R9.3bn ‘gift’ to individuals will help lower earners

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In yesterday’s Budget speech for 2014/15, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has given back R9.3 billion to individuals in one form or another. What the minister does not mention is that in terms of simple bracket creep, if one uses an inflation rate of 6.5 percent, then although there is an increase in the tax brackets, this will really only assist you if you earn less than R150 000 a year.

For those earning more than this amount, due to inflation – in real terms – sadly, you will pay more tax this year.

Some savings incentives

To help us to save it is proposed (again) that a special savings benefit will be introduced. In this regard you can save up to R30 000 a year, which will increase with inflation annually. The total invested may not exceed R500 000 in your lifetime. Details are sketchy but one would assume the interest on such an account is tax free.

Further retirement saving reforms are proposed. Details are again vague, however, but as a starting point the taxable bracket for lump sums has increased by more than 10 percent, which is certainly a pleasing inflation beater.

Further reforms are proposed for cross-border retirement funding. However, the minister conceded that this was a complex issue and proposed extensive consultation before this was finalised.

Company car allowances

A company car? If you work for a car manufacturer, you are about to pay more tax, because your fringe benefit will be based on the market value of the vehicle and not on the cost of the vehicle to your employer. On the positive side, such an increase will be like a few speed bumps that will apply over four years, rather than like a pothole that was not there yesterday.

We were informed yesterday that the taxation of maintaining and filling up the company car will be done in a more equitable manner.

Hopefully it will also be more understandable, and dare I say, remain as a constant regulation for a period.

Employee accommodation

Employer-provided accommodation is going to be refined so that it is possible to simply be taxed on the amount that the employer pays to a third party. This seems logical but we have heard this before.

Small business incentives

Incentives to micro business are proposed. However, as acknowledged by the minister, to date these have not been that successful, and one can only wait to see how effective the proposals will be. As a tax adviser who has seen many proposals such as this, I remain sceptical.

Tax-free grants to small and medium-sized businesses are proposed, and one hopes this can stimulate the small and medium-sized business sector. However, the minister rightly cautions that care must be taken to avoid abuse.

The law to incentivise venture capital companies to date has not had the desired effect. Various proposals are recommended, although the minister has held back on how many might be implemented.

Briefly, some of the possible benefits could include a waiver on capital gains tax, allowing permanent deductions, and increasing the thresholds.

Private-public partnerships

Proposals to further incentivise private-public partnerships are provided.

There seems to be some confusion as some of the issues have already been dealt with in the latest tax amendments. However, if further benefits are to be provided for private-public partnerships, there are no complaints.

Youth employment tax

The youth employment tax incentive is already effective. The minister aims to make it more beneficial but only in the last quarter of this year.

The benefit should allow you to claim a “refund” where your incentive is greater than your PAYE expense. For most this will not change the playing field, but it may help the small business owner.

Debt reduction for businesses

Debt reduction rules are to be re-considered if there is a business rescue in terms of company law, which means there will be some tax relief as well. While this step is appreciated, the current rules could also use some tweaking.

Group tax relief

Reorganisation and acquisition transactions with roll-over relief were South Africa’s first step into group tax, and this was welcomed by all. Unfortunately it was then often “abused” by the taxpayer in terms of advice provided by tax advisers.

In response, the Treasury effectively stopped many deals, and then allowed some deals to be condoned upon application. The application process was cumbersome and has effectively been removed. The revised rules are now complicated but at least the gate has been opened and one knows where one stands.

The minister has proposed in this year’s Budget speech that certain requirements would be relaxed some more.

Transfer pricing provision

We have an unusual transfer pricing provision that provides for a loan on a deemed amount. Yes, it is confusing. What is worse is that there is no actual loan, other than for tax, so the possibility of having such a loan repaid is unlikely.

It is proposed that there will effectively be a dividend if there is a transfer pricing adjustment, which would presumably be subject to dividends withholding tax.

Foreign company rules

Controlled foreign companies (CFCs) have various complications. The law “excludes” the complication if the CFC is in a high tax jurisdiction (similar to South Africa). The problem is that one needs to perform a complicated calculation to ascertain if the CFC is actually excluded.

Taking into account the new tax return for a CFC, the issue is exacerbated. This can be an extremely costly and time-consuming exercise. The minister acknowledged this issue, however his solution is rather vague, but it seems to be on the right track.

As per the minister’s announcement in this year’s Budget, it seems that if you have an operating company in a high tax jurisdiction then a few calculations will be required as opposed to the current lengthy complicated process.

For companies with large offshore groups one hopes this matter will be clarified as soon as possible.

Research on lower tax rates

In terms of tax research, we were told that the Treasury was looking at different effective reduced tax rates for companies in various sectors. The research will be done over the next two years.

If South Africa is to remain internationally competitive, the tax rate should be lowered across all sectors as the trend has been to decrease tax rates worldwide. Again, any deduction in the tax rate for any sector will be helpful.

Effects of tax amendments

Finally, the minister provided that there would be various technical amendments. It is pleasing to note that such amendments will take into account recent changes, when the full effect of such a change is only realised when the law is practically applied and one submits a tax return.

In other words, the minister acknowledged that certain amendments sometimes had unintended consequences and he opened the door to rectify such issues.

* Hylton Cameron is the associate director of tax at Grant Thornton.

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