William Buck New Zealand
As a fully integrated firm of Chartered Accountants and advisors, William Buck provides a complete solution. Putting you at the core of the business, our advisors work together to ensure that careful consideration is given to your business and personal wealth affairs.
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It is often assumed that payroll tax grouping only applies in the context of related parties. While this may serve as a starting point in considering grouping matters, recent court decisions have shown how easily companies and trusts which are not commonly owned can be grouped for payroll tax purposes. The implications of this can be quite significant, including the denial of payroll tax thresholds for some entities and the imposition of penalties where the grouping rules have been incorrectly applied.
Payroll tax grouping laws seek to aggregate multiple entities for the purpose of determining their payroll tax liability. Entities that are grouped for payroll tax can only claim one tax free threshold between them and are jointly and severally liable for any outstanding payroll tax.
In the context of related parties, often the related companies or common control provisions are most relevant. However, the broadness of the payroll tax grouping provisions has been highlighted in a number of recent cases where the Commissioner has been successful in grouping entities via the common employee provision. One alarming aspect of the common employee provisions is that there is no minimum level of ownership or control required in order to form a group – two arm’s length parties could be grouped under this provision.
While the specific wording can vary across different states, grouping of two entities under the common employee rules can broadly apply in the following circumstances:
The last of the situations outlined above is extremely broad and can catch not only formal, written arrangements but also unwritten, informal or implied arrangements.
The aspect that is often misunderstood is the significance of the third situation outlined above. Because the provision is to be interpreted so broadly, the default position will often be that two or more unrelated entities end up being grouped for payroll tax purposes. It is then up to the respective entity to argue out of the grouping provisions.
Where two or more entities would ordinarily be grouped, the Chief Commissioner has the power to exclude one (or more) of the entities from a particular group. While a number of conditions will need to be met in order for the exclusion to be granted, a key aspect often relates to the businesses being carried on independently of, and not connected with the carrying on of, the businesses of other members of that group. This will be based on the Chief Commissioner having regard to:
In the recent Lombard Farms1 case, the Judicial Member construed the ‘independently of’ and ‘not connected with’ aspects of the test to require no connection at all and a complete independence between group businesses.
However, on appeal, the Tribunal Members felt that this interpretation was too strict and that the test is a matter of judgment, or degree, rather than requiring no connection and complete independence. Accordingly, the Tribunal Members have remitted the case back to the court to rule on Lombard Farms’ circumstances based on a less strict interpretation of the ‘independence’ and ‘connection’ aspects.
Whether two or more businesses are significantly independent and not connected is a matter of fact. The Chief Commissioner has indicated that the following matters will generally be taken into account when considering whether to exercise his discretion to exclude two or more entities from the grouping provisions:
It should be noted that de-grouping relief is generally not available where the grouping has occurred due to direct common control of over 50%.
Even if it is possible to demonstrate that an entity carries on its business independently of, and not connected with, other group members (and hence the entities shouldn’t be grouped), it is still possible that the contractor provisions can apply to include for payroll tax purposes any inter-entity transactions.
Separate contractor related rules and exemptions are available which would need to be considered on an entity by entity basis.
Should you require further information in relation to payroll tax matters, please contact your local William Buck advisor.
Lombard Farms Pty Ltd v The Chief Commissioner of State Revenue  NSWADT 17; Lombard Farms Pty Ltd v Chief Commissioner of State Revenue  NSWADTAP 42