Businesses Cannot Receive GST/HST Amounts Twice: Department of Finance Issues Amendments

On January 17, 2014, the Department of Finance released proposed amendments to the Excise Tax Act (Canada) in order to clarify that a GST/HST registrant cannot claim input tax credits (ITCs) in circumstances when the person has received a refund/credit/rebate of the GST/HST from a supplier. For example, if an Ontario business buys a computer from Best Buy for $1000 + $130 (HST) and returns the computer and receives a credit for $1130 from Best Buy, the Ontario business cannot claim an ITC for the $130 and recover it twice.

Also, non resident importers who must pay GST/HST at the border cannot claim input tax credits where the amount of GST/HST paid at the border is recovered (e.g., by way of a tax adjustment note) from a  supplier outside Canada.

The amendments are a reaction to the Tax Court of Canada decision in Quinco Financial Inc. v. R. (known in GST/HST circles as The Brick case).

The amendments, when passed into law, will be deemed to have retroactive effect.

Interested parties are invited to provide comments on the draft legislative proposals by February 17, 2014. If the proposed amendments have unintended consequences in respect of legitimate activities, it is important to provide comments.

The ABCs of Harmonized Sales Tax

Canada's federal harmonized sales tax ("HST") is complicated - even for the practitioners who practice in the area.  Here is a fun post about some of the common terms used in HST parlance.

A = Auditors - We hope they do not call.  When they do call, we hope they do not want to come for a visit.  When they come for a visit, we hope they do not stay long.  We are worried about the cost of their visit.

B = Budget - In the federal budget, the Department of Finance often includes changes to the Excise Tax Act (Canada) (the HST legislation).

C = Canada Revenue Agency - The Canada Revenue Agency enforces laws and regulations relating to HST.

D = Due Diligence - You want to have documentary evidence to show that you attempted to comply with the HST laws.  Directors can avoid personal liability for unremitted HST of a corporation is the director can show they took steps to prevent the corporation's failure.

E = Exemptions - Some supplies are exempt from GST/HST.  This means that no GST/HST will be applicable.  It also means that the person making the supply cannot claim certain input tax credits.

F = Fairness - If you could not comply with Canada's HST laws due to circumstances beyond your control (e.g., the Alberta flood 2013, the Ontario ice storm 2013), you may be able to apply for fairness.

G = Goods and Services Tax (GST) - GST is a component of HST. The GST rate is currently 5%.

H = Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) - HST is GST + PVAT and is applicable to supplies made in participating provinces,  The HST rate depends upon the province in which the supply is made.

I = Input Tax Credits - If your are a registrant and are engaged in commercial activities, you may be entitled to claim an input tax credit to recover GST/HST paid in connection with business inputs.  Individual consumers cannot claim input tax credits. Input tax credits are good (and a hot audit issue - which can be bad).

J = Judicial Reviews - If you disagree with the CRA (e.g., with a fairness decision), you may be able to file a judicial review to the Federal Court of Canada (which is different than an appeal to the Tax Court of Canada).

K = Keep Records - I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping records.  Auditors, the appeals branch and the Tax Court of Canada all need records and evidence in order to agree with you.

L = Limitation Periods - Always know the limitation period.  Missing a limitation can cost you money or the right to object to or appeal a decision.

M = Misrepresentations - A simple mistake can be considered to be a misrepresentation.  If a person makes a misrepresentation attributable to neglect, carelessness or willful default, the Canada Revenue Agency may assess beyond the 4 year limitation period.

N = Non-residents = Persons outside Canada who may need to know about and comply with Canada's HST laws.

O = Objections - If you disagree with an assessment made by a CRA auditor, you must file a Notice of Objection within 90 days after the Notice of (Re)Assessment.

P = Participating Province - Canadian provinces that have adopted the HST are called participating provinces.  British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are not participating provinces.

R = Registrants - Registrants are persons who are registered for GST/HST purposes or are required to be registered.

S = Supply - A supply is the provision that is subject to GST/HST. Since not all transactions are "sales", the term used is "supply".  A barter transaction and supplies for no consideration are still supplies for GST/HST purposes.

T = Tax Court of Canada - Appeals of CRA decisions concerning objections are filed with the Tax Court of Canada, which is a specialized court.

U = Underground economy - Many businesses do not register for GST/HST purposes and participate in the underground economy.  Small suppliers are not required to register for GST/HST purposes.  If a consumer hires a contractor and pays the contractor under the table in order to save the HST, they are contributing to the underground economy - which is bad.

V = Voluntary Disclosures - If a business makes a mistake, it may may a voluntary disclosure to correct the mistake.  Usually, the CRA requires the HST and interest to be paid - but will waive the penalty.

W = Written Ruling - If you are unsure about the application of the HST legislation to a particular situation, you can write to the CRA for a written ruling.  A written ruling may be binding if it is an advance ruling and not an interpretation.  In order to obtain a written ruling, it is necessary to provide the CRA with the facts.

X = X-director = A person who was a director of a corporation and ceased to be a director may be held personally liable for the GST/HST liability of the corporation up to 2 years after the person ceased to be a director of the corporation.

Y = Year-End - Most registrants have a calendar year end (but not all).  Businesses may have to self assess GST/HST in connection with year-end adjustments (it all depends).

Z = Zero-rated - Certain supplies are zero rated.  This means that the supply is subject to GST/HST at the rate of 0%.  The supplier should be entitled to claim input tax credits.

Canadian Taxpayers Bill of Rights

Yesterdau. I wrote a post entitled "Do You Have A Complaint About The Canada Revenue Agency?" and mentioned the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.  I provided a link to the CRA web-site.  Here are the Rights:

1. You have the right to receive entitlements and to pay no more and no less than what is required by law.

2. You have the right to service in both official languages.

3. You have the right to privacy and confidentiality.

4. You have the right to a formal review and a subsequent appeal.

5. You have the right to be treated professionally, courteously, and fairly.

6. You have the right to complete, accurate, clear, and timely information.

7. You have the right, as an individual, not to pay income tax amounts in dispute before you have had an impartial review.

8. You have the right to have the law applied consistently.

9. You have the right to lodge a service complaint and to be provided with an explanation of our findings.

10. You have the right to have the costs of compliance taken into account when administering tax legislation.

11. You have the right to expect us to be accountable.

12. You have the right to relief from penalties and interest under tax legislation because of extraordinary circumstances.

13. You have the right to expect us to publish our service standards and report annually.

14. You have the right to expect us to warn you about questionable tax schemes in a timely manner.

15. You have the right to be represented by a person of your choice.

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Micro Feed-In Tariff Program in Ontario and HST: The CRA Clarifies Their Position

Last Week, the Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") released GST/HST Info Sheet GI-122 "The GST/HST Implications of the Acquisition of Solar Panels Under the micro Feed-In Tariff Program in Ontario" to clarify when a person must register for GST/HST purposes and when input tax credits ("ITCS") will be allowed.  The new Info Sheet follows a period of uncertainty during which auditors would not allow ITC claims (and auditors questioned whether homeowners in the Micro FIT were permitted to register for GST/HST purposes).

Under the Micro Feed-In Tariff Program in Ontario, homeowners may install solar panels on their roof or elsewhere on their property, engage in activity of electricity generation, and engage in the commercial activity of selling the electricity to the Province of Ontario.  The issue is whether the homeowner is renovating used residential property (where no ITCs would be allowed) or purchasing solar panels and other equipment to manufacture energy and sell that energy to the province.

The Info Sheet determines that the homeowner (participating in the Ontario Micro FIT program) must register for GST/HST purposes if he/she receives more that $30,000 per year from the province under the program.  If the homeowner does not make $30,000 under the program, he/she may be a "small supplier" and would not be required to register for GST/HST purposes.  Small suppliers may voluntarily register for GST/HST purposes.

If a homeowner registers for GST/HST purposes, he/she must charge, collect and remit GST/HST on the money received from the Ontario government under the FIT Program.  They also must be careful to charge GST/HST on other taxable supplies (e.g., garage sales, sales of used cars, etc.).

If a registered homeowner purchases equipment to be used in connection with energy generation, he/she may claim ITCs and recover the GST/HST paid on those purchases.  However, these claims are subject to an audit by the CRA.  As a result, homeowners must be careful to not use the CRA as a personal ATM machine.  In other words, the CRA will scrutinize ITC claims to ensure unrelated home repairs and other personal expenses do not give rise to ITC claims.

For more information, there is a complex / high level opinion given by Torys LLP to the Solar Industries Association that has been posted on the Internet. For even more information, please go to the Solar Industries Association web-site.

Non-Residents Can Get Their Border GST/HST Back If They Plan Ahead

I am asked regularly whether a non-resident person who does not wish to register for GST/HST purposes can get an input tax credit for the goods and services tax ("GST") and harmonized sales tax ("HST") (if charged and) paid at the border.  The answer is "no", the non-resident cannot claim an input tax credit if they do not get into the GST/HST system, post security and file GST/HST returns.

However, other options may be available depending on the facts (which can be arranged to permit recovery).  These options are available in a business transaction and are not available to a non-resident bringing goods to Canada for their own use (e.g. at a cottage in Muskoka). The two main options are:

1) use of a drop shipment certificate; and

2) structuring the importation in a way to permit another person to recover the money.

These options are not available in every situation.  They are complicated to describe and implement.  Often the assistance of a sales tax lawyer or accountant or consultant is requirement to make sure the transactions are structured perfectly.  Since the purpose of the structuring is to get money back from the Canadian government or accomplish tax relief, the Canada Revenue Agency may inquire about the facts to see if all "t"s are crossed and "i"s dotted.

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For Many Businesses In Ontario, Only The Accounting Departments Knows HST Means More Work

When harmonized sales tax ("HST") was announced to be introduced into Ontario, the McGuinty Government told everyone that the administrative burden for businesses will decrease.  Those who work in the area know the truth - there is more work now than there was before HST.

Big businesses (many of which are not really that big) have a greater administrative burden with HST record keeping and reporting because they recapture certain input tax credits and undertake the calculations very quickly or face late filing penalties. 

Builders of real property experience a greater administrative burden with HST because they must file many different forms for transitional rebates, new housing rebates and the recaptured input tax credits.  What they did not tell builders is that they will have to file separate forms for the GST portion of the rebate and the PVAT portion of the rebate.  Builders also face late filing penalties.

Same holds true for long term care home and retirement home builders who also must file multiple forms to claim the new residential rental property rebates and transitional rebates (separate forms for each for the GST portion and the PVAT portion).  I have spoken with one client who spent hours just trying to determine which forms needed to be filed out.  Some portions of some forms did not need to be completed because there were other forms to complete instead.  My client could not figure out what to do to get the much needed money back and called me.  It even took me a couple of billable hours to create the road map.  Quite frankly, the forms are a bureaucratic mess.  I should also note that after the forms are filed by builders, they are usually audited and valuations are required before the money is paid (often after a year of waiting).

Public sector bodies (municipalities, universities, schools, hospitals, charities, not-for-profits) also have to complete and file separate forms for the GST portion and the PVAT of the public sector body rebate.  In most cases, the percentage of the rebate at the federal level is different than the rate at the provincial (PVAT) level.  If the public sector body (e.g. a charity) operates in more than one province, there are separate calculations because the provincial rebate rates are not harmonized.  Some provinces do not offer all the rebates.

In addition, businesses must collect HST according to the place of supply rules.  Some of these businesses are charging HST on transactions where they did not previously collect provincial sales tax.  This may be because the sales tax base changed or it may be because the transaction involves an HST province.  Prior to HST, there may not have been a nexus between the supplier in the province and after HST the business is a tax collector of HST.

There are many other examples that I could provide.  Many involving having to spend large amounts on legal or accounting advice to make sure 13%/15%/12% mistakes are not made.  Instead of providing more examples where the administrative burden has increased, I will ask you to provide real life examples by making comments.  Please add to the discussion.

Canada Revenue Agency Auditors Concerned About Registrants Overclaiming Input Tax Credits

Based on personal experience and not any official report from the Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA"), it is obvious to sales tax professionals that the CRA are concerned about goods and services tax ("GST") and harmonized sales tax ("HST") registrants over claiming input tax credits.

On a GST/HST return for a reporting period, the registrant must report the amount of GST/HST collected during the reporting period on its taxable sales.  However the registrant remits "net tax" after adding amounts it must add and deducting amounts it may deduct.  One of the most important category of deductions from GST/HST collected is input tax credits being claimed.  The more input tax credits, the less GST/HST that must be remitted (and in some cases, the larger the refund cheque).

The most obvious concern to CRA auditors is that GST/HST registrants claim false input tax credits when they file their GST/HST returns.  False claims are when a person did not actually purchase a business input and are making up a deduction.

One of the most common audit issues if failure to maintain records relating to input tax credits that meet the documentary requirements of subsection 196(4) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) and the Input Tax Credit Information (GST/HST) Regulations.  The CRA will reject input tax credits when the documents to support the claims are not available or if the documents do not contain all the relevant information (e.g., the GST/HST number of the supplier).

Another common audit issue is that the input tax credit is claimed too early (and, therefore, in the incorrect reporting period.  For example, a business files monthly returns.  A business buys a building on March 2nd.  If the registration claims the input tax credit for that building purchase in the February GST/HST return, the input tax credit will be denied and moved to March.

The last two areas of concern are often a source of frustration for businesses.  Honest business owners can get caught.  They are not the bad guys who are essentially stealing money by making false claims.  They are often busy and do not have the best record-keeping systems or do not have the time to chase down a supplier for information after the goods/services are provided and the money has been paid.  They do not pour over every detail on a piece of paper because hey know what transaction transpired.

What Will Happen If The "Yes" Vote Wins In British Columbia?

