legal relationship of debtor and creditor.  That has been settled since at least the middle of the nineteenth century[107].

at para 105 of Fischer v. Nemeske Pty. Ltd.

It can be inferred that a trustee of a FDT given an unconditional obligation to pay money to a beneficiary under a UPE has been given a financial accommodation, an in substance loan or both under sub-section 109D(3). A loan and a UPE give rise to clearly comparable liabilities which is precisely the mischief to which section 109D is directed.

Further, an in substance loan is a particularly apt characterisation of the UPE in Bendel where the taxpayer, the FDT and the company beneficiary are related parties as they will be in most of these cases. Where they are related it is clearly commercially open to the trustee of the FDT and related parties to achieve the same liability as understood from para 105 of Fischer v. Nemeske Pty. Ltd. and the same financial goal by either a loan or by a UPE which, in substance, offers the related parties the same thing.

The useful family trust election and income “injection”

injection

In 1998 the trust tax loss measures in Schedule 2F of the Income Tax Assessment Act (ITAA) 1936 (Schedule 2F) were finally enacted to curb the unscrupulous trade in trust tax losses.

Income injection test

An essential and not so well understood retardant of the trade in these measures is the income injection test (IIT). Neither the term income injection nor the words inject or injection are in Schedule 2F. Nevertheless the test is there in Division 270 of Schedule 2F under the heading Schemes to take advantage of deductions.

The ITAAs and Schedule 2F, in particular, have much jargon which is in italics in this post.

Unlike some other tests in Schedule 2F, such as the stake test and the control test, which are both applicable to non-fixed trusts, transgression of the IIT doesn’t disqualify a trust from using all of its tax losses including carry forward prior year tax losses. A trust that fails the IIT is precluded from offsetting otherwise tax deductible tax losses against (taxable) assessable income (only) to the extent of scheme assessable income.

Scheme assessable income is what is “injected”.

How the IIT works

As an anti-avoidance provision designed for wide reach, the IIT in Division 270 of Schedule 2F is so expressed. Scheme, as is usual in anti-avoidance laws in the ITAAs, is widely defined and an outsider or outsider to the trust, is pervasive under the IIT. In the case of a trust that isn’t a Schedule 2F family trust (a 2FFT) an outsider to the trust is a (any) person other than the trustee of the trust or a person with a fixed entitlement to income or capital of the trust: see section 270-25(2) of Schedule 2F.

Scheme assessable income arises where (in any order):

  • the trust earns assessable income;
  • an outsider to the trust directly or indirectly provides a benefit (also widely cast – can be money, property or anything else of benefit set out in section 270-20  – which may be but need not be the scheme assessable income) to the trustee of the trust, a beneficiary of the trust or an associate of either of them; and
  • the trustee of the trust, a beneficiary of the trust or either of them provides a benefit to the outsider to the trust or an associate wholly or partly, but not incidentally, because the deduction is allowable to the trust.

Context of the IIT

With this broad formula the IIT in the tax trust loss measures of Schedule 2F can be contrasted to the business continuity test that applies to company tax losses under Division 165 of the ITAA 1997. An injection by, viz. a benefit from, an outsider to the trust or an associate that can produce income in the trust, against which unrelated tax losses might otherwise have been deducted, gives rise to scheme assessable income against which tax losses cannot be deducted.

When the IIT applies – outsiders

So let us say:

  1. a private company with profits and a family discretionary trust (FDT) with tax losses but no current income producing activity of its own are controlled by a family;
  2. the FDT owns shares in the company; and
  3. the company pays dividends to the FDT.

A clear distinction between a FDT and a 2FFT needs to be understood. Schedule 2F refers to a “family trust”, i.e. a 2FFT, as a trust that has made a family trust election (FTE). A 2FFT in comparison can be a FDT, a fixed trust or a unit trust that has lodged a FTE which is in force. A FDT can be called a family trust in common parlance but a FDT will be a non-fixed trust under Schedule 2F; that is, not a Schedule 2F “family trust” until it lodges a FTE to become a 2FFT.

At least initially (see below), the company in my example is an outsider to the trust. There the benefit to the trust of the dividends is the scheme assessable income. The benefit to the company and its associates viz. the family, is that income tax isn’t payable on the dividends to the extent tax losses of the trust can be deducted against assessable income of the trust and the parties can’t disprove that this tax advantage of declaring dividends to the FDT shareholder was more than incidental.

How a family trust election can modify how the income injection test is applied

To avoid losses to the extent of so imputed scheme assessable income being denied to the trust under the IIT:

  • the trustee of the trust can make a FTE and become a 2FFT, and;
  • the company can make an interposed entity election (IEE).

The FTE would need to cover the period, in the case of carry forward tax losses of the trust, from when the losses were incurred by the FDT/2FFT to when they are sought to be deducted against assessable income (for tax) by the FDT/2FFT.

Companies and trusts that have a FTE or an IEE in place are excluded from being outsiders to the trust. The IIT is then an IIT of modified operation which can still be failed but the IIT will now only fail where benefits flow from and to a now reduced, less pervasive, range of outsiders to the trust. but is not failed when the flow is between 2FFTs. interposed entities and individual family members that are taken to be a part of the family group under Schedule 2F: see sub-section 270-25(1) of Schedule 2F.

Downside of a family trust election

Where a company, trust of partnership (Entity) meets the family control test viz. the Entity is controlled by the family group viz. a family, and is so eligible to become a part of a family group by way of a FTE or an IEE then the prospect of family trust distributions tax (FTDT), which is distinct from trust income tax and only applies to 2FFTs, needs to be considered.

Once an Entity lodges a FTE or an IEE then distributions by the Entity outside of the family group of the individual specified in the FTE or IEE, as the case may be, are caught by FTDT at the highest marginal income tax rate.

A FTE or an IEE is a de facto limitation by way of tax penalty on beneficiaries to whom income and capital of a 2FFT can be distributed.

Upside of a family trust election

A FTE can be lodged by a trust with commencement from when or before its prior year trust losses were incurred so the modified IIT can apply from that time to prevent scheme assessable income arising. That is so, so long as the commencement date of the trust as a 2FFT is no earlier than 1 July 2004. This is sometimes known or understood as “backdating” but that, like the use of the term “family trust” itself in Schedule 2F, is a misnomer and selecting a past commencement date for a 2FFT is lawful and allowed under Schedule 2F.

So long as a 2FFT can keep its distributions within the family group and so avoid FTDT, lodging a FTE or an IEE will be dually beneficial to the parties and the beneficiaries of the 2FFT to whom the franked dividends are on-distributed in my example once tax losses of the 2FFT are exhausted and the 2FFT has (positive) trust income as:

  • current and prior year losses can be offset by the trustee of the 2FFT against the dividends which are assessable income when received by the 2FFT where a FTE is in effect over the required periods and an IEE is in effect for the company so the company is within the family group; and
  • the 2FFT can meet the holding period rule and beneficiaries of the 2FFT to whom the franked dividends received by the 2FFT are distributed, after losses have been so offset, can then use franking credits on the dividends: see section 207-145(1)(a) of the ITAA 1997 and under the heading THE HOLDING PERIOD RULES REGULATING ACCESS TO FRANKING CREDITS at Family trusts – concessions | Australian Taxation Office https://is.gd/Nck0zS.

Reasons to be a 2FFT

The Australian Taxation Office at Family trusts – concessions https://is.gd/Nck0zS: lists five main “reasons” (actually imperatives for accessing tax concessions) why a trustee of a trust may want to make a FTE and become a 2FFT:

  • accessing trust tax losses to deduct them against trust assessable income;
  • to trace eligibility for company losses through a trust;
  • access of beneficiaries of a trust to franking credits under the holding period rules;
  • relief from the trustee beneficiary reporting rules; and
  • access to the small business restructure rollover in Sub-division 328-G of the ITAA 1997.

