Employee Accommodation

The treatment of employee accommodation (and taxable allowances) can be confusing. In 2015 the rules around employer-provided accommodation were subject to a reform, with the changes intended to provide greater clarity and cohesion for employers to understand their tax obligations. Previously, a net benefit approach was acceptable, where accommodation provided to an employee was not taxable if the employee maintained a home in another location. Following the reform, the starting point is that accommodation provided to employees is taxable unless one of the exemptions apply (e.g. temporary, out-of-town secondment, work-related conference). But how should it be taxed?

Firstly, PAYE typically applies to the provision of a cash allowance paid to an employee. While FBT usually applies to a non-cash benefit (such as the use of a car). However, the provision of accommodation comprises taxable income and is subject to PAYE, rather than FBT.

The amount of taxable income is the market rental value of the employee accommodation, less any contribution to the cost by the employee.

There are a number of Inland Revenue publications available to assist employers with determining the market rental value. For example, Commissioner’s Statement CS 16/02 sets out the Commissioner’s opinion on factors that can and cannot be taken into account; and CS 18/01 suggests market value reductions in the form of percentages specifically for boarding school employers. The overarching theme of the guidance is that employers have flexibility when determining the market rental value as long as a reasonable process is followed, and sufficient
evidence is maintained to support the values used. For example, an independent valuation could be obtained by a registered valuer, or an analysis of comparable rental properties could be undertaken. Further, an employer is able to apply their own reduction percentages that they consider to be appropriate for any given accommodation type.

Although such guidance is useful, there is little Inland Revenue guidance regarding how to calculate the PAYE itself, which can lead to confusion.

The PAYE liability varies depending on whether the employee or employer pays the PAYE. If the employee’s net income in the hand does not change with or without the addition of the taxable accommodation amount, then the employer is likely to be paying the PAYE. In this situation the market value of the accommodation should be grossed up and PAYE calculated based on the grossed-up amount. For example, assuming a 33% tax rate, a $300 market rental value would be grossed up to $448 to calculate a corresponding PAYE liability of $148.

If the employee receives less in the hand with the addition of the accommodation, the employee is funding the PAYE out of their salary or wage and the taxable amount is the market value of the accommodation itself. For example, a $300 market value would result in a $99 PAYE liability and the employee would receive $99 less in the hand.

Ideally, who is liable for the PAYE should be captured within the employment agreement, so that both parties know what to expect and are not caught out.

Employee Benefits for Millennials

Say what you want about millennials, there is no denying their presence in the workforce. According to Statistics New Zealand, millennials currently represent the largest age group in the workforce. Millennials are also attributed with having become problematic to attract, develop and retain – perhaps in part due to their unique preferences when it comes to employment benefits.

Generally, a work / life balance has always been among the top priorities for millennials, and while this remains true, the desire for work-life integration has emerged. Instead of disconnecting from work completely, millennials welcome the idea of mixing work and play, viewing social activities with co-workers as a resounding perk of employment. This is likely connected to millennials preferred work style, where they are less likely to work longer hours than other generations and embrace flexible ways of working. It is evident that millennials want flexibility and reject the premise that working long hours and being visible is the primary way to demonstrate value. Millennials are known to work well with clear instructions and targets, hence believe the where and how a job gets completed becomes less relevant.

Nevertheless, they are a generation that is committed to their personal learning and development. Research conducted by PwC revealed that 35% of respondents were attracted to employers who offered first class training and development programmes, with the most valued training opportunity being the ability to work with strong coaches and mentors. The study further revealed that millennials crave feedback, with only 1% of respondents saying feedback was not important. Millennials tend to favour frequent feedback sessions and value immediate on the job coaching. Whilst it may be difficult for older managers to navigate this expectation, millennials view the feedback cycle as integral to understanding how their role fits into the wider organisational strategy.

Millennials also lead the way in their desire to work for a company that reflects their own values. The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020 revealed that 56% of respondents had previously ruled out working for an organisation because of its values, and 82% agreed that they were more likely to stay in a job if their personal values aligned. But what exactly do millennials value in an organisation? Putting employees first, having a strong foundation of trust and integrity, practicing customer care, and being environmentally and socially responsible are among the top ranking.

In order to motivate millennials, it is important that businesses understand what they can do to attract and retain them. Whether that be allowing them to work more autonomously, or encouraging learning and development, the reality is the turnover rate among millennials is still likely to be higher than other generations, in large part due to their willingness to quickly move on from organisations that do not meet their ever-changing expectations.