The most important document to study will be the "hard-to-read" Comprehensive Integrated Tax Coordination Agreement between British Columbia and the Government of Canada signed in November 2009 (called the CITCA by tax geeks).  The second most important document to read is the amendment letter to the CITCA signed in March 2010.  A review of the original Memorandum of Understanding may also be helpful. There will be other relevant documents that will be made public voluntarily and through access to information requests to the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia.  These documents will need to be reviewed carefully to determine the best plan to move forward.

What exactly will happen will happen in response to a "Yes" vote is yet to be determined.  What we know is that many will not like the plan.  The elimination of the Harmonized Sales Tax ("HST") in British Columbia will not happened immediately on August 26, 2011 if the "Yes" (anti-HST) vote is the successful side.  People celebrating at bars and restaurants will see HST on their bills after the announcement.

Businesses will need time to adjust.  This would be fair to the businesses who are, in reality, the tax collectors from the public.  The businesses will need to know what to do and the mechanisms to collect another tax (even if it is the British Columbia social services tax) will have to be put in place.  Businesses throughout Canada and not just British Columbia will need to adjust their record-keeping systems.  As with HST implementation, a change will involve a lot more work than just changing a tax rate in the computer.

Businesses inside and outside British Columbia will also need to register to collect the replacement tax.  The government will need to launch a new education campaign to communicate the obligations on businesses.  Also with the "To Do List', the government will need its own "To Do List", which will include setting a time line, passing legislation, education of the public (and duck as the tomatoes are thrown), hire people in the Consumer Taxation Branch, train the new employees, prepare policies and bulletins, talk with the Federal Government about repayment, enforcement and other process matters, etc.

If the "Yes" vote wins, GST registrants in British Columbia will still be required to charge, collect and remit HST when they sell to an HST province.  They will still be obligated under the Excise Tax Act (Canada) and regulations thereto to file a GST/HST returns in the future.  The HST Place of Supply Rules will still apply to certain transactions.  So, HST will not be elimniated fully under any change plan.

The rules relating to claiming refunds, rebates and credits under the HST tax system will need to be clarified for B.C. businesses.  There is a possibility that there may be a deadline set for amounts a business or consumer is entitled to receive from the Government of Canada.

If the HST is going to be eliminated, businesses who are registered for GST/HST purposes and entitled to claim input tax credits will take the opportunity to purchase goods and services before the change.  Those businesses that will have to pay unrecoverable provincial sales tax after the change may decide to undertake the expenditures at a time when they can recover HST by way of an input tax credit.  Businesses will take prudent steps to save money while the change occurs. 

Consumers, on the other hand, may delay purchases until after the change occurs when they are purchasing an exempt good, real property, intangible property or services that are not subject to provincial sales tax.  This will most negatively affect the real estate market and the service sector.  There will be transition rules for the change that will need to be developed and communicated.

Consumers outside the province of British Columbia may delay purchases of goods from British Columbia until after the change (or at least after the date of the announcement of the plan for the replacement tax).  The place of supply rules may change and give rise to opportunities to save sales tax.

In the meantime, the Government of British Columbia will undoubtedly talk about repayment of the monies received from the Government of Canada to implement the HST.  There will be talk of new taxes that were not in place in British Columbia before July 1, 2010.  As sure as night follows day, if the "yes" vote is the majority, the blame game will start.

We will continue to watch and report on this developing story - if it develops into a story.  Nothing much will happen if the "No" vote is the majority.

Deregistered Charities Face GST/HST Issues

When I say "deregistered charities", I am referring to deregistration as a charity and not deregistration for GST/HST purposes.  If a charity that was a registered charity is deregistered as a charity (no longer considered to be a charity by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)), that entity will face a number of assessments, including GST/HST, if they do not make changes.

If an entity is deregistered as a charity, it would have to determine if the supplies made by it are exempt or taxable for GST/HST purposes.  Many supplies made by charities are exempt pursuant to Part V.1 of Schedule V to the Excise Tax Act (Canada).  A key pre-condition to the exemption may not be satisfied after deregistration.  If the exemption is no longer available and the entity does not change its invoicing (charging) practices, it may be assessed for failure to collect GST/HST.

If supplies become taxable (when a charity no longer makes exempt supplies), the entity must determine if they may claim input tax credits paid by it on business inputs.  The accountants and book-keepers will have to undertake a careful review.  If the entity does not claim input tax credits, it may lose its opportunity.

If an entity is deregistered as a charity, it would no longer be entitled to claim public service body rebates to recover otherwise unrecoverable GST/HST paid on business inputs.  Charities may claim a public service body rebate of 50% of the GST portion.  Depending on the province(s) in which a charity operates, the charity may claim another rebate for the PVAT (provincial) component.  If the charity is deregistered, a key pre-condition of entitlement will no longer apply.  If the entity does not change the way it completes its GST/HST return, it may be assessed to draw back rebates improperly claimed.

There are many other changes that may be experienced by specific charities.  For example, certain charities take advantage of the election in section 211 of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) and that benefit would no longer be available.  Certain volunteer reimbursements and allowance rules would not longer be available. Certain charities could deregister for GST/HST if they are below the small supplier threshold for charities. 

If the CRA is talking about deregistration of an entity as a charity, that entity needs to address the issues in that discussion.  If they ignore the CRA during the deregistration process and do not take steps to revisit all elements of charging GST/HST and taking advantage of entitlements, there may be costly assessments against the former charity and/or the directors of the charity.

Alert: Businesses Must Remit GST/HST From Own Pocket Even If Not Paid By Customer/Client

A GST/HST registered supplier must submit its GST/HST returns on time (either monthly, quarterly or annually) and remit (that is pay to the Receiver General) all GST/HST charged on invoices issued during the period for the GST/HST return.  If an invoice has not been paid by the customer/client, the GST/HST must be remitted.  This means that the supplier must take the money from his/her own pocket or even draw on a line of credit.  The Canada Revenue Agency will assess the supplier interest and penalties if the GST/HST is not remitted.

All that being said, the supplier may claim its input tax credits to minimize the impact of the rule.  The net tax calculation may soften the effect of the rule - but it remains that the supplier is on the hook for the GST/HST.

Businesses may have to wait a long time to be paid by their customer/client and are out-of-pocket the GST/HST for some time depending on the situation.  The CRA auditors with whom I have spoken are not sympathetic to the supplier.  On the contrary, suppliers are more often viewed critically and as potential thieves of the government's money.  This is unfair.

Amounts Paid To Canada Border Services Agency As Ascertained Forfeiture May Include GST

In the recent case of 208539 Alberta Ltd. v. The Queen, Justice D'Arcy of the Tax Court of Canada held that an importer of record may be entitled to claim an input tax credit (ITC) for GST imposed as a result of an ascertained forfeiture.  An ascertained forfeiture occurs when the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) issues a penalty with respect to imported goods after importation.  The CBSA is no longer in a position to seize the goods and charge a penalty to release the goods.  As a result, the CBSA sends the importer of record an assessment of a penalty.

In some cases, the ascertained forfeiture penalty may only include customs duties (or a multiple of the customs duties that would have been payable).  In these cases, the importer of record would not be entitled to claim an input tax credit.

In other cases, the ascertained forfeiture penalty states that an amount is being charged as GST that should have been paid with respect to the importation.  This was the situation in the case at hand.

Judge D'Arcy held that the importer of record was entitled to claim the ITC for the amount that was GST, but not the amount that was penalty or customs duties.

Another interesting aspect of the decision is the discussion on whether the documentary requirements for the ITC had been satisfied.  The CRA was arguing that the documentary requirements in subsection 169(4) of the Excise Tax Act  and Input Tax Credit Information (GST/HST) Regulations was not satisfied.  Judge D'Arcy was correct in holding:

The Appellant satisfied the paragraph 169(4)(a) documentary requirements once it provided the CRA with sufficient information to enable the amount of the input tax credit to be determined. As I noted previously, the First Customs Letter, the Second Customs Letter and Exhibit A2 together evidence the amount of Division III tax that Canada Customs collected from the Appellant ($17,039.93) and the fact that the Division III tax was paid by the Appellant in respect of the imported goods.
 

I would expect that there are a number of importers of record who are engaged in commercial activities who have not claimed their ITCs paid in respect of ascertained forfeitures and detentions penalties.  It will be important to ensure the correct person claims the ITC.  Time limits for claiming the ITC will also be a critical issue.  All that being said, there may be found money - if you have received a notice of ascertained forfeiture or retrieved goods from CBSA detention, it is time to review the documentation.

Warning: Registered Persons Should Not Claim 100% Of The ITCs on Meals & Entertainment

When I read the article in the Vancouver Sun entitled "Entrepreneur says HST cuts red tape", all I could think is this guy is going to be audited by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).  Here is a guy trying to help the B.C. Liberal Government win the HST referendum and is putting out his story for the world (and the CRA) to see.  However, either he does not understand the HST rules regarding meals and entertainment expenses or the reporter does not understand the rules.  What has been written might catch the attention of the CRA.

The Vancouver Sun article states:

  • Taneja footed a $429.42 bill for a birthday party of 20 at the Waldorf, then headed with a staff member to meet some friends at 100 Nights, where he spent a further $358.40 on food and booze;
  • But HST costs Taneja incurs to do business get refunded, and he supports the harmonized tax as a better alternative to the PST/GST hybrid. Before, businesses could recover the five-per-cent GST, but not the seven percent PST component.
The reality is that any registrant for HST purposes cannot recover 100% of the HST paid on meals and entertainment expenses.  At best, the registrant is limited to an input tax credit (ITC) of 50% of the HST paid on meals and entertainment expenses.  Large businesses (businesses that make taxable supplies in excess of 10,000,000 per year, certain financial institutions and certain MUSH sector businesses) may be subject to the recaptured input tax credit rules and these businesses must reverse their ITCs on the provincial component of the HST charged in connection with their meals & entertainment expenses.
 
For example, if a small business, such as the individual in the Vancouver Sun article, has a meal expense of $200 (including tip) in British Columbia, they would pay HST in the amount of $24.  The allowable input tax credit would be only $12 (not the full $24).
 
Now for the reality check - Under the British Columbia PST regime, a person did not pay social services tax on restaurant meals (food component) and paid SST on alcohol.  Assuming the restaurant meal did not include alcohol, prior to HST, the individual would pay $200 plus $10 GST.  The individual would recover $5 by way of an input tax credit.  As a result of HST, the unrecoverable cost of the restaurant meal increased from $205 to $212  (costs $7 more).
 
The CRA may audit ITC claims to ensure that a registrant indeed paid the HST in connection with commercial activities and that he/she has the documents required that meet the documentary requirements.  The individual in the article is said to have met "friends at 100 Nights".  If a registered person goes out to dinner with friends, family or for personal reasons, he/she is not entitled to claim ITCs in connection with the personal expenditures.  The CRA will be concerned that under the HST regime, sole proprietorships and other registrant may be using their GST/HST returns improperly as a personal ATM to government money.  It was never intended that individuals recover personal costs. 
 
In the circumstances of the person in the Vancouver Sun article, the CRA will go through the receipts (and there better be receipts) with a fine tooth comb and will want information about the many meals and entertainment expense claims, including who was the business client at each of the restaurant/bar. The CRA auditor may ask for the names and contact information of the business associates and will follow-up with the business associates to see if they met for business purposes.  The threat of an audit or quasi-criminal charges for lying to an auditor often cause the business associates to convey accurate information about the meetings over meals & entertainment. Also, business clients do not like the attention of the CRA and contact by the CRA may negatively affect a business relationship (I have seen this happen before when an individual writes a person's name on an expense claim and the meeting did not actually occur).
 
I would like to warn those registrants who are not familiar with the HST rules and who do not have an accountant/bookkeeper who knows the HST rules.  Following the actions of the person in the article may get you into trouble with the CRA.
 
As for the Vancouver Sun article, the next article may have a different title: "HST Audit Increases Red Tape".

 

Partners and Partnerships: Transfers Are Tricky

Partners and partnerships are different legal entities for goods and services tax (GST) / harmonized sales tax (HST) purposes. Pursuant to subsection 123(1) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada), a partnership is a "person".   This is different than many tax statutes which do not treat partnerships as persons.  As a result of a partnership being a person, a partnership is obligated to register for GST/HST purposes (unless it is a small supplier), charge GST/HST, claim input tax credits and comply with the provisions of the Excise Tax Act (Canada). 

One provision that must be highlighted when one talks of partnerships is section 272.1 of the Excise Tax Act (Canada), which contains specific rules that are applicable to partnerships. It is important to note that the other rules in the legislation are also applicable. 

Subsection 272.1(3) is very important for GST/HST planning for partners and partnerships.  I often see tax structures where partner of a partnership receives consideration from the partnership and does not collect GST/HST.  This is often incorrect and a sign that a GST/HST professional has not been involved in the tax planning.

Subsection 272.1(3) of the Excise Tax Act addresses when a partner is considered to make supplies to a partnership and provides as follows:

Where a person who is or agrees to become a member of a partnership supplies property or a service to the partnership otherwise than in the course of the partnership’s activities

(a) where the property or service is acquired by the partnership for consumption, use or supply exclusively in the course of commercial activities of the partnership, any amount that the partnership agrees to pay to or credit the person in respect of the property or service is deemed to be consideration for the supply that becomes due at the time the amount is paid or credited; and

(b) in any other case, the supply is deemed to have been made for consideration that becomes due at the time the supply is made equal to the fair market value at that time of the property or service acquired by the partnership determined as if the person were not a member of the partnership and were dealing at arm’s length with the partnership.

What this means is that partners are required to charge, collect and remit GST/HST in respect of supplies of property or a service to the partnership otherwise than in the course of the partnership’s activities. Partners are not required to charge, collect and remit GST/HST in respect of supplies property or a service to the partnership that are provided in the in the course of the partnership’s activities.