Schedule 2F doesn’t apply to deny capital losses that can be offset against capital gains under section 102-5 of the ITAA 1997.

Part IVA – is a discretionary trust owned bucket company a sitting duck?

ducks

The Full Federal Court in Commissioner of Taxation v Guardian AIT Pty Ltd ATF Australian Investment Trust [2023] FCAFC 3 has dismissed the Commissioner’s appeal against decisions at [2021] FCA 1619 of the primary judge, Logan. J, not to impose the reimbursement agreement assessments on the trustee of the AIT under section 100A of the Income Tax Assessment Act (ITAA) 1936.

But the Full Federal Court has unanimously taken a radically different construction of the facts in the case to Logan J. to find that Part IVA of the ITAA 1936 was correctly applied to the Guardian AIT facts to support the Commissioner’s Part IVA determination, run as an alternative to section 100A, made in respect of the 2013 income year.

Reimbursement agreements – a blunt tool?

On this blog we have queried whether the section 100A reimbursement agreement regime is a tool useful to the Commissioner that gives the Commissioner scope to attack trust distributions that are no part of a trust stripping arrangement involving parties external to the trust: 100A trust reimbursement agreement not the tool to fix the bucket company dividend washing machine https://wp.me/p6T4vg-pM . We have also blogged about bucket companies lately, see: Can a family discretionary trust distribute income to its corporate trustee? https://wp.me/p6T4vg-rH

Without going into the detail in this blog post, the Full Federal Court in Guardian AIT has rather confirmed our thoughts about the utility of section 100A. We don’t see that the decision vindicates or gives legal support or backing to the Commissioner’s products and section 100A-based approaches in Taxation Ruling TR 2022/4 and Practical Compliance Guideline PCG 2022/2. Oddly the Commissioner finalised TR 2022/4 and PCG 2022/2 before Guardian AIT ran its course.

In the meantime there is another section 100A case on foot: BBlood Enterprises Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Taxation [2022] FCA 1112, which is also on appeal to the Full Federal Court and there is also the prospect of appeal in Guardian AIT to the High Court.

Part IVA sharpened up?

But Part IVA is a different matter. The Full Federal Court in Guardian AIT has warned how susceptible certain types of discretionary trust strategies, particularly discretionary trust strategies involving trust distributions to bucket company beneficiaries, may be to Part IVA.

This leads me to the key point of difference on the facts in the case between the Full Federal Court and Logan J. mentioned at the outset. Logan J. accepted Mr Springer’s contention that his company, AIT Corporate Services Pty Ltd (AITCS), was set up to accumulate assets for asset protection. Although the Full Federal Court accepted this as a tenable explanation in the 2012 income year, despite AITCS clearing out its asset, the distribution receipt from the AIT back to the AIT as a dividend; repeating the process to clear out the 2013 trust distribution back to the AIT in the 2013 year demonstrated AITCS wasn’t:

  • holding or protecting anything for asset protections reasons; or
  • more particularly planning to hold or protect assets accumulated or to be accumulated in the company.

AITCS was plainly being used as a bucket company to receive a trust distribution in the 2013 income year which allowed AITCS to distribute a franked dividend back to the AIT which could then be distributed tax advantageously by the AIT to Mr Springer, a non-resident.

The apparent counterfactual

The Full Federal Court had no difficulty accepting the Commissioner’s Part IVA counterfactual contended in the appeal. That counterfactual was that the AIT would have distributed 2013 year AIT income to Mr Springer directly which “might reasonably be expected to have been included” in 2013 income taxable to the trustee under Division 6 of Part III of the ITAA 1936. That distribution could have been made to Mr Springer without the circularity of the “washing machine” distribution going to AITCS, then back to the AIT as franked dividend and then, finally, going to Mr Springer as NANE income being a form of income not taxable to the trustee nor to Mr Springer under Division 6.

Circularity and the form of the scheme

The Full Federal Court noted the circularity of the scheme which the Commissioner could and did take into account under paragraph 177D(2)(b) of Part IVA in considering the form of the scheme.

Commercial rationale or explanation of the scheme?

The difficulty under the Full Federal Court Part IVA analysis for the AIT was that the only difference in effect between the scheme and the counterfactual was that, under the scheme, the income distribution to the non-resident beneficiary Mr Springer was tax free NANE income. Under the counterfactual though, tax on the trustee of AIT at the highest marginal rate under Division 6 might reasonably have been expected. The same commercial outcome viz. income in Mr Springer’s hands within eight months of the end of the 2013 year of income confirmed that the only difference in what happened between the scheme, and reasonably expected to happen under the counterfactual, was the tax effect: a tax benefit the Commissioner could posit under Part IVA.

section 177CB – tax gives no explanation

The Full Federal Court noted that, following amendment to Part IVA which introduced section 177CB and sub-section 177CB(4) in particular, the tax impact of the scheme viz. the “operation of the Act”, or, more pointedly, the lower tax cost choice, is now expressly excluded as something that might reasonably be expected viz. the tax impact is now precluded by legislation from being a basis for a Part IVA counterfactual. Shortly stated that means the better tax outcome can no longer be a reasonable justification for choosing to implement a scheme caught under Part IVA.

Observations

Once the façade of an asset protection asset accumulating role for AITCS was identified by the Full Federal Court then AITCS was left exposed as a bucket company with a role in a tax scheme to re-purpose a trust distribution as a franked dividend to the tax advantage of Mr Springer in the 2013 year. In the context of potential Part IVA counterfactuals the Commissioner can raise, the AITCS bucket company can be viewed as unfortunately placed as both:

  • AITCS was a beneficiary of the AIT viz. the bucket company characteristic; and
  • shares in AITCS were owned by the AIT which facilitated the payment of trust income distributed to AITCS as dividends back to the trust;

enabling the loop or circularity which allowed the AIT to route income via AITCS as a franked dividend back to itself. But a clear or obvious alternative for the trustee of AIT would have been to distribute trust income to a different prominent beneficiary with a history of receiving distributions from the trust, such as Mr Springer. Distribution to Mr Springer was an even more obvious and irrefutable counterfactual when the distribution reflecting the income ultimately ended up with that beneficiary after going around in the circle.

Part IVA risks beyond non-residents?

Why would Part IVA in these situations be confined to where the ultimate beneficiary is a non-resident even though the AITCS scheme was particularly advantageous to AIT given high rates that apply on Division 6 taxation of non-residents? There can also a tax advantage and potential tax benefit too where a resident beneficiary receives discretionary trust income in the form of a franked dividend instead or as ordinary trust income. There is no reason why Part IVA couldn’t be similarly applied to a comparable circular scheme to use a bucket company loop to transform ordinary trust income into more lightly taxed franked dividend income.

Are bucket companies sitting ducks for Part IVA?

As a matter of policy the Commissioner has not used Part IVA to challenge direct distributions by family discretionary trusts to bucket companies to my knowledge. Guardian AIT shows that Part IVA can give the Commissioner a basis or tool to attack distributions to bucket companies which can be shown to have no purpose or reason, objectively determined, other than to save tax.

Where  discretionary trust ownership of shares in the bucket company facilitates opportunity for franking or other tax saving by going around in a circle, the trustee may be a sitting duck for the Commissioner’s Part IVA counterfactual positing what the trustee may have done had the distribution been made to the intended beneficiary to receive trust income the first time around.

Can a family discretionary trust distribute income to its corporate trustee?