 

New Trustee Disclosure Obligations

In 2013 the law commission was asked to review the Trustees Act 1956 and NZ Trust law generally. Following this initial review, nearly eight years later, the long-awaited “Trusts Act 2019” will finally come into effect on 31 January 2021, replacing the entire 1956 Act.

One of the most significant changes in the new Act that is generating interest from trustees and practitioners alike is the introduction of beneficiary disclosure requirements on trustees. This becomes sensitive if it means disclosing a trust’s financial information, or to what extent some beneficiaries have benefitted more than others. However, the problem is what level of information should be disclosed and to whom?

Under the new Act, there are two layers to the disclosure obligations:

A “presumption” exists that Trustees will make available “basic trust information” to every beneficiary.

A beneficiary may request additional “trust information”.

Basic trust information comprises:

  • the fact the person is a beneficiary of the trust,
  • the name and contact details of the trustees,
  • any changes to the trustees as they occur,
  • their right to request a copy of the trust deed, and
  • their right to request trust information.

“Trust information” has a wide definition and includes information regarding trust property. Although, it specifically excludes “reasons for trustees’ decisions”. It is reasonable to assume ‘trust information’ includes financial information, but how detailed that information has to be is unclear, e.g. does it include amounts distributed to other beneficiaries? Given the new rules are intended to ensure beneficiaries have sufficient information to enforce the terms of the trust deed, it is presumed the answer is yes.

Before making “basic trust information” or “trust information” available to beneficiaries the trustees have to consider numerous factors, including:

  • the personal or commercial confidentiality of the information,
  • the age and circumstances of the beneficiary,
  • the practicality of giving the information, and
  • the effect on the beneficiary and family relationships of providing the information.

After taking all factors into consideration, the trustees can decide to withhold information from beneficiaries if they “reasonably” consider the information should not be provided.

The wording of the new Act is causing uncertainty and unease with existing Trustees as to what exactly their new obligations are and the risk of acting unreasonably. At one end of the scale, risk averse trustees are considering trust resettlements to establish new Trusts with a reduced number of beneficiaries, to preserve confidentiality or reduce the risk of litigation by beneficiaries. At the other end of the scale, trustees are awaiting case law to set the precedent on how to “reasonably consider” the factors above.

Although the legislation needs to be applied correctly (which in itself is uncertain), each situation is different based on the nature of family and beneficiary relationships, which makes it difficult to determine the best course of action.

What is revenue?

“Revenue means the total amount of money a business has earned from its normal business activities, before expenses are deducted” (Work & Income, July 2020).

This core definition has been applied by thousands of businesses to apply for the Government’s wage subsidy scheme that was implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether a 30 percent or more reduction in revenue for the original wage subsidy, or a 40 percent or more reduction for the wage subsidy extension, quantifying the reduction in ‘revenue’ was a key hurdle to be eligible.

With the potential for wage subsidy applicants to be audited, documenting the basis for an application and how the eligibility criteria have been met is
critical. In some cases, confirming eligibility should be straightforward. Retail stores, restaurants, cafes and bars that had to shut their doors overnight should be able to demonstrate a clear drop in ‘revenue’.

However, for other industries it may not be as straightforward. In some cases, the time at which an invoice is issued for GST purposes is different to the point in time at which income is recognised for tax and / or accounting purposes.

Take for example the construction industry where jobs are invoiced based on specific milestones. If invoices were raised during the lockdown, for work completed prior to the lockdown, then measuring the
change in revenue based on ‘invoicing’ would not provide a fair reflection of the effect of Covid-19 at that point in time.

It goes both ways – if a professional services firm was able to keep working during the lockdown but stopped issuing invoices for a particular period. The firm’s invoicing in that period would not provide an accurate reflection of the change in ‘revenue’.

The Work & Income definition also refers to “money”. Was this intended to have the same meaning as ‘income’ or is it intended to imply a cashflow test?

The different ways the revenue test is able to be interpreted, and not knowing what the audit process will comprise gives rise to uncertainty. A suggestion is to ensure that the method used to calculate the revenue reduction should be logical within the context of a particular business. If a standard measure, such as sales booked in the period does not align with what has occurred in practice, consider whether that is an accurate method.

Consideration should also be given to sensor checking eligibility using different approaches to ensure the outcome feels right. For example, a service-oriented business could look at hours worked by the team and cross check that against movement in WIP and sales.

If multiple measures have been used, and each supports the reduction in ‘revenue’ required to receive the wage subsidy then this suggests a reasonable approach has been taken.