What is "otherwise than in the course of partnership activities" is the point of contention between the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and partners/partnerships.  The concept is not defined in the Excise Tax Act (Canada). Advisors must look at a number of administrative statements and Q&As to understand what will be the CRA's position concerning planned activities.  If a taxpayer would like certainty, they may apply for a GST/HST ruling.

The following example may help:  I am a GST/HST lawyer.  If I was to become a partner of a partnership (or my firm) and if I was to provide GST/HST advice to the partnership, I would be required to charge, collect and remit GST/HST in respect of the consideration I received for that advice.  The CRA would take the position that my GST/HST advice was not provided "in the course of partnership activities" because I provide GST/HST advice to others outside of my partnership activities.

It is beyond the scope of this blog post to provide a complete answer to all questions relating to partnerships and partners.  Tax planning must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. 

I should note that have seen CRA auditors assess directors of corporations who are members of a partnership under the director's liability provisions in situations where the partner (corporation) does not collect GST/HST when required and the corporate partner does not pay the GST/HST liability.  The directors do not consider that the activities of the partnership or the tax structuring could get them into GST/HST trouble.

A GST/HST Joint Venture Election Allows One Co-Venturer To Account For GST/HST

Section 273 of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) authorizes one participant in certain types of joint venture (called the "operator") to account for GST/HST on her behalf and on behalf of the other co-venturers.  For example, if A (25%), B (25%), C (25%) & D (25%) enter into a joint venture, they can appoint A as the operator and A charges, collects, and remits GST/HST and files GST/HST returns on behalf of the joint venture. A also claims input tax credits, refunds, rebates and other GST/HST relief in respect of the activities of the joint venture (to the extent permitted). If the joint venture election is not in place, A, B, C, and D would each have to charge, collect and remit 25% of the GST/HST, take 25% of the input tax credits and other relief, and file separate GST/HST returns.

The bad news is that not all joint ventures are entitled to take advantage of this election option.  Only oil and gas exploration joint ventures and prescribed joint ventures can benefit at this time.  That being said, the list of prescribed joint ventures was recently amended (after 20 years) and the Department of Finance is willing to consider making additions in the future.  The list of prescribed joint ventures is set out in the Joint Venture GST/HST Regulations:

  • the construction of real property, including feasibility studies, design work, development activities and the tendering of bids, where undertaken in furtherance of a joint venture for the construction of real property;
  • the exercise of the rights or privileges, or the performance of the duties or obligations, of ownership of an interest in real property, including related construction or development activities, the purpose of which is to derive revenue from the property by way of sale, lease, licence or similar arrangement;
  • the marketing by the operator of a joint venture, under any agreement between the operator and a co-venturer, of all or part of the co-venturer’s share of the output of the joint venture provided that the output arises from an activity conducted under the agreement referred to in subsection 273(1) of the Act;
  • the transportation of natural gas liquids by means of a pipeline that operates as a common carrier of natural gas liquids;
  • the operation of a facility that is used to generate electricity;
  • the operation of a transmission line that is used to transmit electrical power;
  • the processing of output (in this paragraph referred to as the “refinement”) that arises from the exploration or exploitation of a timber resource, including any jointly conducted exploration or exploitation activity of which the output is processed under the agreement referred to in subsection 273(1) of the Act in respect of the refinement and the marketing of the processed or unprocessed output that arises from that activity;
  • the production of a fertilizer and its marketing;
  • the disposal of waste, including the collection and transportation of waste that is in furtherance of that disposal;
  • the exercise of rights or privileges, or the performance of duties or obligations, of ownership of an interest in an animal for the purposes of deriving revenue from prizewinning, stud service fees or sale;
  • the maintenance of a road, other than maintenance that is an exempt supply;
  • the operation and maintenance of the North Warning System;
  • the operation of a farming business within the meaning of the Income Tax Act;
  • the production of liquid methanol from natural gas;
  • the generation and recording of seismic data; and
  • the operation of a lumber, plywood, shake and shingle, pulp, paper or similar wood processing facility.

With respect to commercial real estate, there are certain restrictions in the activities that are prescribed above.

There are a number of rules that must be followed.  Some of the most important (but not all the rules) are:

1. There MUST be a written joint venture agreement;

2. The co-venturers MUST complete the joint venture election forms (GST Form 21 and GST Form 355); and

3. The parties to the joint venture are jointly and severally liable for all GST/HST obligations of the joint venture.

The structuring of joint ventures can be complicated and meeting the requirements of the Canada Revenue Agency requires strategic planning.  There are great benefits, but also pitfalls.

Can A CRA Auditor Ask For Lawyer's Files When Taxpayer Deducts Lawyer's Bill As Business Expense?

The answer is contained in the recent Tax Court of Canada interim decision in Richard A. Kanan Corporation v. The Queen.  In this case, a tricky Canada Revenue Agency auditor would not allow deductions taken by a dentist for legal expenses because the invoices were stated to be "for services rendered" and the auditor was not allowed to see the entire file.  Judge Campbell tries to strike a balance in her decision between the divergent interests.  This case is a MUST READ for all lawyers who provide advice to businesses (especially all tax lawyers).

Judge Campbell considered two questions:

1) Can the Appellant meet its onus without disclosing privileged information?

2) If the Appellant relies on privileged information to meet its onus, will an implied waiver be found over its entire legal file?

The short answer is that the Appellant MUST provide information about the legal services in order to justify the deduction.  However, auditors CANNOT go on fishing expeditions through a lawyer's files.

With respect to the first question, Judge Campbell concluded succinctly in the end of the interim decision:

"When a taxpayer deducts an expense from his or her income, he or she may be called upon to justify that deduction – to convince the Minister, or failing that, the Court, that it is a properly deductible expense. Where the expense is a lawyer’s fee, the proof that is required will often be covered by solicitor-client privilege. While these Interim Reasons are not intended to provide the CRA with a licence to access privileged information, it is clear that a taxpayer who presents a claim for deductions in a return must also accept that at least some disclosure will be necessary to properly dispose of that claim."
 

With respect to the second question, Judge Campbell concluded succinctly at the end of the interim decision:

"...a taxpayer should not be forced to reveal the specifics of its legal advice, or to turn over the lawyer’s entire file. In addition to limited disclosure, the lawyer or the Court may edit documents to remove non-essential material, and the Court may impose conditions to ensure the confidentiality of the information. Further, taxpayers must be allowed to provide the proof that is required without the risk that they will be found to have waived the privilege entirely."
 

Judge Campbell has clearly recognized in her decision the importance of solicitor-client privilege.  She writes:

"To find otherwise would create an unreasonable and unacceptable rule. Taxpayers would effectively have the choice of foregoing a proper deduction for legal expenses or revealing to CRA the entirety of their lawyer’s files. Such a rule would be inconsistent with the status accorded to solicitor-client privilege as a substantive and fundamental civil right, and a privilege which must be as close to absolute as possible."

While the decision says nothing about non-lawyer consultants and accountants who provide tax advice to taxpayers, it is worth noting that the above decision would not cover such advisors.  With respect to non-lawyer advisors, the Canada Revenue Agency may ask for the entire file (with the exception of solicitor-client work product if the non-lawyer hired a lawyer in connection with the advice) to review regarding the deductibility of an expense.

While the decision does not relate to input tax credits for GST/HST purposes, the principles would likely be applied in a similar manner. 

Help Judges Help Taxpayers: Why Small Business Record Keeping is Important

It is important for small business owners to keep good records.  The recent decision by Judge Woods of the Tax Court of Canada in Antwi v. The Queen makes the point very well.  It is best to provide a large excerpt of this short case:

[3]  While documentary evidence is not always necessary to prove a taxpayer’s case, here it was crucial as the Appellant herself was unable to explain how the sole proprietorship had paid for the supplies which she admitted had been purchased. The best she could do was to offer various hypothetical explanations: perhaps she had paid for some of the supplies out of her employment income (even though the value of the supplies was more than double her entire income for the year); other amounts could have been paid by her two brothers either in cash or by credit card (but no evidence of their having done so was presented); sometimes, friends and relatives helped out with payments (but no details of who they were or what amounts they might have contributed).

[4] Not surprisingly, some seven years after the fact the Appellant could not remember specifically what amounts were paid by whom for what. And not having retained the source documents or kept records of the transactions in issue, she had no way of reconstructing the sole proprietorship’s business activities in 2004 and 2005. A further complication lay in the fact that while it was not reported to the tax authorities as such, the sole proprietorship was apparently intended to be the Appellant’s mother’s business; the Appellant and her two brothers provided the funds for its start-up and operation; their mother, the hands-on work in the store. According to the Appellant, because her mother had difficulty with English and had no previous retail experience, she made many errors entering sales into the cash register; for example, she might enter too many zeros so that a sale that was actually for $10.00 would appear as $1,000. Because the Appellant was busy with her own employment, she was not able to be at the store to assist her mother or to correct the mistakes that inevitably occurred. Thus, to the extent that any records did exist, it is unlikely they were very reliable. In any event, although the Appellant admitted that the invoices, cash register tapes and banking statements she had provided to the auditor and Appeals Officer had been returned to her, she was unable to say, as of the date of this hearing, where those documents might currently be found. Finally, in response to her agent’s question in direct examination as to whether inventory had ever been counted for the business, the Appellant answered in the negative.

[5] I agree with counsel for the Respondent that the Appellant’s situation falls squarely within the circumstances described by Bowman, CJ in 620247 Ontario Ltd. v. Canada 1995 CarswellNat 27 at paragraphs 8 and 12:

8.a. The assessment is based upon the assumption that the bank deposits are about as accurate an indication of the sales as one is likely to get, -given that the appellant kept no books and its only record of sales was the sales slips, which were incomplete and essentially in an unsatisfactory state. It may be a fair surmise that some of the bank deposits came from sources other than sales but the evidence simply does not establish how much. In a case of this type, which involves an attempt by the Department of National Revenue to make a detailed reconstruction of the taxpayer's business, it is incumbent upon the taxpayer who challenges the accuracy of the Department's conclusions to do so with a reasonable degree of specificity. That was not done here. A bald assertion that the sales could not have been that high, or that some unspecified portion of the bank deposits came from other sources is insufficient. I am left with the vague suspicion that the chances are that the sales figures computed by the Minister may be somewhat high, but within a range of indeterminate magnitude. This is simply not good enough to justify the allowing of the appeal. If I sent the matter back for reconsideration and reassessment the same evidentiary impasse would result. I must therefore conclude that the appellant has failed to meet the onus of showing that the assessment is wrong.

 

 

12 Precisely the same problem arises [with the challenge to the Minister’s GST assessment]. There may well be errors in the Minister's calculations, but given the unsatisfactory state of the appellant's records it is difficult to see how he could have made a different determination and while I may not be bound to apply the same rather rigid criteria evidently demanded by the Minister there is no evidence upon which I can arrive at a different figure.

[6] The former Chief Justice ultimately concluded that given the lack of books and records, the auditor acted on the best evidence he could find. The sole distinction between the case above and the Appellant’s situation is that I am unable to find any fault with the assessing officials. A review of the schedules in the Replies and Tab 7 of the Respondent’s Book of Documents[1] suggests that the officials thoroughly reviewed whatever documentation was made available to them and where supported, allowed adjustments in the Appellant’s favour. After that point, however, the same sort of evidentiary deficiencies that hindered the Appellant’s case at the hearing precluded any further revisions to the reassessments.

[7] In short, there is simply is not enough evidence before me to justify interfering with the Minister’s reassessments. In reaching this conclusion, I have some sympathy for the Appellant who seems to have put her faith in advisors who have not served her particularly well. On the other hand, the Appellant struck me as an intelligent young woman quite capable of foreseeing the risks of engaging in a business for two years without maintaining at least basic records with some accuracy and regularity.

The morale of this case is that the organized taxpayer has information that can be provided to the judge.  The judge needs evidence to overturn the decision of the Canada Revenue Agency.  Judges want to be fair.  Help judges help you.

Resignation As Director May Not Be Enough To Avoid Director's Liability

The May 3, 2011 Tax Court of Canada decision in Snively v. The Queen should serve as a helpful reminder to directors of corporations that they may still be considered to be a director of a corporation for GST/HST assessment purposes even after they have resigned as a director.

The general rule for director's liability is contained in subsection 323(1) of the Excise Tax Act:

If a corporation fails to remit an amount of net tax as required under subsection 228(2) or (2.3) or to pay an amount as required under section 230.1 that was paid to, or was applied to the liability of, the corporation as a net tax refund, the directors of the corporation at the time the corporation was required to remit or pay, as the case may be, the amount are jointly and severally, or solitarily, liable, together with the corporation, to pay the amount and any interest on, or penalties relating to, the amount.

An exception to the general rule is set out in subsection 323(5) of the Excise Tax Act with the effect that a director is not liable for the GST/HST debts of the corporation if the person ceased to be a director more than 2 years ago:

An assessment under subsection (4) of any amount payable by a person who is a director of a corporation shall not be made more than two years after the person last ceased to be a director of the corporation.

There is an exception to the exception to the general rule which results in the director remaining liable for the GST/HST debts of the corporation regardless of the 2 year limitation period.  Under corporate laws, the person (individual) may be deemed to be director even if the person has submitted a formal resignation. If the corporation was incorporated pursuant to the Business Corporations Act (Ontario), subsection 115(4) would apply.  Subsection 115(4) of the Business Corporations Act (Ontario) provides:

Where all of the directors have resigned or have been removed by the shareholders without replacement, any person who manages or supervises the management of the business and affairs of the corporation shall be deemed to be a director for the purposes of this Act.

The corporations laws of other provinces of Canada may contain similar provisions.

