GST and land sales


In 2011, the GST Act was amended to prescribe that a supply of land between two GST registered parties was subject to a rate of zero percent if the land was to be used by the purchaser to make taxable supplies and not as a principal place of residence.

Given the change reduced the GST rate to zero percent, it is fair to assume it should have simplified how GST applies, i.e. there wouldn’t be any. However, in practice the change continues to cause problems both from a contractual and technical perspective. This led to Inland Revenue issuing additional guidance in 2017.

However, problems persist. Two examples are outlined below.

Under the GST Act, a purchaser is required to notify the vendor of their circumstances so that the vendor can establish whether to zero-rate the sale. In practice, this occurs by completing Schedule 1 of the Auckland District Law Society (ADLS) Sale and Purchase (S&P) agreement. However, there are instances where the schedule is not completed at all, in which case there is no ‘agreement’ between the parties regarding how GST applies.

If a GST registered purchaser does not complete the schedule and a vendor mistakenly charges GST at 15 percent because they assume the purchaser is non-registered, the purchaser will understandably apply to IR for a GST refund. If IR review the transaction and determine it should have been zero-rated IR will decline the refund.

Instead, the purchaser will need to seek a refund from the vendor. The vendor will also need to apply for a refund (of the GST) from IR, to fund the repayment to the purchaser.

Another scenario is where Schedule 1 of the S&P has not been completed at all and the vendor incorrectly zero-rates a sale on the assumption that the purchaser is GST registered etc.

In this situation, GST will need to be paid, but there is currently uncertainty regarding who is liable. A provision exists that deems the purchaser to be liable if a transaction has been incorrectly zero-rated. However, it is unclear whether this provision applies in all situations or only when the vendor and purchaser agreed what the GST treatment should be, which is later found to be wrong.

If the vendor is held liable and the price has been expressed in the S&P as “including GST”, the vendor is worse off. If the purchaser is held liable and the S&P was “including GST”, it becomes a question of whether the purchaser can seek a partial refund of the purchase price from the vendor to fund their GST liability.

It is extremely important to ensure the S&P is complete and correct. Costly mistakes can be avoided simply by following due process. If you are unsure, please ask your Moore Stephens Markhams advisor.

Published autumn 2019.

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