Changes to Foreign Surcharge: Discretionary Trusts with property in NSW or VIC

Daniel Wilkie   |   22 Mar 2021   |   4 min read

Discretionary trusts provide flexibility in relation to revenue and capital distributions. This is one of the reasons they are a common choice for families. However, when there is a potential foreign beneficiary, the discretionary trust can find itself facing additional costs in the form of foreign surcharges. Foreign surcharges are additional fees that various state jurisdictions impose on the duties and/or land taxes over and above the original impost.

The 2020 changes to foreign surcharge requirements mean that administration for Australian discretionary trusts became a lot more complex.  

Foreign Surcharges are subject to a complex array of rules

Each state and territory has its own rules for determining when a beneficiary is a “foreign person”. They also have their own rules for governing foreign surcharges, with some states even imposing clawback rules in the event a beneficiary later becomes a foreign resident. For this reason it is important to obtain specific advice for the relevant state or territory when a discretionary trust intends to purchase property. 

Ultimately, any discretionary trust that is determined to have foreign beneficiaries will be required to pay both the ordinary state duties and/or land tax, as well as the relevant foreign surcharge. For this reason most discretionary trusts aim to avoid having foreign beneficiaries. Where this is not practical for the purpose and primary aim of having the trust in the first place, the trustee must be aware of how having foreign beneficiaries will impact their financial considerations.

Changes for NSW discretionary trusts that own residential property

On 24 June 2020 the State Revenue Legislation Further Amendment Act 2020 came into effect in NSW. This Act changed the foreign person surcharges for both land tax and duties where residential land located in NSW was owned by a discretionary trust. 

The change means that a trustee is deemed to be a foreign person unless the trust deed explicitly excludes all foreign persons from being beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries. This clause in the trust deed must be irrevocable. This means an individual beneficiary who has children overseas, who are defined as foreign persons, would not be able to amend the deed to include their foreign child as a beneficiary. 

Non-compliant trusts, i.e. trusts that do not exclude both foreign persons, and potential foreign persons, as beneficiaries, will deem the trustee to be treated as a foreign trustee. The trust then becomes subject to the foreign surcharge rate of duty. 

In NSW the rate of foreign surcharge is presently 8% of dutiable transactions relating to residential land while for land tax the rate is 2%. These charges are payable in addition to ordinary rates. 

Retrospective Impact of the change in NSW

One of the most concerning things with the change in NSW is that the law applies retrospectively from 21 June 2016 for dutiable transactions, and from 2017 for land tax surcharges. 

If you don’t have any foreign beneficiaries then you have until 31 December 2020 to amend your trust deed to irrevocably remove both foreign persons and potential beneficiaries who could be foreign persons, if you wish to avoid the foreign surcharge. 

If you have previously not had foreign beneficiaries, but you do not wish to amend the trust deed because you will, or potentially will, have foreign beneficiaries, then you will need to consider if you are liable for any retrospective duties and land taxes.

Victorian changes

Victoria has also implemented some changes as of 1 March 2020. While these changes essentially have the same impact as in NSW, the law does not apply retrospectively.  

What should you do if you have a discretionary trust with property?

If you have a discretionary trust that holds property, or is intended to hold property then you need to assess the importance and likelihood of having beneficiaries who are foreign persons, or could potentially be foreign persons. This includes assessing your current trust deed, evaluating the goals and purpose of the trust, and reviewing the financial impact of having, or potentially having, foreign beneficiaries.

This may result in a change to your trust deed in order to intentionally exclude any foreign, or potentially foreign beneficiaries, or it may involve a change in your investment strategy. 

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Australians Moving to the UK: A Brief Comparison of the Australian and UK Tax System

Daniel Wilkie   |   16 Mar 2021   |   8 min read

The Australian tax system is surprisingly different to the UK tax system.

This makes a simple comparison between the two challenging. 

Determining, from an individual taxpayer perspective, which country has higher taxes, isn’t straightforward. Both countries apply progressive rates of tax, as well as a range of potential adjustments and offsets.

Income taxes are lower in the UK due to the progressive rates of tax applying at higher levels of taxable income, but as the UK also has much higher medical contribution taxes than Australia, the UK taxpayer may end up with a higher overall tax burden.

In Australia, income tax is assessed on the taxable income of a taxpayer which is assessable income less allowable deductions while in the UK specific “allowances” may reduce the different types of income before that income is taxed. 

Australian resident taxpayers have a standard tax free threshold, regardless of the type of income or income level, while UK taxpayers have access to different allowances (tax free amounts) that can vary based on income level and the type of income they are earning.

Foreign sourced income is also treated quite differently in the UK, with a threshold applying before tax is imposed.