Judge Paris of the Tax Court of Canada makes the point in Snively that the Excise Tax Act does not provide a complete answer to the question of director's liability:

It is well established that, since “director” is not a defined term in the ETA, it is appropriate to look to a corporation’s incorporating legislation for determining whether a person was a director of a corporation at a particular time for the purposes of section 323. ...

Continue Reading...

OECD Seeks Comments on "OECD International VAT/GST Guidelines: Draft Guidelines on Neutrality"

In December 2010, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) released for comment a document entitled "OECD International VAT/GST Guidelines: Draft Guidelines on Neutrality".  The deadline for filing comments is March 22, 2011.

Canada is a member of the OECD.  Canada imposes the goods and services tax (GST) and harmonized sales tax (HST), which are value-added taxes.  As a result, the OECD guideline may be incorporated into Canadian law in the future.  As a result, it will be important for Canadian businesses who operate multi-nationally and may be affected by the guideline to prepare thoughtful comments.

This document succinctly summarizes some of the important principles behind GST/HST style taxes and, therefore, may be VERY useful to litigants in explaining why an auditor's approach is incorrect.  I have considered its usefulness in the context of may GST/HST disputes. 

For example, proposed guideline No. 1 is "The burden of value added taxes themselves should not lie on taxable businesses except where explicitly provided for in legislation."  This is a basic principle and I can hear you saying "YES".  I can hear you saying "Why did the auditor assess me as a supplier when I am engaged in a taxable business?"

Read this document!

Would You Like the HST Map to Right?

Of course you would.  The "HST Map" to getting to "Right" is exactly what you want.  What should you do to get the right result every time?  What should you do to collect the right amount of HST every time you make a supply?  What should you do to calculate the right amount of input tax credits and recaptured input tax credits every time you file a GST/HST return?  What should you do to recover the maximum amount of credits, refunds & rebates allowed?  What should you do so that the Canada Revenue Agency says you are in the "Right" place when they complete any audit?

Unfortunately, these maps do not exist on supermarket shelves - but they can be generated or customized on a business-by-business basis by commodity tax lawyers and accountants.  Where "Right" is for you depends upon the facts and where you want to go.  Just as there are many cities and towns with the same name, there are many different "Right" destinations on an HST map.  If you do not know where is "Right", how are you going to determine the path to take to get there? How can you be sure you are taking the correct route to "Right"?  If you follow the directions someone else uses to get to "Right" you may be at the wrong "Right".

Once you can identify the destination of "Right", then a customized map can show you how to get there.  The customized map will set out the process that you must follow to get to your chosen "Right" destination.  The directions are a critical part of the map to "Right".

The HST map may take the form of a memorandum or opinion letter.  Sometimes the process involves seeking additional directions, which would be in the form of an advance GST/HST ruling from the Canada Revenue Agency.

It is possible to hire a commodity tax lawyer or accountant to prepare a customized HST map if you would like to get to "Right" and stay there.  These maps do exist - believe it or not.  Would you like one?

I should add one closing note that the Department of Finance may move "Right" on you when you are not looking.  Just like with the television show "Lost", you may find that you are no longer where you thought you were/should be.  Maybe the producers were thinking about the tax authorities when they came up with the plot for "Lost" --- hmmmm

Do You Really Want to Have an HST Map to Right?

Yesterday I had a discussion with a friend who was deciding on whether to write to the Canada Revenue Agency, GST/HST Rulings Directorate for a GST/HST ruling on an issue.  The discussion started that the client had followed advice given years ago that its supply was exempt.  The client had not collected GST for a number of years.  With the implementation of harmonized sales tax, the cost of being wrong has increased from 5% to 13% (in Ontario).  The client contacted my friend to revisit the issue.  The client does not want to be assessed - this is understandable.

The problem with writing in for an advance GST/HST ruling is that the CRA may not give the desired answer.  The CRA may disagree with the original analysis.  The CRA may see things differently.  The CRA may have given other rulings that are inconsistent with the ruling requested.  What if the CRA determines that the supply is taxable now, was previously taxable, and that the exemption did not apply to past supplies? What if the CRA determines that they were not in the "Right" place? There is a risk.

When there is a risk that the CRA will not give the ruling requested, the affected party (i.e., the client) must answer the question "Do you want to get to "Right"?  If the client wants the "Right' answer and to know where is "Right", the client should obtain an advance GST/HST ruling (which is binding) or an interpretation (which is not binding).  If the clients wants to continue to treat its supplies as exempt, then the client does not want to be at "Right".  If the client plans to ignore the ruling if it does not reaffirm what they want to do/are doing, the client does not want to be at "Right" and would increase its risk by applying for an advance GST/HST ruling.

It is important to determine whether the client (or you) want to have the "Right" answer or merely the answer the client (you) want.  They are not necessarily the same thing.

If the client (you) want to get to "Right", it is possible to prepare a customized map.  If the client(you) are not sure whether you really want to get to "Right", more thought is required on whether you do not care if you stay at 'Lost".

What Can I Do To Motivate You To Make Positive Steps Towards Better GST/HST Compliance

I would like to offer you words of encouragement to make positive improvements towards better goods and services tax (GST), harmonized sales tax (HST) and other sales and local taxes (SALT) compliance.  I would like to motivate you to make your working lives easier if you are blessed with the task of GST/HST/SALT recording and reporting.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) motivates us to act by fear of negative events, such as an audit and/or assessment.  The CRA motivates compliance by threat of penalties and interest assessments.  They are not wrong in approaching GST/HST in this manner as it is a self-reporting system --- follow the rules of suffer negative consequences.  Many businesses are motivated by money and fear and this system works for some. However, it does not work for many. 

Almost all businesses have just completed the task of filing a GST/HST return.  Annual filers filed their first GST/HST by today's deadline.  Quarterly filers have filed their second GST/HST return (for Q4 2010) by today's deadline.  Monthly filers filed their December 2010 GST/HST return by today's deadline. 

How many of you have spent hours of frustration in performing the calculations and rechecking documentation and numbers in order to file the GST/HST return?  How many of you could not verify whether you were to remit GST at 5% or HST at 13% or 12% or 15%?  How many of you had to self-assess GST/HST and were unsure what to do?  How many of you needed to complete documentation for a refund/rebate and were not sure what to do?  How many of you could not trace your point of sale rebates, your exempt sales and your zero-rated sales (sales when you did not charge GST/HST)?  How many of you walked away from the task wanting to scream at assistants and others within your organization?  How many called someone in your organization and "idiot" or other unpleasant name (if you did, go apologize).

Would you like this task to be easier for the next reporting period?  Are there answers you need in order to perform the task better next month or quarter or year? Is there training that you or your employees need? Would you like to take better control over this reporting process?

If you want to make the tasks related to GST/HST reporting easier, you can. Take the negative experience and make a list of why it was a negative experience to file your GST/HST return.  Write down what worked and what did not.  GST/HST compliance will improve if you fix the things you listed as not working properly. 

Did you have difficulties making sure you claimed 100% of you input tax credits? Fix it.

Did you have difficulties making sure you recaptured input tax credits where required? Fix it. 

Did you have difficulty reconciling various reports? Fix it. 

Were you lacking information that you needed to make decisions? Fix it.

Do you need help to fix it? Find people who understand GST/HST to help you. They do exist.

You can do this.  You can improve your job. You can spend more time with family and friends during GST/HST reporting time. You can be the force of positive change and others will be grateful. what are you waiting for --- another SALT return?

If GST/HST Registrant Buys Real Property, The Registrant Should Not Pay GST/HST to Vendor

I was recently called by a person who purchased a hotel property from a vendor.  The buyer paid GST/HST to the vendor.  The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has denied the input tax credit on the basis that GST/HST was not payable and, therefore, the GST/HST was paid in error.  The CRA has said that since the error was not discovered until after 2 years after the payment, they will not give a refund of tax paid in error.  This real property is used in commercial activities and the Government of Canada gets its GST/HST on accommodations, food sales, etc.

Here is the starting point of the analysis - Subsection 221(1) of the Excise Tax Act provides that every person who makes a taxable supply in Canada must collect GST/HST payable by the recipient in respect of the supply. BUT, paragraph 221(2) of the Excise Tax Act sets out important relief:

"A supplier (other than a prescribed supplier) who makes a taxable supply of real property by way of sale is not required to collect tax under Division II payable by the recipient in respect of the supply where ...  (b) the recipient is registered [for GST/HST purposes] and, in the case of a recipient who is an individual, the property is neither a residential complex nor supplied as a cemetery plot or place of burial, entombment or deposit of human remains or ashes."

What means that the supplier is not required to collect GST/HST when the buyer is registered for GST/HST purposes and purchases certain real property.

This blog post to is intended to help buyers not get themselves into the same mess.

The problem faced by this person should be fixed.  Since solutions are unique, you will have to continue to read The HST Blog to learn how.  When I hear of unfairness like this, I am inspired to help.

If You Are Assessed Customs Duties, Remember to Claim ITCs For Assessed GST

I see a lot of determinations by the Canada Border Services Agency (let's just call them assessments) relating to Harmonized System (H.S.) tariff classifications and valuations relating to imported goods.  When the CBSA decides you used the wrong H.S. tariff classification number and, therefore, the applicable duty rate is actually higher than the duty rate used at the time of importation, the CBSA assesses GST on the new customs duty included value for duty.  Similarly, if the CBSA disagrees with the valuation method that you used such that the value for duty was too low, the CBSA will assess GST on the new customs duty included value for duty. This often means that the GST portion of the assessment is equal to or greater than the customs assessment.

In many cases, importers do not realize that they are paying GST (instead of customs duties).  Some do not review the details.  Some just pay the bill of a customs broker without even receiving the CBSA documentation. In some cases, the documentation goes to the purchasing department and never gets to the person in charge of GST.

I have seen many cases where the importer of record does not claim input tax credits (ITCs) to recover the GST paid to the CBSA in respect of the imported goods.  If the importer of record in a business, they may be entitled to claim ITCs. If the goods are imported by a consumer, they are not entitled to recover the additional GST/HST paid to the CBSA.

Anyone who has been assessed by the CBSA in the past few years should determine whether they have claimed their ITCs.  I would be happy to help you determine what you are entitled to claim as an ITC.

Did You Know That McGuinty Changed The Tax Status of Fire Trucks With HST Implementation

On July 1, 2010, fire trucks became subject to HST in Ontario.  Previously fire trucks were not subject to Ontario retail sales tax (ORST).  Paragraph 7(1)23 of the Retail Sales Tax Act (Ontario) exempted "fire fighting vehicles, as defined by the Minister, when purchased at a price of more than $1000 per vehicle for the exclusive use of a municipality, university, public hospital, local services board or volunteer group, and repairs for such vehicles."  As a result, the tax rate increased by 8%.

Many of the bodies that purchase fire trucks are engaged in exempt activities.  This means that they do not recover the 8% HST/PVAT by way of an input tax credit.  many of the bodies that purchase fire trucks are entitled to a partial MUSH sector rebate.  However, none get 100% of the HST/PVAT back.  This means fire trucks are more expensive due to unrecoverable HST.

With provincial/municipal/university/hospital and other budgets so constrained, I sincerely hope that McGuinty's decision to collect more tax on fire trucks does not cost any Ontarian their life.

By the way, I disagree with McGuinty's decision to impose HST on fire trucks.  I support our hard working fire men & women who bravely put their lives on the line for us.  Let me know if you agree with me and let McGuinty know that you disagree with his decision.

Should Companies/Partners Undertake GST/HST Inspections Before Buying a Business?

Most people hire a home inspector to inspect a home before buying a home.  They hire home inspectors to find the problems that they cannot see so that they do not experience large unexpected expenditures after the closing date.

Should businesses (corporations and partners/joint venturers) hire a GST/HST expert to conduct a GST/HST focused review prior to the closing date so that they do not buy GST/HST problems that a Canada Revenue Agency auditor may blame on the buyer?  What I am referring to is due diligence and a private audit of GST/HST books and records.

A GST/HST inspection is prudent if the buyer is buying the shares of a corporation.  The past errors (liabilities) are acquired in a share purchase transaction.  If you find a serious problem with the GST/HST compliance, then a purchase price reduction can be discussed.  The purchase price reduction for the shares may be quantified by way of a pre-closing voluntary disclosure - but that may delay the transaction.  If you do not want to delay the closing of the transaction, an amount of the purchase price may be put in a reserve or escrow account as the voluntary disclosure proceeds.  It is not necessary to conduct a a voluntary disclosure and reserves can be maintained depending what is found in and quantified during the GST/HST inspection.

Similarly, a GST/HST inspection is prudent if the buyer is purchasing a partnership unit or joint venture interest in an existing partnership or joint venture. As discussed with corporations, the buyer would be buying the GST/HST history and the existing problems.

Even if the acquisition is an asset transaction, a GST/HST inspection is prudent.  If the buyer is making offers of employment to existing employees, they will continue to make any mistakes they had been making in their record keeping and reportings. If you would like to stop bad practices, you need to know they exist and take positive steps to teach proper practices.

GST/HST inspections are not usual - yet.  With the implementation of GST/HST in Ontario and British Columbia, the cost of mistakes increased to 13% and 12% respectively, plus additional basis points for interest and penalties.  Depending on the value of the business that is being acquired, there is more money at stake than the cost of replacing a leaky roof or old furnace.

Would you like to find MONEY in your Business?

If you would like to find money in your business, you should conduct an internal compliance verification.  You should undertake a review of your internal controls to ensure that you are recovering every cent of GST/HST that you are entitled to recover under the law. I would be surprised if you do not find something you have missed.  Treat the internal review as a treasure hunt with the same determination as a child with a treasure map, you may just find money.

Your review of your internal controls should also look for your failures to charge GST/HST appropriately and your failures to remit GST/HST collected and/or GST/HST that you must self-assess and remit from your own bank account.  It goes without saying that the same holds true for other sales taxes. This is finding money too and, it is a method to save money as the interest and penalties will cost you if a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) auditor comes to visit, conducts an audit and finds your mistakes.