Businesswoman piggybank desk

A family discretionary trust (FDT) often has a corporate trustee (TCo) for limited liability and other reasons. With a private company able to access a 30% or lower tax rate on an income distribution received from a FDT, distribution to a private company such as TCo can be a way to access a lower company income rate for a family that does not own or control a private company aside from TCo out of thrift.

But is it a good idea?

Distribution by a FDT to its corporate trustee, TCo, as a “bucket company”, is not necessarily allowable or advisable.

It needs to be understood that FDT deed terms, quality of the FDT deed and FDT set up, including attention to who is a beneficiary of the FDT, vary widely across Australia.

TCo needs to be a beneficiary of the FDT

FDT distributions can only be made to beneficiaries of the FDT. It follows that TCo would need to be entitled in its own right as a beneficiary to a distribution under the terms of the FDT deed. TCo may or may not be a named discretionary beneficiary under the FDT deed.

Many FDT deeds provide for a class of discretionary beneficiary which includes companies owned or controlled by a (some other) beneficiary of the FDT. Sometimes this class is referred to as “eligible corporations” which the FDT deed terms state become beneficiaries of the FDT. These provisions in FDT deeds, if they exist, vary too. Sometimes qualification within a corporate class of discretionary beneficiary turns on someone who qualifies as a beneficiary in the deed:

  • owning shares in the company; or
  • being a director of the company;

and it can be just one or the other and not necessarily both.

It can’t be assumed that:

  • beneficiary qualification in these ways is possible; or
  • that TCo meets these beneficiary qualifications;

without checking the FDT deed.

Consequences of distributing income to a non-beneficiary

Consequences of a FDT distributing trust income to a person or company who is not a beneficiary under the deed of a FDT can be:

  • failure of the distribution for legal and tax purposes so that the trustee of the FDT is assessed under section 99A of the Income Tax Assessment Act (ITAA) 1936 with income tax at the highest marginal rate; and/or
  • treatment of the FDT and distributions from the FDT as a sham by the Australian Taxation Office, other government departments, creditors or others.

Even where TCo may appear to qualify as a beneficiary due to the above, many FDT deeds have overriding exclusionary provisions which exclude persons and companies otherwise specified as beneficiaries from being beneficiaries for various reasons:

Excluded beneficiaries – conflict of interest

Frequently a trustee of a FDT is excluded from being a beneficiary because the trustee, which can exercise the discretion to select discretionary beneficiaries, is in a position of conflict of interest and so TCo, despite qualification as a beneficiary otherwise, is ultimately excluded from being a beneficiary of the FDT. More commonly FDT deeds contain other means which allow a family to control who becomes and acts as a trustee which displaces or should displace inapt conflict of interest considerations as a control redundancy within the deed.

Excluded beneficiaries – stamp duty

But even then a trustee, such as TCo, that may otherwise have qualified as a beneficiary, may still be excluded as a beneficiary by the FDT deed for stamp duty reasons. In New South Wales, in particular, an entitlement to concessional duty under sub-section 54(3) of the Duties Act (NSW) 1997 on a change of trustee of a trust that owns dutiable property can be lost where the a trustee can participate as a beneficiary of the trust.

The consequence of that is a change of trustee of a FDT, say by deed, is treated as a fully ad valorem dutiable transfer of all of the NSW dutiable property of the FDT to the new trustee/s.

Although this limitation of a duty concession varies from other exemptions and concessions applicable to changes of trustee of trusts in states and territories other than NSW, FDT deeds frequently exclude trustees from being beneficiaries out of an abundance of caution that this or a similar stamp duty concession may be lost where the trustee of the FDT is not excluded.

TCo can qualify as a beneficiary  – but what then?

If it can be confirmed that TCo does qualify as a beneficiary and is not ultimately excluded as a beneficiary under the trust deed of a FDT, distribution to TCo, rather than another discrete company is still not necessarily a good idea.

Managing TCo’s asset mix

Should TCo receive income from a FDT, and so come to have assets in its own right, TCo will need to manage its assets to ensure that property it holds in its own right and property TCo holds for the FDT are not mixed. A trustee of a trust has a fiduciary duty not to mix trust property with property held not on that trust. This trustee duty is often explicitly set out in FDT deeds.

In terms of title, property distributed to TCo in its own right will be indistinguishable so, without careful accounting and administration of TCo’s activities to ensure trust property isn’t mixed with non-trust property, there is the prospect that a family in control of a FDT may lose track of in which capacity the TCo is owning property and doing things. It will often fall to the accountant of the FDT to sort this out unless the FDT has a very capable and aware functionary administering the FDT for the trustee.

Serious tax risk of losing track of how TCo owns what

Tax risks of unpaid present entitlements (UPE) of TCo in its own right are also high following the recent Draft Taxation Determination TD 2022/D1 Income tax: Division 7A: when will an unpaid present entitlement or amount held on sub-trust become the provision of ‘financial accommodation’? – see our blog post – Draft ATO reimbursement agreement suite out in the wake of Guardian AIT https://wp.me/p6T4vg-q6. Under that draft determination a UPE of a FDT to a private company not detected and promptly repaid (has TCo repaid TCo?) or dealt with under a section 109N of the ITAA 1936 loan agreement, by the time the tax return of the company beneficiary for the income year in which the UPE arises is due, will likely precipitate a deemed and unfrankable dividend to the FDT.

Understanding a company can’t enter into a legally enforceable agreement with itself how could TCo even comply with section 109N as a way to avoid a deemed dividend?

Is distributing to TCo worth it?

Despite the above distribution by FDTs to their corporate trustee as a bucket company is commonplace but done without a keen appreciation of the risks of doing so. I don’t encourage FDTs to distribute to their own trustee even when I am familiar with the trust deed of the FDT. I appreciate there is a cost saving but the costs of running a separate “bucket company”, including the setup and annual ASIC fees and accounting costs, are or should be relatively low so be wary that multi-purposing of TCo can be a false economy for many families with FDTs when the above is taken into account.

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Why the weird donation trust beneficiary qualification?

Donation

I was recently asked why a trust deed for a family discretionary trust (FDT) contained this somewhat unusual means of qualifying as a discretionary beneficiary (DB) of the FDT:

any person who makes a donation of (some minimum amount) to …

As the questioner rightly observed, this mechanism readily allows someone outside of a family specified as the DBs, in the main, of a FDT to become a DB. Wouldn’t that mean that a FDT with this mechanism is not or can’t be a family trust?

The answer to this depends on what is meant by family trust.

Certainty of objects necessary for validity of a trust

The thinking behind this kind of provision is that a trust deploying a beneficiary by donation mechanism such as above in its trust deed will be valid.

Certainty of objects is essential for validity of a trust in Australia: Kinsela v. Caldwell (1975) HCA 10. Objects, that is who are or what are to benefit from the trust, being:

  • beneficiaries; or
  • charitable purposes;

must be certain in a valid trust.

It is clear law that a trust (other than a charitable trust) must be for ascertainable beneficiaries.

Re Vandervell’s Trusts (No 2) [1974] Ch 239 at 319 per Lord Denning

When DBs are specifically named or family members qualify by virtue of specified family relationships in a trust deed of a FDT, who qualifies as a beneficiary under the FDT generally presents no uncertainty. It is where classes of beneficiaries are wider and looser that problems of certainty arise and can cause a trust to fail for invalidity. For instance, in R. v District Auditor exparte West Yorkshire Metropolitan County Council (1986) 1 RVR 24, an English Court found a trust, where the class of beneficiaries was expressed as 2½ million inhabitants of West Yorkshire, was invalid as the class was too large and was thus uncertain.