The following table highlights some fundamental differences between the two tax systems:

Australian SystemUK Tax System
Assessable IncomeProgressive rates of tax applied to taxable income.Progressive rates of tax applied to taxable income- but different rates apply to capital gains and different types of income have allowances deducted before taxes are assessed.
Tax Free componentStandard tax free threshold applies to all taxpayers on the first $18,200 of their income, regardless of the source of this income.A personal allowance is deducted from the taxpayer’s income before tax is assessed. This allowance is increased for married taxpayers and blind taxpayers, but is reduced for high income earners. Additional allowances are separately applied to different types of income, such as capital gains and investment income. 
Public HealthFlat rate of medicare levy applies to all taxpayers unless they are exempt. Variable rate of health insurance taxes applies, depending on income type and amount of income. This is paid by both the employer and the employee. 
Personal benefits provided by an employerPersonal benefits are taxed to the employer as fringe benefits. There are a range of concessions and exemptions that may be applied. Personal benefits are taxed to the employee, at the value of the benefit. There are some benefits that are exempt. 
Residency An individual who resides in Australia, or an Australian citizen who doesn’t setup a permanent home outside of AustraliaPhysically present in the UK for a specified period of time during the tax year
Individual Taxpayer’s Tax year1 July to 30 June6 April to 5 April
PAYG SystemPAYGW (Pay As You Go Withholding) means employers withhold some of an employee’s wage to be paid to the tax office. This helps cover the individual taxpayer’s annual tax assessment. Any excess PAYGW becomes a tax refund. PAYE (Pay As You Earn) is similar to Australia’s PAYGW system. When too much PAYE has been withheld then an individual can apply for a tax rebate (tax refund) for the excess. 
Who is Required to Lodge a Tax ReturnAll Australian residents and any non-residents with any Australian sourced income are required to lodge a tax return (some exclusions apply for residents who earn under the tax free threshold and have no PAYGW to claim, and for non-residents who only earn certain types of income, such as interest income covered by PAYGW under the DTA). Most employees’ taxes are covered by their company’s payroll system, meaning they don’t need to lodge a tax return. Tax returns may need to be lodged where:

– Income other than employment income is earned (above the allowance)
– Foreign income was earned
– You are a higher rate taxpayer (annual income over 100,000 pounds)
– You need to claim a tax rebate for excess PAYE

Residency

Australian residency is generally dependent on whether an individual actually resides in Australia, however Australian citizens may continue to be Australian tax residents while temporarily residing overseas. There are a number of tests that can be used to help determine residency.

UK residency is based on the number of days an individual is physically present in the UK during the tax year. For more complex situations that do not meet the automatic test, other factors may apply.

Tax Rates

Both Australia and the UK apply progressive rates of tax ranging from 0% to 45%.

However, while Australia has a standard initial tax free threshold for all taxpayers, the UK utilises a system of allowances that taxpayers deduct from their income before tax is assessed. The amount of allowance changes depending on a range of factors, and different allowances are applied for different types of income, such as employment income, investment income and capital gains.

Medicare/ NHS

Australians pay a flat rate of medicare (2%), unless they are exempt. High tax payers pay an additional medicare levy surcharge of up to 1.5%, unless they pay for private hospital health insurance. 

In the UK both the employer and the employee are required to pay a contribution towards national health insurance, at rates varying from 0% up to 13.8%.

Capital Gains

Both Australian and the UK impose a capital gains tax.

In Australia capital gains are simply added to an individual taxpayer’s assessable income and taxed at the marginal rate at which the income falls. Assets that have been owned for more than 1 year can be discounted by 50% before being included as assessable income. Other exemptions may also be applied to reduce or rollover capital gains.

The UK tax system gives taxpayers an annual allowance for capital gains. Any capital gains up to the allowance each year are tax free. Like Australia, there are also other exemptions that may be applied to reduce or rollover certain capital gains. 

In the UK, capital gains are taxed at a different rate to other income, and residential property is taxed at different rates to other assets. Higher/additional rate taxpayers pay 28% on residential property and 20% on other chargeable assets. Basic rate taxpayers will pay either 10% or 20% on capital gains, unless it is on residential property, in which case the rate is either 18% or 28% (depending on the size of the gain and the taxable income of the taxpayer.

Both countries have an exemption for the sale of an individuals’ main residence.

Inheritance tax

Australia does not have an inheritance tax.

Neither inheritances nor deceased estates attract any specific form of tax. Any property or investments that are inherited will attract taxes in the same way as any property or investments that were acquired personally and subsequently sold. (There are some provisions for inheriting a main residence that allow the main residence exemption to be carried over).

The UK has a standard inheritance tax rate of 40% above the tax free threshold (the standard tax free threshold is currently 325,000 pounds).

Where everything is left to a spouse, civil partner, charity or community amateur sports club, there is normally no inheritance tax to pay. When your home is given to your children (including adopted, step, and foster children), the threshold can increase to 500,000 pounds.

If an individual who is married (or in a civil partnership) passes away with an estate that is worth less than their threshold, then the unused portion of their threshold can be added to their partner’s threshold for when they die.

The inheritance tax may be reduced to 36% on certain assets if at least 10% of the net value of the estate is left to charity in the will. There are some other reliefs and exemptions to help reduce inheritance taxes on gifts donated prior to death, business relief, and agricultural relief.

Australian and UK Tax Systems

Each tax system has a range of complexities that are unique to the respective country.

In some ways the basic Australian tax return is more straightforward for the individual taxpayer.

On the other hand, the UK system’s use of deductible allowances for different types of income, provides for a range of tax planning avenues that are not available to Australians.

Since the tax systems between each country are so different, and residency changes can trigger complex tax issues, it is important to seek expert advice in both countries when making a move between Australia and the UK.

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