I have a list of places in the books and records of a business where I look for additional amounts that have been missed by a business owner and his/her staff or bookkeeper or accountant. I will not give that list out to anyone - but I use my list that has been created from years of experience (often from helping clients through audits and assessments). 

I will share one tip today. 

Since the implementation of HST, have you taken your purchase invoices and checked to see if you have claimed all of the input tax credits (ITCs) that you can to recover GST/HST paid to your suppliers?  This is a good time to take a good sample of those invoices and check to see if the GST/HST has been recorded properly and whether your internal record keeping is working to permit full recovery.  

First, do you have all the invoices?  Are you missing some of the invoices that you remember paying?   Do you remember a good of a service that was acquired and there isn't an invoice in your sample?  If an invoice is missing, you may not have recorded the input tax credit.  Do you have methods to record GST/HST paid when there wasn't a typical invoice (e.g. pursuant to an agreement of purchase and sale or a commercial lease or a license, etc.). Do you record the GST/HST amount included in each check that yo write?  What about bank drafts, wire transfer and other forms of payment?

When you are look at your invoices, check again whether the suppliers properly invoiced you GST/HST?  Do the invoices issued between May 1, 2010 and June 30, 2010 properly record GST/HST charged during the transition period?  Does the invoice reflect the correct amount of GST/HST?  This is also a great time to analyze whether the invoices (and any other evidence relating to payments of GST/HST) meet the documentary requirements of the Excise Tax Act and regulations - inadequate documentation is the top audit issue and reason why CRA auditors reject ITC claims and issue assessments.  Have you ever inquired what information is necessary (and should be maintained) to satisfy the CRA of your entitledment to claim an input tax credit?

Second, have you recorded the amounts of input tax credits in your records? If so, are there any errors? If not, how can you claim the correct amount of an input tax credit if the amounts are not recorded?  Even if they are recorded in your books and records, have you checked to see that the process actually works so that when you press the button for a calculation, that number is correct?

If your business does not claim full input tax credits, do you claim the correct amount of rebates/refunds of GST/HST (e.g. you are engaged in exempt activities in whole or in part)?  The same two steps discussed above can be used to verify that your internal controls record the GST/HST that you are entitled to claim by way of rebate/refund.

If you find previously unrecovered GST/HST, you may be able to amend your GST/HST return for the period (depending on the reporting period in which the error occurred).   You may be able to claim the input tax credit/rebate/refund on your next GST/HST return.  You may be able to file a refund claim. I cannot tell you how you get your hands on that found money without knowing the facts.

You may undertake an internal review by yourself or you may call in a professional to maximize your recovery - you do not know what you do not know and what you have missed  A small number of lawyers and accountants who understand the GST/HST laws and administrative policies may be called to assist you with this internal controls review process.  Most sales tax lawyers and accountants charge an hourly rate for their services.  There are also sales tax consultants who conduct these types of reviews and they sometimes charge you a percentage of what they find (you split the found money).

Since I am a lawyer, I have to mention that the benefit of using a lawyer is that analysis and report is subject to solicitor-client privilege and cannot be obtained by the CRA unless that privilege has been breached.  Everything you say to a lawyer about your lack of attention to internal controls and mistakes cannot be divulged to the CRA or tax authorities.  A lawyer's files should not be obtained by the CRA if they arrive with a warrant or seizure request.  If the CRA does attempt to seize a lawyer's records, the records/files may be placed under seal and reviewed by a court before the CRA can review them (which allows the lawyer to claim privilege and a judge to decide if the claim is appropriate on a document-by-document basis).

Finally, if you conduct periodic compliance verifications of your internal controls, you may have a due diligence defence if at some future point in time you are audited.  If your review process captures most of your mistakes and you miss one or two items, that can be expected. However, if you miss a lot of your errors, there would be the same question by the auditor as to whether you took care in implementing your GST/HST systems.

Good luck searching for money.  Please let us know if you find any.

The ABCs of Harmonized Sales Tax

Harmonized sales tax ("HST") is here to stay in Ontario for 5 years due to the arrangement between Premier McGuinty and the Government of Canada.  The provincial portion of the rate (currently 8% and called PVAT to those in the know) may be altered on or after July 1, 2012.

Now for something serious and not so serious at times - the ABCs of HST:

A is for Almost Everything - HST covers almost everything;

B is for Bookkeeping - Registrants need to keep detailed records and maintain books are records that can be audited by the Canada Revenue Agency Auditors;

C is for Canada Revenue Agency - The CRA enforces the HST (both the GST and PVAT portions);

D is for Documentary Requirements - A top 10 audit issue is that registrations do not maintain adequate information to support input tax credit and refund claims;

E is for Exemptions - Exempt means that HST/GST is not charged, but the supplier is not entitled to claim input tax credits - so GST/HST is passed on in the price of the property/services;

F is for Filings - Registrants must file their GST/HST returns on time and large businesses must recapture ITCs on time and builders must report certain information in their filings or face costly penalties;

G is for Government Contracts - Suppliers to the Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia Governments must charge GST/HST (previously Ontario and BC did not pay GST or PST);

H is for HST - should have expected this one - or I could have written "Hated Sales Tax";

I is for Input Tax Credits - ITCs are good for businesses engaged in commercial activities who get to recover GST/HST on business inputs (good until they get audited and mistakes are found);

J is for Judge - If you disagree with the CRA about an assessment, file a notice of objection and notice of appeal and take the dispute to a Tax Court of Canada judge;

K is for Knowledgeable - While it is self-serving, you need to talk to a knowledgeable practitioner as the HST rules are complicated;

L is for Legislation - the Excise Tax Act needs to be updated - we have not had a good review since 1997;

M is for MUSH Sector - The MUSH (Municipalities, Universities, Schools, Hospitals) sector have a rebate scheme and difficult rules;

N is for Non-Residents - Businesses outside Ontario (e.g., in other Canadian provinces, the United States and overseas) may be required to charge, collect and remit HST and do not know or understand it;

O is for Ontario Retail Sales Tax - HST replaces ORST, but ORST is still applicable on used car sales and certain insurance premiums;

P is for Place of Supply Rules - Whether you charge HST depends in part on the application of the place of supply rules, which determine if the supply takes place in an HST province and which HST province;

Q is for Quick Method - really a misnomer because it is not quick and some people using it will have to apply special transition rules;

R is for Recaptured ITCS - Large businesses (those that make over $10 million is sales per annual alone or with affiliated entities) must pay back certain ITCs claimed relating to PVAT and must report on monthly GST/HST return;

S is for Small Suppliers - Small supplier do not have to register for GST/HST purposes;

T is for  Technology - Technology helps capture and report GST/HST information - this cannot be done manually;

U is for Unhappy Consumers - Consumers are paying more on electricity, home heating, bikes, services, etc because of HST;

V is for Voluntary Disclosures - If you make a mistake and have not been contacted by a CRA auditor, you may consider making a non-names voluntary disclosure via a practitioner so save paying a penalty;

W is for web-site - go to www.thehstblog.com for information on HST or www.cra.gc.ca;

X is for Xerox - you need to keep good records as evidence to show auditors - you need to invest in a good scanner or photocopier;

Y is for Yikes - This is what a person says when they hear they will be audited for HST (probably say something else - but this is a clean web-site); and

Z is for Zero-rated - If property or services are zero-rated, you pay GST/HST at a rate of 0% and the supplier gets an input tax credit (therefore, health care and educational services should be zero-rated instead of exempt).

Canada Revenue Agency Issues Ruling that ITCs Available If Retailer's Goods Stolen

On April 28, 2010, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) issued Headquarter Letter (Ruling) No: 120360 in which it ruled that the taxpayer should be entitled to claim an input tax credit (ITC) for the amount of goods and services tax (GST) (can substitute HST here too) paid on the purchase of the goods for resale that were subsequently stolen from the taxpayer's store.  The taxpayer would be required to meet the other ITC documentary requirements.

In this case, the taxpayer filed a claim for recovery against its insurance and the insurance company denied that portion of the claim that was GST because the insured taxpayer could recover those amounts by other means.  This did not bother the CRA.

This is a fair ruling in the circumstances. 

Other taxpayers should rely on CRA rulings at their own risk as their factual circumstances may be different.  A taxpayer should seek a binding ruling from the CRA if they wish certainty.

MUSH Sector Rebates

This Post is out-of-date

A registrant/non-registrant for GST/HST purposes which makes exempt supplies will not be entitled to claim input tax credits (unless the entity also makes taxable supplies). Some entities are not entitled to claim any rebates of the GST/HST paid on business inputs.  The MUSH sector may or may not be entitled to claim a rebate depending on the province in which the entity is located.

I have promised to share my MUSH sector rebate chart.

MUSH Sector Entities GST Portion  Rebate HST Portion Rebate - Ontario HST Portion Rebate - BC HST Portion Rebate - NS HST Portion Rebate - NB HST Portion Rebate - Nfld
Municipalities 100% 78% 75% 57.14% 57.14% No rebate
Hospitals 83% 87% 58% 83% No rebate No rebate
School Authorities 68% 93% 87% 68% No rebate No rebate
Universities & Colleges 67% 78% 75% 67% No rebate No rebate
Charities 50% 82% 57% 50% 50% 50%
Qualifying Not-for-Profits 50% 82% 57% 50% 50% 50%

This chart highlights many important problems for the MUSH sector. 

1. The lack of significant rebates for hospitals in British Columbia, Newfoundland/Labrador and New Brunswick will put a strain on provincial budgets due to the unrecoverable health care costs.

2. The lack of significant rebates for school authorities and universities and colleges in Newfoundland/Labrador and New Brunswick will put a strain on provincial budgets due to the unrecoverable education costs.

3. Nova Scotia was able to relieve some of its budget pressures when it signed a CITCA.

4. For Ontario, the effective unrecoverable GST/HST rates (what the entity will not be able to recover by way of a rebate) in respect of purchases for use in exempt activities are:

MUSH Sector Entity Effective GST/HST Rate after Rebate
Municipalities 1.76%
Hospitals 1.89%
School Authorities 2.16%
Universities and Colleges 3.41%
Charities 3.94%
Qualifying Not-For-Profits 3.94%

4. For British Columbia, the effective unrecoverable GST/HST rates (what the entity will not be able to recover by way of a rebate) in respect of purchases for use in exempt activities are:

MUSH Sector Entity Effective GST/HST Rate after Rebate
Municipalities 1.75%
Hospitals 3.79%
School Authorities 2.51%
Universities and Colleges 3.40%
Charities 5.51%
Qualifying Not-For-Profits 5.51%

 

Prescribed Interest Rates for GST/HST

I was recently asked what is the difference between the rates of interest (1) payable by a tax debtor to Canada for GST/HST and (2) payable by the Government of Canada to a taxpayer when an incorrectly assessed amount of GST/HST is refunded.  There is a difference.

Period  Refund Interest Payable By Canada Arrears and Instalment Interest
2010    
July 1 - September 30

1% Corporate taxpayers

3% non-corporate taxpayers

5%
April 1 - June 30 3% 5%
January 1 - March 31 3% 5%
2009   5%
October 1 - December 31 3% 5%

The prescribed rate of interest on refunds and amounts owed to corporate taxpayers recently changed.  The Auditor General raised concerns in her Spring 2009 report about interest paid by Canada to corporations regarding overpayments.  Simply put, the interest rate payable by Canada to corporations on overpayments of tax was higher than bank interest rates and was costing the Government of Canada.

From the perspective of the taxpayer, the CRA should not be incentivized to make incorrect assessments, force payment and hold on to the taxpayer's money.  The change creates a disincentive to the CRA to settle tax disputes.

First Ontario HST Returns May Be Filed Now

This is so exciting (NOT) - It is August 2010 and this means that some businesses that are in a net refund position (that is, their input tax credits exceed their GST/HST collected) may be filing their GST/HST returns for the month of July 2010.  The businesses that would file their GST/HST returns early would most likely be monthly filers.  Some examples are builders of multi-unit residential complexes, persons who made a large purchase of equipment in July 2010 due to the recoverability of HST, exporters and exempt entities.

July 2010 has now ended (months seem to come and go so much more quickly).  Businesses will be working on their records and filing their GST/HST returns (many must now file electronically).

The first GST/HST return must include HST collected during the transition period - please do not forget.  All HST must be remitted to the Receiver General of Canada - do not send it to the ontario Ministry of Finance.

When calculating input tax credits, please include all GST/HST paid or payable before August 1, 2010.  If you are a large business, do not offset the recaptured ITCs against the ITCs collected number - it has its own line on the GST/HST return.

Input Tax Credit Reporting 101

Many businesses are conducting tests to determine whether they are recording their input tax credits properly.  In particular, they are verifying that when they pay harmonized sales tax (HST), the HST is recorded properly in their computerize records so that when they file their first GST/HST return for the reporting period that includes July 1, 2010, they include the HST paid on purchased supplies.

When a business files a GST/HST return, they should include in the input tax credit line all GST and HST paid or payable.  Even though some input tax credits of large businesses are subject to recaptured ITC rules (which will not be addressed in this post), they must claim the full amount in the ITC line and NOT undertake an offset calculation.  For the purposes of the example below, I am assuming the business is located in Ontario:

Type of Supply Value of the Supply GST Paid or Payable HST Paid of Payable  Total ITC
real property rent $10,000 $500 $800 $1,300
legal services $20,000 $1000 $1,600 $2,600
telecommunications $500 $25 $40  $65
computers  $10,000  $500 $800  $1,300
energy  $1,000  $50  $80  $130
vehicle  $50,000  $2,500  $4,000  $6,500

While there would be many other entries in a typical business, in the above example, the ITC to be claimed is $11,895.  As previously mentioned, if the business is subject to the recaptured ITC rules, that calculation does not affect the ITCs claim line and is addressed/calculated elsewhere.