Donations

It follows that a beneficiary by donation mechanism for DBs in a trust deed of a FDT can readily meet the certainty of objects requirement. A person either has or has not made the requisite donation and so the trustee can perfunctorily ascertain that the person is a DB under the mechanism once the person has made the specified donation. Similarly every person who:

  1. has not made the specified donation;
  2. is not named as a DB; or
  3. is not in any other class of DB;

under the trust deed can be categorised not as a DB of the FDT with certainty.

There are limits to this though.

Or just a gift?

Where the beneficiary by donation mechanism in the trust deed is to a charity then the trustee can observe a donation by the prospective beneficiary. Sometimes I have seen trust deeds where the beneficiary by donation mechanism is a minimum donation not to a charity but to a beneficiary of the trust! A question arises here whether a payment of the minimum amount to qualify as a beneficiary under the mechanism is a donation, or is simply a gift (or perhaps a reimbursement agreement! see below), because the recipient beneficiary is not in need. A donation may need to be both a gift and a gift made to a recipient understood by the donor to be in need based on what a donation is commonly understood to be. Beneficiaries of private trusts in Australia are often well-heeled and are clearly not in need.

It may then follow that the donor does not qualify as a beneficiary of the trust because the donor has not made a donation.

Family trust?

Understanding then that an appropriately constructed beneficiary by donation mechanism for DBs in a FDT, which DBs are not necessarily members of the specified DB family in the trust deed, will not compromise the validity of the FDT as a trust, is it still fair to say that a FDT with this mechanism is still a family trust, that is a trust for a family, in substance?

FDTs as matter of course include charities as objects either so:

  • the trustee with discretion to choose who takes trust property can favour a charity as well as or instead of named beneficiaries and their family members; or
  • FDT income or capital does not become bona vacantia. That is before trust property reverts to the state as ownerless when the trustee doesn’t, can’t or doesn’t wish to exercise its discretion to distribute the property to a DB of the FDT, a charity or often a wide range of charities are able to take trust property under the trust deed of a FDT either by exercise of the trustee’s discretion or on default of that exercise without offending the certainty of objects requirement.

So clearly a FDT can still be a “family trust” in substance even though charities beyond the family can also benefit from the largesse of an FDT.

From that perspective it can be seen that a beneficiary by donation mechanism in the trust deed of a FDT, particularly if it is sparingly used by a trustee of a FDT to benefit non-family beneficiaries, is unlikely to make a FDT any less a family trust.

The point of a donation qualification mechanism in a FDT is to ensure the trust is/remains valid even if a person becomes a beneficiary of the trust using the mechanism who is not within the family or other class of who is a beneficiary in the trust deed. Whether a trust is a family trust or not is not pertinent to that.

Schedule 2F (trust tax losses etc.) family trusts

A “family trust” (2FFT) for the purposes of the (trust loss measures in) Schedule 2F of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 is a different matter. Sections 272-90 and 272-95 of Schedule 2F include certain specified relations of a test individual as members of a family group. Although distributions to individuals outside of the family group are liable to family trust distributions tax (FTDT) under Division 271 of Schedule 2F at the highest marginal income tax rate imposed on the trustee, trust distributions by a 2FFT to those individuals are not precluded by Schedule 2F either by law or in practice.

It can be seen that, unlike with state stamp duty and land tax surcharge measures which impacted who can be a DB of a FDT, the family trust and FTDT regimes in Schedule 2F do not impact on who can be a beneficiary of a FDT. Where a FDT elects to become a 2FFT, no FTDT arises until the 2FFT makes a distribution to an outsider outside of the family group. It matters not under Schedule 2F who qualifies as a DB of a 2FFT but does not receive a distribution.

If Schedule 2F had instead tax penalised 2FFTs with DBs outside of the family group whether or not distributions were made to them we would have seen the range of beneficiaries of FDTs reduce back to family groups and beneficiary by donation mechanisms superseded.

Reimbursement agreements

Another serious fetter on a trustee of a FDT exercising their discretion to distribute trust income to a DB who qualifies as a DB by using a beneficiary by donation mechanism is the high risk and potential that the Commissioner of Taxation may impose section 100A of the ITAA 1936 to tax the distribution on the trustee also at the highest marginal income tax rate.

A discretionary distribution by a trustee of a FDT to a person who is not a member of the family designated for benefit under the FDT begs the question why the distribution is being made outside of the family to this person. It is unusual that a trustee of FDT would seek to benefit someone outside of that family without the family receiving a quid pro quo in some form.

A quid pro quo grounds a reimbursement agreement which triggers section 100A.

A true gift to the non-family DB and the absence of a quid pro quo are facts the trustee and the family would need to prove, to resist a section 100A reimbursement agreement assessment on the trustee of the FDT. Situations where distributions to DBs who are not members of the family are more likely to be accepted by the Commissioner as not involving a reimbursement agreement include where:

  • the DB is a relation of a family member who is narrowly outside the class of family included as beneficiaries under the FDT;
  • the designated family may have few if any surviving family members; or
  • the DB is a person in need;

or a mix of those circumstances and then a beneficiary by donation mechanism in a trust deed of a FDT that is not a 2FFT may be usable without draconian tax consequences.

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Woes of a beneficiary of a discretionary trust in getting a tax deduction for interest: Chadbourne v. C of T.

CarWoes

In the recent Administrative Appeals Tribunal case Chadbourne and Commissioner of Taxation (Taxation) [2020] AATA 2441 (10 July 2020) the AAT confirmed the disallowance of tax deductions to Mr. D. Chadbourne (the Applicant).

The Applicant was a beneficiary of the D & M Chadbourne Family Trust (DMCFT) and the Applicant was denied deductions for:

  • interest on money borrowed by the Applicant to fund the acquisition of real estate and shares by the DMCFT; and
  • other expenses incurred by the Applicant expended;

so the DMCFT could earn income.

The discretionary trust

The DMCFT was a discretionary trust. In Chadbourne Deputy President Britten-Jones usefully described a discretionary trust:

I note that the meaning of the term ‘discretionary trust’ is disclosed by a consideration of usage rather than doctrine, and the usage is descriptive rather than normative. It is used to identify a species of express trust, one where the entitlement of beneficiaries to income, or to corpus, or both, is not immediately ascertainable; rather, the beneficiaries are selected from a nominated class by the trustee or some other person and this power (which may be a special or hybrid power) may be exercisable once or from time to time.

Chadbourne at paragraph 8

The mere expectancy of a beneficiary of a discretionary trust

Because the beneficiaries of a discretionary trust are not immediately ascertainable and are to be selected, a prospective beneficiary only has an expectancy of earning trust income unless and until the beneficiary is so selected by the trustee to take income:

Unless and until the Trustee of the discretionary trust exercises the discretion to distribute a share of the income of the trust estate to the applicant, the applicant’s interest in the income of the discretionary trust is a mere expectancy. It is neither vested in interest nor vested in possession, and the applicant has no right to demand and receive payment of it.

Chadbourne at paragraph 57

or in the case of a beneficiary who takes in default of exercise of discretion they have no more than a similar expectancy.

The Applicant was a beneficiary of the DMCFT with an expectancy interest.