Purchase price allocations

Currently, if you enter into a sale and purchase agreement for the sale of business assets, there is no standard practice for how the price should be allocated to the assets. For example, a single price may be agreed for all assets, or the agreed price might be allocated on a line by line basis to each asset.

If the purchase price is not allocated with sufficient detail, inconsistent outcomes can arise when each party takes a tax position.

Take, for example, a business comprised of land and depreciable property that is being sold for $800k. The vendor’s fixed asset register includes depreciable property that originally cost $400k that has been depreciated down to $150k, and land that originally cost $350k.

The vendor takes the view that the depreciable property was sold for $100k and claims a $50k loss on disposal. The $350k gain on the sale of the land is treated as a non-taxable capital gain.

Conversely, the purchaser treats the depreciable property as purchased for $250k (thereby providing a future depreciable cost base of $250k), allocating the remaining $550k purchase price to the land.

The mismatch between the consideration adopted by the vendor and purchaser in relation to the depreciation property will mean their total tax deduction is overstated by $150k. The difference in value is funded by the Government – it is ‘out of pocket’.

To avoid this outcome, draft legislation was introduced in June 2020 that prescribes how assets are to be treated on sale. The proposed legislation provides an ordered approach:

  1. If the parties agree a purchase price allocation, they must both follow it in their tax returns.
  2. If the parties do not agree an allocation, the vendor is entitled to determine it, and must notify both the purchaser and IRD of the allocation within two months of settlement date. However, the allocation to taxable property cannot result in additional losses on the sale of that property.
  3. If the vendor does not make an allocation within the two-month timeframe, the purchaser is entitled to determine the allocation, and notify the vendor and IRD.
  4. If no allocation is made by either party, the vendor is treated as selling for market value, but there is a risk the purchaser is deemed to acquire property for nil.

A de-minimis has also been proposed – if the parties do not agree an allocation, the rules will not apply to a transaction if the total purchase price is less than $1 million, or the purchaser’s total allocation to taxable property is less than $100,000.

Irrespective of the agreed values, IRD may still challenge them if they consider they do not reflect market value. The rules will apply to sale and purchase agreements entered into from 1 April 2021.

Deductibility of Healthy Homes costs

If you are an owner of a residential property, you will be familiar with the Healthy Homes Standards that were introduced on 1 July 2019.

The standards set out the minimum requirements all landlords are required to comply with. Examples of the mandatory requirements include fixed heaters in the main living room, smoke alarms, ceiling and underfloor insulation and ground moisture barriers for some properties.

For older homes, the costs of bringing a residential rental up to the standard required could be substantial.

Inland Revenue (IRD) recently released QWBA 20/01, which provides guidance on the deductibility of the costs incurred to meet the Healthy Homes Standards. To summarise, the statement broadly classifies such expenditure into three categories:

  • revenue expenditure that is immediately deductible,
  • capital expenditure that forms part of the building and is therefore unable to be deducted at all because the depreciation rate for residential buildings is 0%, and
  • capital expenditure that does not form part of the building and is therefore likely to be depreciable.

The Commissioner has stated that expenditure will be capital if the work results in the reconstruction, replacement or renewal of the whole asset or substantially the whole asset, or goes over and above making good wear and tear and changes the character of the asset beyond a repair.

Conversely, expenditure that does not meet this definition will be revenue in nature and immediately deductible.

The QWBA also provides that the cost to repair items that would otherwise meet the standards if they were in an operational or reasonable condition, are likely costs of a revenue nature and hence immediately deductible.

In the QWBA, IRD commented the following capital items are likely to comprise part of the building and therefore unable to be depreciated due to buildings having a 0% rate:

  • smoke alarms
  • insulation
  • openable windows
  • exterior doors
  • ducted or multi-unit heat pumps
  • most extractor fans or rangehoods
  • ground moisture barriers
  • drainage systems

The cost of a capital item that does not form part of the building may be either depreciated over time or deducted immediately if it meets the ‘low-value asset threshold’. For assets that fall into this narrow category it would be worth making the upgrades between now and 16 March 2021 because the threshold has been temporarily increased to $5,000 and will move to $1,000 from 17 March 2021 onwards.

Examples of such assets provided in the QWBA are:

  • electric panel heaters
  • single-split heat pumps
  • through-window extractor fans and window stays
  • door openers and stops

Unfortunately, it appears no tax relief has been introduced for residential rental owners who are required to spend considerable cash on upgrading their properties to comply with the Healthy Homes standards.

IRD’s position is reminiscent of their view on leaky home repairs, for which tax disputes are on-going.