A GST/HST registrant has a prescribed period of time (often 4 years) in which to claim input tax credits.

Registrant Purchasers of Real Property Should Update Certificates

The GST rules (now the HST rules) have historically allowed a supplier (seller) of taxable real property to make a supply to a recipient (purchaser) and not collect GST/HST in respect of the real property if the purchaser is registered for GST/HST purposes and provides a written certification of registration status.  The relevant sections of the Excise Tax Act are subsections 123(1), 221(2) and 228(4).

What happens in these real property transactions is that the purchaser provides the seller a certification at closing and the supplier verifies the purchasers GST/HST registration number with the Canada Revenue Agency (as a due diligence step).  If the certification is verified by the Canada Revenue Agency, the seller does not collect GST/HST from the purchaser at the time of the closing/transfer and the purchaser self-assesses GST/HST on its GST/HST return for the period in which the transaction took place.  On the GST/HST return, the purchaser indicates the amount of GST/HST he/she/it is self-assessing and takes an input tax credit  on the same return to neutralize the cash flow effect. The purchaser also files a GST Form 60 with its GST/HST return.

These certifications are not a prescribed form (that is the CRA has not developed a form to complete) and many lawyers and real property businesses have developed a precedent that they use.  These precedent certifications need to be updated to account for HST.

I would recommend that the new certifications include the following information:

  1. The Recipient's (buyer's) correct legal name;
  2. The Recipient's GST/HST number;
  3. The Recipient's reporting period (not necessary, but helpful to diarize self-assessment deadline);
  4. The Recipient's mailing address in the Canada Revenue Agency's records (I have needed this in the past to verify items 1 and 2);
  5. The municipal address of the real property (in order to make HST place of supply determination at the time f the self assessment)
  6. The transfer value of the real property; and
  7. The rate of HST applicable (based on 5 and 6).

The Registrant Real Property Certification should make reference to both GST and HST on a going forward basis so as not to confuse the auditor who wants to raise a big assessment against the parties.

We have prepared such precedent certificates for transactions and will be willing to sell a precedent for a flat rate of $100 (the cost of which can be recoverable).

HST and Actors/Actresses - Will HST Cause Actors/Actresses to Avoid Canada?

More actors and actresses are concerned that Ontario's and British Columbia's decisions to implement harmonized sales tax (HST) will affect them --- and they should be concerned.  If they do not consider the issue of HST, the cost may be 13% of the contract in Ontario or 12% in British Columbia.  Since an actor/actress may make millions of dollars filming a movie in Canada, we are not talking about small numbers.

Subsection 143(1) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) provides that:

For the purposes of this Part, a supply of personal property or a service made in Canada by a non-resident person shall be deemed to be made outside Canada, unless
(a) the supply is made in the course of a business carried on in Canada;
(b) at the time the supply is made, the person is registered under Subdivision d of Division V; or
(c) the supply is the supply of an admission in respect of a place of amusement, a seminar, an activity or an event where the non-resident person did not acquire the admission from another person.

If this provision applies, then an actor/actress would not have to register for GST/HST purposes and would not have to charge collect and remit GST/HST on their services performed in Canada.

On the other hand, subsection 240(1) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) is the provision relating to registration and provides that:

"Every person who makes a taxable supply in Canada in the course of a commercial activity engaged in by the person in Canada is required to be registered for the purposes of this Part, except where
(a) the person is a small supplier;
(b) the only commercial activity of the person is the making of supplies of real property by way of sale otherwise than in the course of a business; or
(c) the person is a non-resident person who does not carry on any business in Canada."

If a person must register for GST/HST purposes, they must charge, collect and remit GST/HST (if applicable) in respect of services performed in Canada (and a participating province).

Assuming that the actor/actress is a non-resident of Canada, the key question is whether they are "carrying on business" in Canada.  There is no definition of "carrying on business in Canada" in the Excise Tax Act.  As a result, whether a particular actor/actress is carrying on business in Canada will depend on the specific facts.  There are many factors specific to the work/life of the actor/actress, their background and their activities in a year that may cause the Canada Revenue Agency (Canada's IRS) (the "CRA) to conclude he/she is carrying on business in Canada as opposed to carrying on business outside Canada and visiting Canada (briefly) in connection with that outside business.

The CRA has issued a policy statement concerning the factors they consider when determining whether a person is carrying on business in Canada --- but none of the examples relates to actors/actresses. Policy Statement P-051R "Carrying on Business in Canada" was last updated in 2005.

It is important to note that getting GST/HST correct may mean that the actor/actress (or their production company) would charge GST/HST on the portion of their services performed in Canada and the payor would recover that GST/HST by way of an input tax credit.  If they do not ask the question, it may result in auditors, assessments and a bad & costly experience.

It is important to note that the GST/HST test is not connected to a permanent establishment in Canada like the Canada-United States Income Tax Treaty. In other words, an individual may not have to pay Canadian income tax and may be entitled to register for GST/HST purposes and charge GST/HST on a contract for services.

Canadian commodity tax lawyers can help apply the CRA's "carrying on business" test and provide opinions that are subject to solicitor-client privilege.

Many Government Purchasing Departments Are Reopening Contracts and Seeking Price Reductions

This past week, I have seen a dozen or so requests made by municipal and Ontario government departments writing to their suppliers and seeking price reductions relating to existing contracts on the basis that savings related to embedded Ontario retail sales tax (ORST) must be passed on to the buyer (government department).  Most of the requests that I have seen suggest that the basis for the request is contained in the harmonized sales tax (HST) laws.

The truth is that the HST laws do not require that suppliers reopen contacts for renegotiation and pass on any savings to the purchasing government department.  The question is whether there is a provision in the contract that requires that any savings relating to tax reform be passed on to the purchasing government department.  So far, I have not seen any contract containing such a provision --- but, some may exist.

The practical reality is that if a supplier to a government purchaser does not make adjustments or open the kimono so to speak and engage in a discussion), then the government purchasing department may not renew a contract or may treat the supplier negatively in the future in a procurement situation.  As a result, even though the contract does not require price adjustments, suppliers may choose to make adjustments in order to keep the customer happy.

I will give you an example that may seem odd to a sales tax lawyer/accountant without full facts.  In one matter, a client provided a photocopier and toner to the government purchaser.  The cost of the photocopier was already a sunk cost.  However, the purchasing government department said they expected a price reduction because the supplier bought toner and the ORST cost of the toner was within the contract pricing.  As a result of HST, the supplier would no longer pay ORST on the toner and would recover the HST on the toner by way of an input tax credit.  The government department wanted a price adjustment to remove the ORST on the toner that would have been considered by the supplier in its initial pricing under the contract. The small price adjustment made sense to keep the purchasing manager happy.

With three of the matters I reviewed this week, due to the nature of the contract, there was no ORST savings to pass on to the government department.  That being said, the purchasing manager needed to be convinced and the client needed to provide detailed information about its pricing in order to prove to the purchasing manager that this was the case.  The dilemma was that in proving that there was no ORST cost embedded in the pricing, the government department needed to be provided with information that could be used in the future to negotiate price reductions.  in other words, the supplier needed to show too much of its internal information and supplier information.

Two clients priced their contract years ago so that some aspects of the contract were loss leaders and some aspects of the contract resulted in a profit.  The contracts as a whole resulted in a profit to the supplier.  In this exercise, the purchasing government department attempted to reduce the profit margins on the profitable aspects of the contract in order to achieve overall savings (to the detriment of the suppliers' bottom lines).

In all cases, the purchasing manager made it clear that he/she expected price adjustments and would communicate internally if no price adjustments were made.  Pressure was exerted and suppliers to the government were discouraged from maintaining the status quo and not "throwing the government a bone".

One reason for the pressure on the government side is that the Ontario government will start to pay HST on goods and services that were not subject to GST and/or ORST in the past.  Municipal governments do not receive all of the Ontario HST component back by way of a rebate (previously and under HST, 100% of the GST payable was refundable).

I would be pleased to discuss these issue that I am seeing with anyone in this situation.

Have You Picked "The Chosen One" in Accounts Payable?

One risk-management step that is often over-looked in a time of sales tax reform is selecting "The Chosen One" in accounts payable who is tasked with reviewing all incoming invoices to ensure that suppliers are properly charging sales taxes. 

When auditors arrive with their spreadsheets in hand, they conduct a (1) purchase side audit and (2) a sales side audit. During the purchase side audit, the auditor reviews a sample of incoming invoices to ensure that the business under audit has paid the right amount of sales tax on its business inputs.  Where a supplier to the business does not charge retail sales tax (ORST) or goods and services tax (GST), the auditor will assess the purchaser business - as it is allowed to do under the law.

Businesses can control this assessment risk by assigning the task of reviewing incoming invoices to a trained person - "The Chosen One".  This accounts payable employee will review each incoming invoice and either seek corrections from the supplier or make arrangements to self-assess the tax that is applicable, but not charged.

With the start of harmonized sales tax (HST) in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, this is a perfect time to ensure that someone is actively reviewing incoming invoices.  First, you will want to make sure that suppliers are no longer charging ORST on invoices for goods and services provided after June 30, 2010.  If a supplier still shows ORST or PST (provincial sales tax) or RST (retail sales tax) as being charged on the invoice, you will want to follow-up and ask for a revised invoice.  It must be clear that ORST/PST/RST is not being charged.  It may be that HST is being charged, but it must be clear so that an auditor is not confused.

On that point, HST is supposed to be a single combined tax.  The vendor is not supposed to separate the charges into GST and HST on the invoice (except where the supplies are subject to the recaptured ITC rules).  As a result, in Ontario, the invoice should identify 13% HST and no 5% GST and 8% HST separately.

In addition, "The Chosen One" should review incoming invoices to ensure that HST is being charged where applicable.  As a result , you will need to determine when you must pay HST (not just when you must charge HST).  You will have to understand the HST place of supply rules as they apply to purchases.

Businesses outside the HST Zone will also have to have "The Chosen One" selected and briefed on the HST place of supply rules.  You should expect to see some invoices arriving from the HST Zone that will automatically charge HST at the applicable provincial rate of the supplier because that will be the safe default position.  Communication will be important after the implementation of HST to correct these types of errors.  When in doubt regarding the application of HST, the purchaser may obtain an advance ruling from the GST/HST Directorate of the Canada Border Services Agency.

Finally, non-residents of Canada that purchase goods/property and/or services from Canadian businesses also need to have "The Chosen One".  Many Canadian businesses have adjusted their billing systems with the implementation of HST.  There will be situations where previously zero-rated supplies (GST charged at 0%) will default in the computer systems to 12%, 13% or 15% HST depending on the location of the supplier.  A quick call to the supplier to notify them of the change would be in order so that the computer errors can be corrected.

Continue Reading...

The Toronto Post-G20 Clean Up and HST

As many businesses in Ontario know, there was damage in downtown Toronto that resulted from the actions of a few protesters during the week-end of July 26-27.  Here are a few tips about the pre- and post- harmonized sales tax (HST) world.

  • If a window is purchased in the pre-HST period at a retailer of glass, then goods and services tax (GST) and Ontario retail sales tax (ORST) will apply.
  • If a window is purchased on an installed basis during the pre-HST period, GST will apply, but ORST will not apply.  ORST will be incorporated into the cost of the installed window as it will be a cost of the supplier of the installed window.
  • If a window is purchased pre-HST or installed pre-HST, then the ORST cost (whether paid to the retailer or indirectly to the installer), the ORST is not recoverable.
  • If the window is purchased or installed post-HST (on or after July 1, 2010), then GST and HST would apply.
  • If a clean-up crew is hired to remove painted slogans in the pre-HST period, GST would apply, but ORST will not apply.
  • If a clean-up crew is hired to remove painted slogans in the post-HST period, GST and HST will  apply.
  • If the retailer is a store and engaged in commercial activities, they would be entitled to claim a full input tax credit to recover any GST/HST.
  • If the business is a bank, it is unlikely that the bank may claim an input tax credit and recover GST/HST paid to repair the damage.
  • If an insurance company enters into the contract with the window installer, it is unlikely that the insurance company will be entitled to recover the GST/HST because the sale of insurance policies is an exempt financial service. [Note: have the business buy the window and claim the in input tax credit]
  • If the Ontario provincial police buy a new car pre-HST, GST may not apply if the OPP are on the list of Ontario government departments (the federal government cannot charge tax of the provincial government).
  • If the Ontario provincial police buy a new police car post-HST, they must pay GST and HST.  The current rules do not provide rebates for provincial government departments.
  • If the Toronto police buy a new car pre-HST, they must pay GST and ORST, but would get a 100% rebate of the GST portion (not the ORST portion).
  • If the Toronto police buy a new car post-HST, they must pay GST and HST and will be entitled to claim the municipal PSB rebate to recover a large portion (not all) of the GST/HST paid.

I do not intend to suggest that businesses should wait. I am merely highlighting the different results caused by the tax reform.

Service Providers That Make Presentations May Have to Rethink Venue

There are many types of service providers who make presentations to audiences.  Sometimes the audience is the public (e.g., business people who want to learn how to benefit from Facebook). Sometimes the audience is employees a a particular company (e.g., a law firm brings in a marketing guru t talk about business and sales plans, a nursing home operator brings in service providers to lecture bout ways to improve delivery of services, a bank brings in a security expert to talk to employees in a lecture hall, etc.).

The general HST place of supply rules may not apply to these types of transactions.  There is a special HST place of supply rule for services in connection with a location specific event. 

Section 28 of the New Harmonized Value-added Tax System Regulations provides:

"A supply of a service in relation to a performance, athletic or competitive event, festival, ceremony, conference, or similar event is made  in a province if the service is to be performed primarily at the location of the event in the province."