The available tax deduction

The Applicant could not satisfy the first limb of the general deduction provision, now in the Income Tax Assessment Act (ITAA) 1997, which allows an income tax deduction for a loss or outgoing to the extent:

it is incurred in gaining or producing your assessable income 

paragraph 8-1(1)(a) of the ITAA 1997 (emphasis added)

In Chadbourne the Applicant’s expenditure was incurred to gain or produce income for the trustee of the DMCFT, a separate legal entity. Applying authority including Federal Commissioner of Taxation v Munro (1926) 38 CLR 153, Antonopoulos and FCT [2011] AATA 431; 84 ATR 311, Case M36 (1980) 80 ATC 280,  Commissioner of Taxation v Roberts and Smith (1992) 37 FCR 246, where Hill J. referred to Ure v Federal Commissioner of Taxation (1981) 50 FLR 219, Fletcher v Commissioner of Taxation (1991) 173 CLR 1 and other cases, the AAT required a nexus between loss or outgoings of the Applicant and the assessable income of the Applicant; not the DMCFT. Although the Applicant stood to earn income indirectly as the likely beneficiary of the DMCFT the AAT found:

The Trust is a discretionary trust the terms of which require the Trustee to exercise a discretion as to whom a distribution of net income is to be made.  It is an inherent requirement of the exercise of that discretion that it be given real and genuine consideration. There must be ‘the exercise of an active discretion’. There were numerous beneficiaries in the Trust.  There was no certainty provided by the terms of the Trust that the Trustee would exercise its discretionary power of appointment in favour of the applicant.

Chadbourne at paragraph 53

and the Applicant thus had not incurred the expenditure in gaining or producing the assessable income of the Applicant.

Why did the Applicant run the AAT appeal?

The Applicant in Chadbourne was self-represented. With the benefit of professional advice or assistance the Applicant may have:

  • more readily foreseen the outcome of his appeal to the AAT which, in the light of the authority applied by Deputy President Britten-Jones, could be seen as inevitable; or
  • moreover, arranged the loan to achieve the required section 8-1 nexus between the outgoings and the assessable income of a taxpayer.

Safer alternative 1 – trustee loan

The most obvious alternative would have been for the trustee of the trust to have been the borrower and to have directly incurred the relevant expenses though those actions would have been different commercial arrangements to those that were done.

These actions may have been more complicated and expensive to arrange: not the least because the financier may have required the Applicant to personally guarantee repayment of the loan by the trustee of the trust which was a corporate trustee with limited liability. Nonetheless these precautions would have ensured section 8-1 deductions were available to the trustee of the trust.

(Somewhat) safer alternative 2 – on-loan to the trustee

The other and perhaps commercially easier alternative would have been an on-loan of the borrowed funds by the Applicant to the trust.

The Applicant in Chadbourne may have belatedly considered an on-loan solution. At paragraph 11 of the AAT decision it was observed that the Applicant had abandoned a contention that there was a “written funding agreement” between the Applicant and the trustee of the DMCFT which the Commissioner had suggested was an invention to assist the Applicant in the appeal.

In the event of a genuine on-loan the trustee of the trust would hold the borrowed funds as loan funds with a clarity as to whom interest and principal is to be repaid rather than as a capital contribution or gift to the trust without that clarity.

On-loan – interest free

Clearly the on-loan by the Applicant to the trustee of the trust should not be interest free as the Applicant then faces the Chadbourne problem of having no assessable income with which to justify a section 8-1 deduction. In the words of Taxation Determination TD 2018/9 Income tax: deductibility of interest expenses incurred by a beneficiary of a discretionary trust on borrowings on-lent interest-free to the trustee:

A beneficiary of a discretionary trust who borrows money, and on-lends all or part of that money to the trustee of the discretionary trust interest-free, is usually not entitled to a deduction for any interest expenditure incurred by the beneficiary in relation to the borrowed money on-lent to the trustee under section 8-1 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (ITAA 1997)…  

TD 2018/9 – paragraph 1

On-loan – at low interest

An on-loan at low interest was arranged in Ure v. Federal Commissioner of Taxation (1981) 11 ATR 484. In Ure the borrower borrowed funds at up to 12.5% p.a. interest and on-lent the funds to his wife and his discretionary trust at 1% p.a. The Full Federal Court found that the deduction Mr. Ure could claim under the first limb of the general deduction provision, sub-section 51(1) of the ITAA 1936, was limited to the 1% p.a. by which the interest income earned by Mr. Ure from his on-loan was confined.

On loan – at equivalent interest

It thus follows from TD 2018/9, Ure and Chadbourne that, to achieve deductibility in full for interest on funds borrowed and on-lent to a related discretionary trust, the interest earned by the beneficiary/on-lender on the on-loan should be the interest payable by the on-lender on the loan from the financier. This should leave the beneficiary/borrower in a tax neutral position on his or her loan on-loaned with assessable interest earned under the on-loan equalling deductible interest paid on the loan.

Related loan issues

As the on-loan is a related loan there are further considerations which will attract the scrutiny of the Commissioner:

A related on-loan should ideally be carefully documented and it should be clarified that the beneficiary/on-lender has an indefeasible right to the interest even though the on-lender is a related party of the borrower. It is also important that commitments in the on-loan agreement are met and generally interest due to the beneficiary/on-lender shouldn’t be capitalised and, especially, shouldn’t be aggregated with unpaid present entitlements due to the beneficiary.

The Commissioner could take these positions:

  • that the on-loan with interest is inadequately documented and can’t be proved so accounting entries capitalising interest shouldn’t be considered conclusive; or
  • the on-loan may be documented but it is a sham and the failure of the trust to pay interest when due shows this.

See my blog post at this site “Only a loan? Impugnable loans, proving them for tax and shams” https://wp.me/p6T4vg-8a which shows the fallibility of related party loans when these questions are contested with the Commissioner.

Woes with hybrid trusts

A hybrid trust, also a descriptive rather than a normative structure, can also fit the Deputy President Britten-Jones formulation of a discretionary trust where the entitlement of beneficiaries of the hybrid trust to income is not immediately ascertainable and is subject to the exercise of a discretion. It has been recognised,  including in the Commissioner’s Taxpayer Alert TA 2008/3 Uncommercial use of certain trusts that the considerations of the AAT in Chadbourne can similarly apply to deny a section 8-1 deduction to the holder of an interest in a hybrid trust who incurs expenditure to earn income through a hybrid trust structure.

In passing I note my wariness of hybrid trusts which are typically aggressive and sometimes tax abusive arrangements. The Commissioner’s Tax Alerts are particularly directed against tax aggressive activity.

That said, the trust in the case of Forrest v Commissioner of Taxation [2010] FCAFC 6, which was referred to in a citation (sic.) in Chadbourne, appears to have been an instance of a hybrid trust where entitlement of unit holders to ordinary income was ascertainable and not subject to a discretion. On appeal to the Full Federal Court, the unit holders in Forrest could establish a nexus between borrowing expenditure incurred and assessable income.

The AAT applies Bamford to rubbery number trust income distributions in Donkin – or does it?

RubberyNumbers

In Donkin & Others v. Federal Commissioner of Taxation [2019] AATA 6746, a recently published decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), the AAT considered how section 97 of the Income Tax Assessment Act (ITAA) 1936 applied to distributions by the trustee of a family discretionary trust (FDT).

Distributions of income were made to up to five beneficiaries (the Participating Beneficiaries) by resolution of the trustee of the Joshline Family Trust (the JFT), a FDT, for the 2010 to 2013 income years (the Years).

Tax audit – taxable income of the JFT increased

Following an audit of the first Participating Beneficiary, Mr Donkin, and his associated entities the Commissioner of Taxation (Commissioner):

  • disallowed deductions to the JFT increasing the taxable income of the JFT for the Years; and so
  • increased the taxable income of the JFT.

Before the AAT the Participating Beneficiaries contended that:

  • on the increase in the taxable income of the JFT the respective shares of taxable income of the Participating Beneficiaries should remain constant (unaltered); with
  • the increase in JFT taxable income taxable to (another) residuary beneficiary Joshline (understood to be a company taxable at no more than 30%).

The Commissioner contended that, based on the High Court authority in Commissioner of Taxation v. Bamford [2010] HCA 10 (Bamford), the proportionate approach should be applied to proportionately increase the taxable income of the Participating Beneficiaries under section 97 from their shares of taxable income on which they were originally assessed.

