The draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill 2018 has proposed a number of significant legislative amendments, including with regard to the allowance for doubtful debts set out in Section 11(j) of the Income Tax Act. The proposed amendments envisage separating the tax treatment of two defined categories of taxpayer – namely, those which use International Financial Reporting Standards 9 for financial reporting purposes and those which do not.
The draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill, which was recently published for public comment, represents a first for South African taxpayers as it introduces legislative provisions regarding cryptocurrencies. The draft bill is indicative of the National Treasury's approach to the tax treatment of cryptocurrencies, with the proposed amendments demonstrating an identifiable impact on cryptocurrency traders at the outset.
The supply of cryptocurrencies can cause administrative difficulties with regard to the value added tax (VAT) system. As such, the former minister of finance recently proposed that the VAT legislation be amended. In the interim, the South African Revenue Service has stated that it will not require persons to register for VAT for the supply of cryptocurrencies until there has been policy clarification in this regard. The exemption of cryptocurrency transactions from VAT is undoubtedly the preferred route.
The Explanatory Memorandum on the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill notes that the 2017 amendments to the Income Tax Act which provided that the anti-avoidance rules on dividend stripping override the corporate reorganisation rules may affect some legitimate transactions. As such, a number of amendments have been proposed to remedy this issue.
Given the current economic climate, debt restructuring and relief have increased and thus received concomitant increased attention from the relevant tax and finance authorities. The latest round of proposed tax amendments in this regard attempt to address a number of concerns discussed in the explanatory memorandum on the draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill.
A recent judgment dealt with the pertinent and relevant issue of whether the South African Revenue Service (SARS) was legally justified in refusing to pay certain value added tax (VAT) refunds to a taxpayer on the grounds that the taxpayer owed an income tax debt, which SARS alleged was due and payable. The judgment should be seen as positive by taxpayers that have experienced difficulties in getting SARS to pay VAT refunds.
Section 31 of the Income Tax Act concerns transfer pricing, one of the most contentious areas of tax law not only in South Africa, but also around the world. Historically, there has been no judicial precedent in South Africa regarding the application of Section 31 – in particular, the arm's-length principle. However, the High Court recently issued its findings regarding the application of certain provisions included in Section 31.
Dividends are exempt from income tax even if a person receives the dividend by virtue of a cession to that person of the right to receive the dividend. In a notable exception to this principle, if a shareholder cedes the right only to receive dividends (ie, without transferring the other rights attaching to the underlying shares) to a company, the dividend accruing to the company is subject to income tax.
In 2016 the Davis Tax Committee (DTC) formed a corporate income tax (CIT) sub-committee to prepare a CIT report setting out the DTC's position. To ensure that the recommendations made in the report were practical, the DTC took into consideration South Africa's present economic position as well as its outlook. The DTC recognises that in the context of low economic growth, taxes must be raised in a manner that causes as little disruption to economic growth and employment as possible.
In recent years, taxpayers have frequently been unsuccessful in their disputes with the South African Revenue Service, especially where the dispute has involved the interpretation or application of the substantive provisions of tax legislation. However, where disputes have involved compliance with the procedural requirements of tax legislation, taxpayers have generally had greater success.
The Davis Tax Committee (DTC) recently issued a media statement announcing the publication of four additional final reports and the conclusion of its work based on its terms of reference. The closing report on the work done by the DTC states that the 12 sub-committees consulted widely and that a number of themes emerged from the consultations with various stakeholders. The closing report also mentions some of the challenges faced by the DTC.
The focus of a recent Supreme Court of Appeal case was not the merits of the dispute between the parties, but rather the correctness of the procedure that the taxpayer had followed in its appeal to the Tax Court. The Supreme Court of Appeal held that determining whether the Tax Court's decision was appealable was contingent on whether the decision was one contemplated in the Tax Administration Act.
A recent Supreme Court of Appeal judgment referred with approval to certain sections of a South African Revenue Service (SARS) interpretation note. The taxpayer appealed to the Constitutional Court, which held that the courts should not have regard to SARS interpretation notes when interpreting legislation, but may do so where SARS's practice is evidenced by an interpretation note which has been recognised by SARS and the taxpayer.
The South African Revenue Service (SARS) recently announced that it will continue to apply normal income tax rules to cryptocurrencies and expects affected taxpayers to declare cryptocurrency gains or losses as part of their taxable income. Due to the growing popularity of cryptocurrencies in South Africa and the absence of legislation concerning their taxation and regulation, SARS's decision to address this issue was widely anticipated.
In line with the removal of the remnants of the administrative assessment system in 2015, the South African Revenue Services commissioner's discretion in respect of the doubtful debt allowance was to be deleted from the Income Tax Act. The intention behind this deletion was that, in future, the allowance would be claimed according to certain criteria set out in a public notice. However, according to the recent budget, it is now proposed that the criteria for determining the allowance be included in the act.
Although an increase of 1% in the value added tax rate was announced in the budget in February 2018, no adjustments have been made to the top four income tax brackets. Rather, below-inflation adjustments to the bottom three income tax brackets were announced. It was also announced that the primary, secondary and tertiary rebates will be partially adjusted to account for inflation.
The minister of finance recently announced that the standard rate of value added tax (VAT) will increase from the current rate of 14% to 15% from April 2018. Unfortunately, the date of introduction of the new rate leaves vendors little time to amend their systems and implement procedures to ensure that VAT is correctly accounted for from that date. There is also uncertainty as to when supplies still qualify for VAT at 14% and when VAT should be levied at 15%.
One of the key changes to the tax administration regime following the Tax Administration Act's promulgation in 2012 was the conversion from the so-called 'additional tax' regime to the understatement penalty regime. While this shift towards greater certainty has been welcomed, a key challenge remains as the new regime's criteria are open to differing interpretations. In this regard, the South African Revenue Service recently published its Guide to Understatement Penalties.
The South African Revenue Service (SARS) recently issued a press release regarding its intention to investigate possible tax non-compliance in the religious sector. According to SARS, the investigation is in response to, among other things, general reports which have suggested that certain religious organisations and leaders are contravening tax laws and enriching themselves at the expense of tax compliance and their altruistic and philanthropic purpose.
Section 42 of the Income Tax Act allows taxpayers to transfer assets to a company free of immediate tax consequences, provided that certain requirements are met (ie, there is a roll over for tax purposes). However, certain anti-avoidance provisions may be triggered if the company that acquired the assets disposes of them within 18 months of acquisition. The South African Revenue Service recently provided some guidance on this matter in a binding private ruling.