This means that if a service provider makes supplies of such services, they would charge HST at the rate of 13% if the event is held in Ontario (assuming the  50%"primarily" test is satisfied). if a service provider makes supplies of such services, they would charge HST at the rate of 12% if the event is held in British Columbia (assuming the  50%"primarily" test is satisfied). Similarly, if a service provider makes supplies of such services, they would not charge HST (but would charge GST) if the event is held in Alberta, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba or PEI.

The "primarily" test would be most often applicable if the person providing the service is from a different province than the province in which the event occurs.  If an Alberta-based marketing guru gives a presentation in Ontario, it is possible that HST would not apply to his/her speakers fee.  Based on my own experience giving presentations, it takes a significant amount of time to prepare the presentation and a short amount of time to deliver a presentation.  Based on my experience, out-of-HST province service providers may be able to demonstrate that HST is not applicable on a case-by-case basis.  that being said, if a service provider does not charge HST in relation to services provided in an HST province, they should maintain documentation regarding that decision.

I will predict that border cities (that is, cities on the border between an HST province and a non-HST province) will see a decrease in conferences.  Many conferences previously held in places like Ottawa will move to alternatives, such as Gatineau, Quebec.

Finally, MUSH sector and exempt businesses will consider venues for corporate events and internal training.  if an entity cannot claim full input tax credits and recover HST, if may be less expensive to hold events outside HST provinces.  That being said, the travel costs and costs associated with being away from the office might outweigh the HST costs.  That being said, if Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas offers great deals, we may see more winter/spring events outside HST provinces.  That being said, the Canada Revenue Agency might take a close look at taxable employee benefits.

HST Means No More ORST Purchase Exemption Certificates

I received the following question today:

I am a furniture manufacturer who works with interior designers.  When I invoice, if an item is being re-sold by the designer then I do not invoice the Ontario retail sales tax (ORST).  The designer will invoice ORST directly to the client. How will this change with the HST?  Will my clients be exempt if they are re-selling an item?   Also, when I purchase materials for manufacture many items such as wood, screws glue etc are PST exempt when I purchase them and get added into the cost once sold to the customer?  How will the HST deal with this?

The answer is that the furniture manufacturer will be required to charge HST when he/she sells to the interior designer.  The interior designer is no longer entitled to provide an ORST purchase exemption certificate to be exempted from payment of sales tax.  The interior designer will pay the GST/HST and claim an input tax credit (if he/she is registered for GST/HST purposes.  The interior designer will charge the final consumer GST/HST.

In addition, the furniture manufacturer will no longer purchase his/her inputs using an ORST purchase exemption certificate.  In other words, the furniture manufacturer must pay GST/HST on all materials and components used in the manufacture of the furniture.  The furniture manufacturer would be entitled to claim an input tax credit if he/she is registered for GST/HST purposes.

This will result in cost flow issues for both the manufacturer and the interior designer (the two businesses in the example).  The businesses will have to fund the GST/HST portion when paying invoices and will be able to claim input tax credits (and offset GST/HST collected) on their GST/HST returns for the period during which the supply occurred.  I am told that some businesses may need to increase their lines of credit in order to fund the HST component that was previously ORST exempt by virtue of the purchase exemption certificate.

To be clear, on July 1, 2010, purchase exemption certificates will be invalid for purchases after July 1, 2010.  The days of the sales tax relief will over gone for good.  The Canada Revenue Agency auditors will be auditing the entire supply chain to make sure that GST/HST was paid at each step in the supply chain.

June Transactions May Limit Unrecoverable Sales Taxes

June 2010 may see an increase in last minute reorganizations by MUSH sector entities wishing to minimize unrecoverable harmonized sales tax (HST).  Here is a real life example with numbers. 

Example: A hospital needs to undertake a reorganization in order to remove unrecoverable HST in the current structure (the corporate structure has employees in one entity and that entity provides the services of the employees of that entity to other separate legal entities in the corporate structure, which results in GST being payable on the inter-company payments).

Let's say that the inter-company services of workers fees is $1,000,000 per year.  For the annual period July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010, the GST payment would have been $50,000 and the hospital authority would have recovered 87% (or $43,500) by way of a MUSH sector rebate.  The unrecoverable GST would have been $6,500.

For the period July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011, the same $1,000,000 inter-company fee for services would result in $50,000 in GST and $80,000 in HST (Ontario).  The MUSH sector rebate would be $43,500 of the GST portion and $66,400 of the HST portion (for Ontario) (and in BC it would be $70,000 in HST and a MUSH sector rebate of $40,600).  As a result, the unrecoverable combined GST/HST would be $20,100 (6,500 + $13,600).

The additional $13,600 will add up over time.  As a result, a reorganization is necessary based on this HST analysis and other considerations. 

When should the reorganization occur?  Let's assume that the fair market value of the assets involved in the reorganization is $10,000,000.  If the transaction is completed before July 1, 2010, the hospital entities in the structure would save $136,000 in unrecoverable HST.  Since the structure involves a number of charities, the unrecoverable HST is actually higher because the MUSH sector rebate for charities is 82%.  If you do the math, it makes sense to complete reorganizations before July 1, 2010.

As a result, it would be prudent for MUSH sector entities (which cannot recover GST/HST by way of input tax credits) to consider whether they should reorganize their structure in order not to "bleed" money after HST.  MUSH sector entities need all the money in their cash flow.

My Latest HST (and Customs Duties) Presentation

Here is a copy of my latest PowerPoint presentation that I delivered on May 25, 2010 entitled "Let's Talk About HST and Customs Duties".  Yes, it is an odd combination of information.  The presentation was delivered in the context of supply chains involving Canada (Ontario in particular).  The focus was on non-income tax compliance.

Landlords Not Happy about HST and are Asking Tenants to Leave

One of the benefits of The HST Blog is that I receive information from followers and can share their real life stories about living with harmonized sales tax (HST) and the negative effects of HST.

I have received an email from a follower, B, about her mother being asked to leave a rented condominium unit by a landlord.  B has informed (and I have changed a few details to protect B [look for brackets]):

My mother has rented a condo for the last 3 1/2 years in [Ontario]. She does not have a lease but merely an agreement with the landlord to pay monthly [rent]. The landlord showed up for the rent check on Sat May 1, 2010. At that time he informed her that [the landlord's] family would be moving into the condo and he gave her a brief letter and he signed it. He gave her 2 months notice that she has to be out by (coincidentally) June 30, 2010.

I have heard that landlords can only increase rent by a certain percent (2.1% ?) but this is how some landlords can get around that. I started looking for some rentals in [Ontario] online as soon as my mother informed me about this [meeting with her landlord]. I did phone one person that was advertising a sublease for 3 months for $1100.00 per month. He informed me that after the sublease the rent was being increased to $1270.00 per month.

What this real life story tells us is that HST is affecting the decisions of landlords and negatively impacting tenants (already).  Rentals of residential real property are not subject to Ontario retail sales tax (ORST) or British Columbia social services tax (BCSST). Rentals of residential real property are exempt for goods and services tax (GST)/HST purposes. This means that landlords are not entitled to claim input tax credits and cannot recover GST/HST paid on purchases.  HST (and GST) would be payable on landlord's costs such as electricity, heating fuel, landscaping, snow removal, repairs, management fees (paid to third parties), security, supply and install fixtures (carpets, paint, cabinets, etc.), etc.

As a result, if a landlord's costs of operating the property increase due to HST, then the landlord will want to pass those increased costs on to the tenants.  However, the landlords may not be able to pass on the costs to existing tenants (under the landlord-tenant laws).  Some landlords are asking the existing tenants to leave so that they may charge new tenants a higher amount of rent.  Under the law, landlords are limited in the reasons for asking a tenant to leave.  One of the acceptable reasons for asking a tenant to leave is that the landlord is moving into the residential real property unit.

What we are learning is that HST may result in homelessness of individuals as landlords ask tenants to leave.  HST is negatively affecting some seniors on fixed incomes who have been asked to leave their rented homes.  It may not be easy for individuals to find new affordable housing.  In addition, moving ones possessions requires friends/family or a moving company (which costs money).

What we might see is landlords increasing rents and tenants having to accept the higher costs (if they can afford the higher rent) even if the rent increase is contrary to the law.

These negative effects cannot be solved by a one-time cheque.

British Columbia Government Restructures Itself To Save HST Costs

The Globe and Mail newspaper is reporting in an article entitled "B.C. alters health structure to avoid $3.5 million HST bill" published on May 7, 2010 that the British Columbia is undergoing a restructuring. The B.C. Ministry of Health Services and the CEOs of the provincial health authorities have agreed to tuck the Shared Services Organization, which provides services such as computer support and bulk purchasing for the health sector, under one of the health departments / crown entities.

The reason for the reorganization is that the Shared Services Organization would otherwise be required to charge HST on supplies made to the Government of British Columbia and other provincial health entities AND cannot recover all of the HST by way of input tax credits or public service bodies rebates.  Hopefully we will get more detailed about the reorganization to learn whether the changes create exempt supplies (instead of taxable supplies) or non-taxable labour.  This will help us identify other HST savings opportunities.

The question that taxpayers should be asking is whether the Ontario Government and the B.C Government have undertaken a complete analysis of their internal operations in order to address all situations where the provincial government must pay #HST (and GST) on supplies made in the province (or to businesses in HST provinces) that is not recoverable.  We should be asking if HST is going to cause provincial budgets to balloon.  We should be asking whether those who are implementing HST recognize the cost effects associated with HST.  Proof of understanding the cost effects is the government itself taking steps to minimize the negative effects within the government spending structure.

I would guess that the Ontario Government has not asked each and every government employee and manager and Deputy Minister to go over their budgets to identify unrecoverable HST costs within Ministry, department and Crown entity budgets.  Let's wait for the NDP and Conservative opposition parties to find what the governing HST Liberals have overlooked.  I will predict a few big budget line items increasing due to unrecoverable HST.  This will be a topic for discussion and accountability into the future (after HST implementation).  I wonder if the Ontario Ombudsman is going to be busy looking at HST issues.

The other side to this story is that if the BC and Ontario governments must reorganize due to HST,: what about businesses?  Both Ontario and British Columbia have said that HST will reduce administrative costs for business.  Well, here is an example within the BC Government that shows an INCREASE in administrative costs resulting from the implementation of HST.  The reality is that HST will increase administrative costs for certain businesses (especially where amounts are paid for services and other goods and services not subject to provincial sales tax).

The tax officials' counter-argument is that businesses (like the BC Government) can reorganize to avoid increased HST administrative costs.  That is correct.  Steps may, in certain cases, be made to minimize HST costs.  However, the restructuring of business organizations will cost businesses money - legal fees, accounting fees, advisors fees, etc.  So, businesses must spend money during the worst economic recession in recent years in order to save HST in the future.  In addition, any business that reorganizes will have to ask questions whether their restructuring may be challenged by the Canada Revenue Agency using the GST/HST general anti-avoidance rule.  It may not be so simple.

HST Will Cost Municipalities

The Sudbury Star has posted an article that harmonized sales tax will cost the City of Sudbury $450,000 per year.  This will mean a budget shortfall and potentially higher municipal taxes. 

Under the federal Excise Tax Act (Canada), where a municipality makes exempt supplies (and cannot recover the amounts paid as GST as input tax credits), the municipality may claim a rebate of 100% of the GST.  So, under the GST regime, municipalities are tax neutral.  This will continue for the 5% GST portion of expenditure by municipalities.

However, under the HST, the 8% provincial component in Ontario is not fully recoverable.  There are two scenarios.  First, if the HST paid by the municipality matches with a exempt supply by the municipality, the rebate is 78% of the 8% provincial HST component.  For example, if a municipality paid $100,000 for third party snow removal services, the municipality would pay $5,000 GST (that is fully recoverable) and $8,000 OHST.  Only 82% of the $8,000 is recoverable by the municipality by way of a rebate.  The remaining 22% is an unrecoverable cost to the municipality.

Second, the municipality may be caught by the restricted input tax credit rules if the municipality sells more than $10 million in taxable supplies in a year.  I would expect that the City of Sudbury would fit into this category.  Under the restricted input tax credit rules, the OHST component of purchases of energy, certain telecommunications, certain vehicles and fuel and meals and entertainment are not recoverable for a number of years after implementation of HST.  For example, if the municipality purchases electricity that is allocable to taxable activities (e.g., the municipal skating rink, swimming pools, etc.) and the cost over a year is $1,000,000, the $80,000 in HST is unrecoverable if incurred in after July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2013.

HST also means that consumers will pay more for certain property and services acquired from the City.  The article provides the following examples:

* A one-year adult membership at Howard Armstrong Recreational Centre will jump from $218.25 to $235;

* A three-month child, youth or senior pass to city swimming pool will jump from $59.50 to $64;

* The 25-week Walk Your Way to Wellness Program for seniors will jump from $92 to $99;

* Ice rental for the Walden Oldtimers Hockey Tournament will go from $209 to $260;

* A plot in the city's Veteran's cemetery will go from $954 to $1,027;

* Adult athletic field rates will go from $57.50 per game to $62 per game. The cost of lights, if needed, will go from $17.75 an hour to $19 an hour;

* Renting the chalets at Adanac or Fielding Park for a Saturday night will jump from $174.75 to $188;

* Use of weigh scales at city landfill sites will jump from $16.25 to $17.50.
 

Continue Reading...

This Is The Time To Revisit Your 2010 Budget - HST Changes May Present Opportunities

Whenever the government announces tax reform or a tax auditor plans to conduct an audit, these events that businesses cannot control present an opportunity to revisit past planning.  For example, harmonized sales tax implementation in Ontario and British Columbia on July 1, 2010 and the change in the HST rate in Nova Scotia on July 1, 2010 should encourage proactive businesses to go over their 2010 budget plans.  Some budget items will be affected by the outside changes and, therefore, should be adjusted upwards or downwards so that the business stays within budget.