AAT decides – aligns with Commissioner

The AAT accepted the Commissioner’s contentions and increased the taxable income of:

  • the Participating Beneficiaries where section 97 applied; and
  • the trustee in respect of Participating Beneficiaries where section 98 applied.

The residuary beneficiary Joshline was not assessed to any of the increase.

Opaque expression of distributable income

The resolutions of the JFT during the Years were odd in that they expressed or specified distributions as amounts of assessable income to which (“trust law”) income (unspecified) was to equate to. The trust deed of the JFT supported this novel approach which was directed to tax planning and, in particular, to certainty of assessable income that each Participating Beneficiary would receive.

These resolutions did not specify distributable income and so obliged a backwards calculation from shares of “assessable income” of the JFT to ascertain the distributable income and the share of it each Participating Beneficiary was entitled to.

How distributable income can be distributed

“Trust law” income, referred to in the legislation as “a share of the income of the trust estate”, considered by the High Court in Bamford to be “distributable income” is, and was described in Bamford as:

income ascertained by the trustee according to appropriate accounting principles and the trust instrument

Bamford at paragraph 45

which can be distributed and which the trustee distributes to beneficiaries and by which the respective shares of assessable income of beneficiaries, and trustees on behalf of other beneficiaries of a trust, is determined under sections 97 and 98 respectively.

If, on a 30 June at the end of an income year (30 June), the trustee has a specified a prescription for the distribution of income of a FDT whether it be:

  • an amount (from);
  • a set proportion, say expressed in percentage terms; or
  • a residue or remaining amount;

of distributable income then that can be accepted understanding that, almost universally, the trustee will not have had the opportunity, by 30 June, to ascertain the distributable income of the FDT to a final figure or amount.

Timing of present entitlement to distributable income

Nevertheless:

  • distributions are FDT trustee decisions that need to be made by 30 June if the distributions are to confer present entitlement on beneficiaries in the year of income; and
  • beneficiaries must be presently entitled to a share of the distributable income for either of section 97 or section 98 to apply.

Section 99A will apply to a FDT to tax the income to which no beneficiary is presently entitled by 30 June to the trustee at the highest marginal income tax rate. See my post (My Lewski Post) about Lewski v. Commissioner of Taxation [2017] FCAFC 145 where that happened. Lewski was referred to by the AAT in Donkin: Full Federal Court pinpoints year end trust resolutions that fail https://wp.me/p6T4vg-8s

Setting distributable income by 30 June

It follows that to effectively confer present entitlement a trustee decision to distribute trust income under a discretion needs to determine the share of distributable income of each beneficiary by 30 June. That determination of the trustee is confirmed and applied when the trustee prepares accounts for trust purposes in accordance with the terms of the trust deed and, if beneficiaries are entitled to a proportion or a residue of distributable income rather than a fixed amount of distributable income, those entitlements can then be ascertained from distributable income or the remaining distributable income numerically.

Distributable income not set in Donkin

However, in Donkin, the Participating Beneficiaries had entitlements to a proportion of “assessable income” (viz. taxable income or “net income” for the purposes of sub-section 95(1) of the ITAA 1936) (Taxable Income).  For instance, under the resolutions Mr. Donkin was entitled to 70.11% of the Taxable Income, not distributable income, of the JFT for the 2013 income year. So in the Commissioner’s contention, as accepted by the AAT, Mr. Donkin was taxable under section 97 on:

  • $262,659 being 70.11% of the Taxable Income of the JFT for the 2013 year when an original assessment was raised on Mr. Donkin’s share of trust Taxable Income returned by the trustee of the trust; and then
  • $304,137 being 70.11% of the Taxable Income of the JFT for the 2013 year following the amendment of the assessments following the audit.

It can be inferred from and is consistent with the Commissioner’s contention that, on the amendment of Mr Donkin’s 2013 assessment in or around 2015, the distributable income of Mr. Donkin was increased at that later time – the proportion of Taxable Income, 70.11%, did not change.

But how can distributable income of a trust increase after 30 June income year end?

Understanding that the trustee of the JFT determined the distributable income of the JFT and Mr. Donkin’s share of it by 30 June 2013 by mechanisms in the trust deed fixing and thus making Mr. Donkin presently entitled to a share of income confirmable and confirmed when 2013 accounts of the JFT were taken, how can a 2015 amendment to Taxable Income of the JFT alter the 2013 distributable income of the JFT and the present entitlement of Mr. Donkin to it at 30 June 2013?

It seems to me that the AAT has set out good reasons why the Commissioner’s contentions to:

  • alter distributable income; and
  • increase the present entitlement of each Participating Beneficiary supposedly by the end of the relevant June 30;

should not have been accepted and there should have been no change in distributable income of the Participating Beneficiaries in the Years. In paragraphs 42 and 43 of the AAT’s decision, in a response to different propositions put by the Applicants, the AAT stated:

42. It seems to us that on the Applicants’ construction of the resolutions their alternative submission would be correct. That is to say, the resolutions would be ineffective to confer a present entitlement on the individual beneficiaries because they involved a contingency.

43. They would depend on the occurrence of an event which may or may not happen, in particular, the Respondent disallowing a deduction and including an additional amount in assessable income. It follows that the individual beneficiaries would not be “presently entitled” under ss 97 or 98 of the ITAA36 to a share of the income of the JFT.

Donkin & Others v. Federal Commissioner of Taxation [2019] AATA 6746 paragraphs 42-43

These findings do resonate against the Commissioner’s and the AAT’s construction of the resolutions and the trust deed too.

Construing trust income resolutions applying Bamford

The High Court in Bamford stated:

The opening words of s 97(1) speak of “a beneficiary of a trust estate” who is “presently entitled to a share of the income of the trust estate”. The language of present entitlement is that of the general law of trusts, but adapted to the operation of the 1936 Act upon distinct years of income. The effect of the authorities dealing with the phrase “presently entitled” was considered in Harmer v Federal Commissioner of Taxation where it was accepted that a beneficiary would be so entitled if, and only if,

“(a) the beneficiary has an interest in the income which is both vested in interest and vested in possession; and (b) the beneficiary has a present legal right to demand and receive payment of the income, whether or not the precise entitlement can be ascertained before the end of the relevant year of income and whether or not the trustee has the funds available for immediate payment.”

Bamford at paragraph 37

So in whatever way the trust deed of the trust allows the trustee to ascertain distributable income, the trustee must identify distributable income, or use a method which enables identification of distributable income not subject to contingency, by 30 June to confer present entitlement by 30 June. Without that a beneficiary has no present legal right to demand and receive payment of their share of income by 30 June.

It is that identification of distributable income referred to in Zeta Force Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Taxation  (1998) 84 FCR 70 at 74‑75 to which the High Court in Bamford refers where the High Court cites Sundberg J. with approval:

The words ‘income of the trust estate’ in the opening part of s 97(1) refer to distributable income, that is to say income ascertained by the trustee according to appropriate accounting principles and the trust instrument. That the words have this meaning is confirmed by the use elsewhere in Div 6 of the contrasting expression ‘net income of the trust estate’. The beneficiary’s ‘share’ is his share of the distributable income.”

….

“Having identified the share of the distributable income to which the beneficiary is presently entitled, s 97(1) requires one to ascertain ‘that share of the net income of the trust estate’. That share is included in the beneficiary’s assessable income.”

….

from Bamford at paragraph 45

It is respectfully suggested that the later part of Sundberg J.’s findings cited by the High Court:

Once the share of the distributable income to which the beneficiary is presently entitled is worked out, the notion of present entitlement has served its purpose, and the beneficiary is to be taxed on that share (or proportion) of the taxable ncome of the trust estate.

from Bamford at paragraph 45

does not mean that the distributable income of a FDT is to be or can be derived from Taxable Income of the FDT unless that proportion must be quantified or quantifiable, maybe by backwards calculation, by 30 June. For instance, the trustee’s own estimate of Taxable Income on or before 30 June, which could be supported by evidence after the fact, could be a parameter of distributable income which must be fixed if not ascertained by 30 June to achieve present entitlement.

Distributable income at 30 June is then routinely reflected in the accounts of a FDT at 30 June and other evidence which later demonstates what the trustee fixed as distributable income at 30 June.

Why was there no distributable income calculation for each 30 June in Donkin?

The Commissioner too could have worked out the amount of, or the figure for, distributable income of the JFT consistent with resolutions and accounts for the Years and other evidence. including trust tax returns, prepared and lodged later. It is implausible that the trustee of the JFT took into account the 2015 inclusions in Taxable Income in its 2010 to 2013 decisions which the AAT correctly observed was a contingency at the each of the 30 Junes through the Years.

Section 99A should have applied

In my understanding:

  • the Participating Beneficiaries in Donkin were not presently entitled in the Years to a proportion of amounts first included in Taxable Income in around 2015 following the Commissioner’s audit and amendment of assessments: and
  • section 99A should thus have been applied to these proportions when they became Taxable Income in 2015.

Distributable income – no place for a variable parameter

The AAT appears to have accepted that distributable income can be a variable parameter which can fluctuate after 30 June; the Commissioner and the AAT accepted a distribution method in Donkin based on a set proportion of Taxable Income, a variable parameter, which, in their view, caused distributable income to vary after 30 June when assessments were varied following audit. This sanctioned the use of rubbery numbers for ascertaining shares of distributable income, which the trust deed of the JFT contemplated for opaque tax reasons, without applying section 99A which, in my understanding and based on this analysis, should have applied.

That is disappointing, especially on the urging of the Commissioner, as the AAT decisions may influence future practice and encourage rubbery distributions of distributable income and the use of contorted trust deed provisions that facilitate them.

Income equalisation clauses

Family discretionary trust deeds I have prepared for over thirty years, and deeds drawn by many other preparers, have long based distributions of distributable income on an income equalisation clause. I suggest that an income equalisation clause is, and has always been, a more conventional mechanism for practically dealing with the divergence between distributable income and Taxable Income in section 97 of the ITAA 1936 than the mechanisms contained in the trust deed of the JFT.

An income equalisation clause is a provision in a FDT trust deed which allows the trustee to align the distributable income of a FDT to Taxable Income.

The above analysis is also relevant to how an income equalisation clause using Taxable Income, a parameter that can change after a 30 June year end, should be construed. I addressed this question in My Lewski Post. There I concluded, based on the Full Federal Court’s views of how trust deeds and resolutions are to be construed, that Taxable Income in an income equalisation clause should be construed as Taxable Income based on knowledge of the trustee, informing the trustee’s decision at the time of the distribution, which is confirmed when accounts of the FDT for the relevant income year are taken and the mechanisms from the trust deed for determining distributable income are applied. On that construction Taxable Income is or should be fixed and present entitlement of beneficiaries to shares of distributable income of a FDT at 30 June can thus be attained.

Australian non-fixed trust liable for CGT on non-TAP gains given to a foreign resident: Peter Greensill Family Co Pty Ltd

BigBen

A mirror of the general principle of source and residence taxation broadly setting the parameters of international taxation, and reflected in Australia’s income tax law, is that income of a foreign resident not from sources in the state is not taxable in the state (in this post called the Mirror Principle). In Australia:

  • interests in real property in Australia and related interests; and
  • interests in assets used in business in permanent establishments in Australia:

are designated “Taxable Australian Property” (TAP) (see Division 855 of the Income Tax Assessment Act (ITAA) 1997). TAP is used in Australian income tax law to apply the Mirror Principle.

Foreign resident capital gains from non-TAP disregarded

Property which is not TAP, that is, property not taken to be connected to Australia for income tax purposes in the hands of foreign residents includes shares and securities as opposed to property interests in or related to Australian land or of permanent establishments carrying on enterprises in Australia which are TAP.

Capital gains made by foreign residents from non-TAP assets are disregarded for tax purposes: section 855-10.

Trouble pinpointing trusts as foreign or not

Trusts are elusive and create enormous difficulties in the international tax system see Trusts – Weapons of Mass Injustice. Trusts can detach beneficiaries who benefit from property who may be in one state from:

  • the trustee of the trust, in whose name the property is held, who may be in another state; and
  • the activities of trust which may be in yet another state.

Apt taxation of those activities in line with Mirror Principle thus poses a significant challenge to governments. States are justified imposing laws to counter offshoring with trusts to ensure the integrity of their tax systems.

Some states don’t recognise trusts.

In Australia trusts are mainstream. Some types of trusts are considered tax benign and conducive to legitimate business, investment and prudential activity. Fixed trusts are often treated transparently for Australian income tax purposes so that a fixed trust interest holder is:

  • taxed similarly to a regular taxpayer or investor; and
  • no worse off, tax wise, than a taxpayer or investor who owns the property outright rather than by way of a trust beneficial interest.

So, consistent with the Mirror Principle that a foreign resident owner of non-TAP who makes a gain on the non-TAP shouldn’t be taxable on the gain, a foreign resident beneficiary (FRB) of a fixed trust can disregard a capital gain made in relation to their interest in a fixed trust: section 855-40.

Peter Greensill Family Co Pty Ltd (trustee) v Commissioner of Taxation

In the Federal Court case Peter Greensill Family Co Pty Ltd (trustee) v Commissioner of Taxation [2020] FCA 559 this week the issue arose whether an Australian resident family discretionary trust – a non-fixed trust, was entitled to rely on section 855-10 and the Mirror Principle to disregard capital gains distributed to a FRB, a beneficiary based in London, of the trust from realisation by the trust of shares in a private company, GCPL, which were non-TAP of the trust.

Detachment of capital gains from the workings of trust CGT tax rules

The capital gains of a trustee are distant from the capital gains of a beneficiary under the ITAA 1936 and the ITAA 1997. Transparent treatment or look through to the capital gains of the trustee as capital gains of the beneficiary/ies became even more remote following changes to Sub-division 115-C of the ITAA 1997 including the introduction of Division 6E of Part III of the ITAA 1936.

These changes brought in distinct treatment of capital gains and franked distributions of a trust from other trust income following the High Court decision in Commissioner of Taxation v Bamford [2010] HCA 10 and the clarification of taxation of trust income in that case.

Legislation unsupportive of transparent treatment

In Greensill Thawley J. analysed the provisions in Sub-division 115-C and Division 6E to deconstruct the applicant’s case to disregard capital gains using Division 855. 

Section 855-40 specifically allows a FRB of a fixed trust to disregard non-TAP capital gains. The absence of an equivalent exemption for FRBs of non-fixed trusts is telling unless section 855-40 is otiose or represents an abundance of caution. Thawley J. did not follow that line. As the applicant in Greensill could not disregard the capital gains using section 855-40 in the case of non-fixed trust, or section 855-10, the capital gains were taxable in Australia.

Unless there is an appeal to the Full Federal Court the Commissioner can finalise his draft taxation determination TD 2019/D6 Income tax: does Subdivision 855-A (or subsection 768-915(1)) of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 disregard a capital gain that a foreign resident (or temporary resident) beneficiary of a resident non-fixed trust makes because of subsection 115-215(3)? as the Federal Court has accepted the view in it.

Closely held trusts, “family trusts” and circular trust distributions – a tax net nuanced again for the compliance burden

trusts guardrail

In Australia the income taxation of trusts is based on the trust being a conduit with look-through to beneficiaries of the trust who are presently entitled to the income of the trust. In the standard case of an adult resident beneficiary of a trust, the beneficiary is taxed on trust income and the trust is broadly treated as a transparent entity and isn’t taxed.

Even where a beneficiary is:

  • not an adult; or
  • not a tax resident;

the trustee of the trust pays tax though ostensibly on behalf of the beneficiary entitled to trust income at the rate applicable to the beneficiary and the beneficiary is entitled to a credit for tax paid on that income should the beneficiary file his, her or its own tax return.

Tax capture when no beneficiary entitled to the income

Look-through taxation of income doesn’t work when there is no beneficiary presently entitled to income of the trust to look through to. Under the Australian system, in these cases, the trustee of a trust pays tax at the highest marginal rate on income plus applicable levies including medicare levy. That is where no beneficiary is presently entitled to the income of a trust under section 99A of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936.

The trustee beneficiary complication

Trusts can be beneficiaries of other trusts. These beneficiaries are “trustee beneficiaries” of a trust.

Example

  • The trustee of trust B is a beneficiary and so is a trustee beneficiary of trust A.
  • C, a beneficiary of trust B, takes (is presently entitled to) a share of the income of trust A.
  • C may be an individual or a company, viz. an ultimate beneficiary, or may be a further trust – a further trustee beneficiary.

It is then necessary to trace trust income of trust A through trustee beneficiaries to find if there is an ultimate individual or company beneficiary entitled to that income. There may be no ultimate beneficiary entitled to income and the case of a “circular” trust distribution is a case in point.

The circular trust distribution by trusts

A definitive example of a circular trust distribution of income is where:

  • trust X distributes income of trust X to trust Y; and
  • trust Y distributes its income (back) to trust X.

There is thus no ultimate individual or company beneficiary. The income is in a state of flux.  Nonetheless it is clear no beneficiary is presently entitled to the income and the highest marginal rate and applicable levies imposed under section 99A should be applicable to a circular trust distribution of income under the regime so far described.

That is a fair point in principle but a circular trust distribution, or any distribution to a trustee beneficiary that isn’t on-distributed to an ultimate beneficiary, is not necessarily readily traceable and identifiable as income to which no beneficiary is entitled. That is especially so where a labyrinthine structure of numerous trusts is used to conceal who is entitled to trust income and that there is no ultimate beneficiary who is not a trustee beneficiary entitled to trust income.

The legislative countermeasures

Countermeasures in the below legislation apply to support the integrity of flow through taxation of trusts. These countermeasures were introduced in Division 6D of Part III of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 which has lead to these new taxes:

  • firstly, the ultimate beneficiary non-disclosure tax when introduced with the A New Tax System (Closely Held Trusts) Act 1999 (see below); and
  • currently the trustee beneficiary non-disclosure tax as introduced to reform the ultimate beneficiary non-disclosure tax under the Taxation (Trustee Beneficiary Non-disclosure Tax) Act (No. 1) 2007 and the Taxation (Trustee Beneficiary Non-disclosure Tax) Act (No. 2) 2007.

These taxes were or are in substance proxies for tax on the trustee under section 99A for presumed lack of present entitlement of an ultimate beneficiary to ensure that income of a trust does not escape income tax either:

  • for want of an ultimate beneficiary entitled to the income; or
  • because of the opaque lack of an ultimate beneficiary where a trustee beneficiary may seem to be an ultimate beneficiary in the tax return of the trust.

Like the rate that applies under section 99A the rate of trustee beneficiary non-disclosure tax is the highest marginal rate plus applicable levies including the medicare levy.

The countermeasures also include a concept of “trustee” group which expands liability for trustee beneficiary non-disclosure tax to corporate directors of trustees of closely held trusts personally: an impost beyond the section 99A impost for falling under the purview of these anti-avoidance provisions.

A New Tax System (Closely Held Trusts) Act 1999

The first legislation to grapple with the tracing problem was in the A New Tax System (Closely Held Trusts) Act 1999 which introduced a wide and indiscriminate ultimate beneficiary statement reporting obligation on all closely held trusts.

Closely held trusts

A trust is a closely held trust if it:

  • is a discretionary trust, or
  • has up to 20 individuals who, between them, directly or indirectly, and for their own benefit, have fixed entitlements to a 75% or more share of the income or a 75% or more share of the capital of the trust;

where the trust is not an excluded trust. Examples of excluded trusts are complying superannuation funds and, for their first five years, deceased estates.

Reset of the closely held trust compliance burden

In response to sustained complaints from many trustees of trusts which did not distribute to trustee beneficiaries and their advisers, the federal government came to amend the regime in 2007 so that only trustees of closely held trusts which distribute income to:

  • trustee beneficiaries;
  • where the distribution includes an “untaxed part”;

have reporting obligations to file a trustee beneficiary (TB) statement. TB statements need to be filed with a tax return and, in the case of resident trustee beneficiaries, need to disclose the following about the trustee beneficiary:

  • name,
  • tax file number,
  • the untaxed part of their share of trust income; and
  • their share of tax preferred amounts;

and to withhold trustee beneficiary non-disclosure tax and to pay it to the Commissioner of Taxation where the relevant trustee beneficiary fails to provide the information for the TB statement when it is sought by the (distributor) closely held trust.

This more nuanced or targeted solution imposes a less onerous compliance burden on closely held trusts than the 1999 measures did.

Further, in accord with policy to treat “family trusts” viz. trusts that have

  • a valid family trust election; or
  • a valid interposed entity election;

in force or that otherwise forms part of a “family group” less onerously, family trusts were excluded trusts to which the closely held trusts regime did not apply following the 2007 reform.

2018-19 Budget changes to closely held trusts

Following an announcement in the 2018-19 Federal Budget, the closely held trust arrangements have been further tweaked by the Treasury Laws Amendment (2019 Tax Integrity and Other Measures No. 1) Act 2019. Under these changes it is still the case that family trusts still do not have to comply with the TB statement reporting requirements however family trusts are no longer excluded trusts.

That means that a family trust that is a closely held trust (which will often be the case) must now comply with the closely held trust obligations but a family trust remains relieved from the obligation to file TB statements and pay trustee beneficiary non-disclosure tax on omission to file a TB statement. Despite that a family trust is now liable for trustee beneficiary non-disclosure tax on circular trust distributions under section 102UM of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 but not on distributions received from other trusts (which are not circular and to which section 102UM does not apply).

How will compliance with the changes work?

It is perhaps unusual that the changed closely held trusts regime relieves a family trust, no longer an excluded trust and that distributes income to a trustee beneficiary, from filing a TB statement. The Commissioner of Taxation will have no TB statement to aid detection of a taxable circular distribution back to the family trust. Further, in the case of family trusts, the Commissioner won’t obtain TB statement level information about distributions by family trusts to trustee beneficiaries that are not circular or the opportunity to impose the trustee beneficiary non-disclosure tax on those distributions as a matter of course on the omission to file a TB statement.

Nevertheless the Commissioner of Taxation will have trustee beneficiary contact details and perhaps a tax file number, or will be alerted by the absence of a tax file number; from the tax return of a closely held trust family trust. The Commissioner can trace a distribution and ascertain when a circular trust distribution by a family trust occurs by investigative activity. Further, risk of family trust distributions tax liability under Schedule 2F of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 makes it less likely that a family trust will make a distribution liable to that tax, particularly a distribution of a tax preferred amount, to a trustee beneficiary that is:

  • outside of the family group; and
  • where that trustee beneficiary’s tax file number is not known by the trustee of the trust and reported in the trust tax return.