For example, hospitals, doctors offices, dentists offices, nursing homes/long term care homes, residential rental property businesses, charities, day cares, schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions, an other businesses engaged in whole or on part in exempt activities will see their costs increase and will not be able to recover 100% of the increased costs.  These are the businesses that will benefit most from the exercise of taking their 2010 Budget, adjusting for new HST costs, recalculating, and then making changes.

In addition, large businesses and large corporate groups (where the business or corporate group makes taxable and zero-rated sales in excess of $10 million per 12 month period) will be subject to the restricted input tax credit rules and, therefore will see certain costs increase by 8% without the corresponding recovery.  Where costs go up, and offsetting change may be required.

These businesses have an opportunity (I know, it does not seem like a positive event)  to review budget plans and make adjustments.  It may be that certain expenses will have to be cut.  it may be that profit margins will have to increase.  It may be that the review of commercial rent (which will be subject to HST after July 1, 2010) will cause a reconsideration of the location of the business and a better location may be identified.  It may be that cost savings opportunities may be identified (e.g.,  subscriptions are a less expensive option if paid before July 1, 2010).   It may be that new technology may be installed to control/reduce energy costs in the long term.  It may be that ORST recovery or GST/HST recovery opportunities will be identified (that the business had been overlooking).  It may be that the investigation will result in a new road map for the business to more profits.

In an unrelated matter last week (which I will use as an example), I assisted a client with a NAFTA verification.  The review of the business operations in preparation of a visit from the United States Customs and Border Protection, the client undertook the analysis of the bill of materials and the costs to produce a product.  That analysis resulted in the client identifying changes in costs due to the appreciation of the Canadian dollar and the squeezing of the profit margin.  As a result of the unwelcome verification, changes were made on the purchase side and sales side of the business.  The result will be a healthier balance sheet at the end of 2010.

Change is not fun.  Change is rarely welcome.  Usually change means more work.  The question is whether the results of the new work will be positive for the business.

Effective Communication Will Be The Key To A Successful HST Compliance Program

After a business realizes that harmonized sales tax (HST) is coming and that changes are required to systems and documentation, the business must figure out what is necessary to ensure compliance.  The government publications help, but do not give enough information to make sure that businesses know what they must do to comply.

It is not sufficient for the Ontario Ministry of Revenue to announce that HST is 13%, HST is payable and collectible where GST is payable and collectible (except if a point of sale rebate is permitted), the implementation day is July 1, 2010, there are transition rules and place of supply rules and most businesses should stop charging Ontario retail sales tax on July 1.  What is missing is effective communication on what steps businesses should take to prepare.  This trial and error approach is costly for businesses - Businesses should try to comply and government will tell them where the mistakes were made by assessing GST/HST, interest and/or penalties.

The onus (and I do not mean legal onus or burden of proof) is on suppliers (sellers/retailers) and recipients (buyers/[purchasers) to figure out the legal requirements and be perfect in their implementation of the law (to the extend it is currently passed) and administrative statements (to the extent they are written and accurately reflect the written or unwritten law) and place of supply rules (which have not been passed by way of law or promulgated by way of regulation yet).  In other words, the communication from government to businesses is insufficient to ensure compliance.

In addition, businesses must effectively communicate within the organization in order to ensure compliance.  Someone must do their best to understand the HST rules and communicate the rules within the organization so that the proper system changes are made.  If the tax department/Chief Financial Officer does not discuss HST implementation with the sales department, the sales persons might not know what is subject to HST and what is not.  The sales persons may not understand when an invoice should include HST and when HST is not payable.  The sales persons might not know that they must charge HST on sales made in May and June if delivery occurs after July 1, 2010.

In addition, the computerized systems cannot change themselves.  Usually there is the information technology (IT) guru within an organization that must write computer source code or undertake configurations to ensure that HST is charged on invoices.  If there is not effective communication with the IT guru about what changes need to be made to electronic documents and computerized systems to record HST, the computers may be of little help in fulfilling their important role(s).

In addition, the IT guru may have to make adjustments to accounting systems so that the record keeping/ accounting programs track the GST and HST properly.  The computer system will be a useful tool to ensure GST and HST collected is added / reported correctly when GST/HST Returns must be completed and filed electronically (or in paper format).  The computer system will be a central tool in recording and reporting input tax credits, rebates, refund and restricted input tax credits.  If the IT guru does not receive clear instructions, he/she might not make all the necessary changes.

Effective compliance often includes an internal audit or monitoring of the systems to ensure that accurate information is communicated.  If no one has this role / function within their job description, the job might not be performed.

If problems are discovered, effective communication is necessary to make new and further adjustments to the system.  For example, if a September 1, 2010 invoice to the Government of Ontario did not include GST and HST (because prior to HST implementation neither taxes were charged), whoever discovers the problem will need to communicate the mistake internally within the organization so that the sales people, the IT guru, human resources, the tax department or CFO and others make the necessary changes.  Someone will also need to contact the Government of Ontario and send the invoice for the GST/HST or amended invoice including GST/HST.

Finally, I have to point out that effective communication extends to lawyers, accountants, customs brokers and other service providers.  A business will get incorrect/incomplete answers to questions if there is ineffective communication to outside service providers.  If you are going to rely on a service provider's help, you need to communicate all the relevant facts and instructions - otherwise the advice or services that you expect to be provided to you may not be provided.

Canada Revenue Agency Releases a New WebCast on Completing New Electronic GST/HST Return

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has made available a WebCast about the completion of the new electronic GST/HST return.  While the WebCast will not win an academy award for best short film or best foreign film, it is worth watching (it is longer than I expected).  If you cannot bear watching the WebCast, there is a transcript.

The WebCast gives important information to registrants for GST (and HST) purposes and others who must file GST/HST Returns.  The WebCast includes important information for builders of real property  and other businesses (anyone with sales over $1.5 Million in annual taxable sales (including exports and other zero-rated supplies)) who must file GST/HST Returns electronically starting with their July 2010 GST/HST Return or the GST/HST Return for the reporting period including July 1, 2010.   The July 1, 2010 date is important because Ontario and British Columbia want to have electronic records on how much HST they should be expecting to receive from Ottawa.

When planning to watch the WebCast, please  bring some healthy popcorn to watch the video as part of the video does explain how exactly you are to complete the GST/HST Return on a line by line basis.

At the present time, there are four different electronic filing options, as follows:

  • GST/HST NETFILE
  • GST/HST TELEFILE
  • GST/HST EDI filing and remitting, and
  • Internet File Transfer, and we will review in detail the GST/HST NETFILE option.

For those who have never filed electronically using NETFILE go to www.cra.gc.ca/gsthst-netfile to get signed up. Before you file, you will need your 15 digit Business Number, your Reporting Period dates and your four digit access code.

Watching the WebCast will give businesses who must file in this manner important ideas about how to set up their internal records and reporting systems to enable quick completion of the electronic GST/HST Return.  For example, the manner in which restricted input tax credits are required to be reported would suggest separate internal accounting records (General Ledger) accounts for Ontario, British Columbia, etc.  This would suggest that invoices should clearly indicate the place of the supply (e.g., write on the invoice "The Place of Supply is Ontario and, therefore the applicable GST/HST rate is 13%").  Taking such steps will make it easier for the auditors (and your memories) at the time of an audit.

Based on my discussions with some larger businesses who are being asked to file using the GST/HST NETFILE method, some businesses actually are not able to use the CRA's preferred electronic filing method due to their computer systems.

Another important issue that has arisen is payment.  Non-resident companies like the idea of electronic filing.  However, they do not have a Canadian funds bank account.  To open a Canadian funds bank account, they need to have an extra-provincial registration in a Canadian province of territory for doing business in that jurisdiction.  It is not necessary to have a permanent establishment in the province or territory to open a bank account. However, the CRA looks at the location of bank accounts in its consideration of residency/permanent establishments.  As a result, there is a problem that needs to be resolved to facilitate the quick payment of GST/HST obligations without changing ones characterization for other tax purposes.  I should note that it is not necessary to make payments of GST/HST Returns electronically and the old fashioned method of sending a cheque or wire transfer remains acceptable for now.

Harmonized Sales Tax's Restricted Input Tax Credits Rules Means Not 100% Recovery For All Ontario Businesses

The Ontario government will harmonize the provincial retail sales tax (RST) with the federal goods and services tax (GST) on July 1st, 2010. One of the benefits being discussed in certain circles as a reason to support harmonization is that  Ontario businesses will receive input tax credits (ITCs) and recover harmonized sales tax (HST) and GST paid on business purchases. They say business will essentially be able to recover the 13% paid on business purchases, including the HST component paid on previously non-taxable and exempt purchases for RST purposes.

However, this is not quite correct.  Not all businesses in Ontario will benefit immediately to the tune of 13% ITCs. Specifically, businesses with annual taxable supplies greater than $10 million (including corporate groups and related companies), as well as certain financial institutions, municipalities, charities, universities, colleges and schools, hospitals, nursing homes, etc., will be restricted from claiming ITCs for the provincial portion (currently 8 per cent) of the HST, until 2015.

The restricted ITCs are on a few business inputs, such as certain uses of energy; certain telecommunications services; certain road vehicles and their fuel; and food, beverages and entertainment. The ITCs restrictions will be in place for the first five years of the HST, after which ITCs on the exempt items will be phased out over the following three year period.

Ontario has released an Information Notice on Restricted Input Tax Credits to provide additional information to businesses.

Make An HST CheckList

Harmonized Sales Tax (“HST") will become a reality in Ontario and British Columbia on July 1, 2010. However, some businesses will be required to start collecting HST on May 1, 2010. In addition, some businesses outside the HST Zone ( HST Zone = Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland/Labrador) will also be required to charge collect and remit HST to the Federal Government in accordance with the place of supply rules when the place of supply is within the HST Zone.

It is time to make a “To-Do" list to get ready for HST. The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) has released an HST checklist this week.

The CFIB list applies for businesses with gross revenues less than $10 million. This is not limited to corporations, trusts, partnerships or sole proprietorships, it also includes family of businesses that are related to each other as the threshold test would be applicable to persons and their related entities.

The checklist below builds on the CFIB list is as follows:

  • Formulate an internal committee of persons who will oversee the HST conversion - the group includes more than top management and the tax specialist/chief financial officer. Plan to meet weekly and prepare checklists.
  • Calculate a budget to address HST conversion issues, including information technology programmers to update your systems and advisors on HST.
  • Contact the persons in your business responsible for information technology as they will be on the front-lines in updating your computer systems.
  • Conduct a sales side audit and determine whether the supplies made by your business are subject to HST. Your business may be required to charge HST on goods that were not subject to retail sales tax.
  • Update sales equipment (e.g. cash registers) and computer systems in order to properly charge HST.
  • Ensure your invoices properly state whether HST is applicable, the HST rate, your GST/HST registration number, and all other information required by the input tax credit regulations.
  • Consider whether your business may offer point of sale rebates and make adjustments to record-keeping.
  • Conduct a purchase side audit and determine whether your purchases are subject to HST. HST will affect what you sell and what you buy. Purchase exemption certificates will no longer be usable when your business buys what were previously RST exempt goods, such as goods that are purchased to be resupplied.
  • Determine your largest expense items and review your largest contracts to determine what will change with the implementation of HST.
  • Identify which suppliers to your business may not be sophisticated enough about HST and ensure they charge the correct amount of HST. Since the Canada Revenue Agency may assess both suppliers and recipients, purchasers have a duty to check the invoicing of their suppliers.
  • Consider whether HST will affect your cash flow and make arrangements for credit. Commercial rent, inventory, electricity, production equipment & machinery, goods purchased for resupply, custom computer software, etc will be subject to HST (and was not subject to RST).
  • Review the transition rules to see when you must start to collect HST or pay HST and when you must self-assess HST.  It can be as early as May 1, 2010.
  • Determine whether the restricted ITC rules apply to your business/related businesses. If your business is over the $10 million threshold, you will not be able to recover HST paid on certain purchases for the first three years of HST. You will be required to set up accounting records to track and report restricted input tax credits on a province-by-province basis. The reporting on HST returns will start on July 2010 GST/HST return, which must be filed electronically.
  • Determine whether you are required to file GST/HST returns electronically, what method of filing electronically your business must use and make arrangements to be able to file electronically starting in July 2010.
  • Determine whether the place of supply rules require your business to charge HST. If your business operates in more than one province, the assessment must be made on a province-by-province and supply-by-supply basis.
  • Set up accounting records for each applicable HST province.
  • Establish internal policies and procedures to ensure HST is properly charged
  • Prepare written materials for sales staff to follow and train your staff on HST.
  • Update sales equipment so that HST is charged at the point of sale.
  • Update computerized payments so that HST is charged where applicable. In some cases, computer programs will need to be rewritten/updated so that the place of delivery (e.g. goods) is reviewed in determining whether HST is applicable.
  • Adjust online payment software or web interfaces used for selling via the Internet (or receiving payments for services and intangibles via the Internet) to reflect the applicable HST rates.
  • Update the information communicated on websites.
  • Prepare and publish new written materials if the publications include information on sales taxes charged.
  • Update internal computer/record keeping, record keeping on input tax credit claims, rebates, refunds, etc., accounts payable record keeping, accounting records on meals and entertainment expenses and taxable benefit calculations.
  • Update internal reports - e.g., expense reports spreadsheets, employee cars, inter company transactions, etc..
  • Determine whether your business must pay HST on imported goods, services and/or intangible property.
  • Determine whether any inter company payments are subject to HST and make adjustments to records and expectations.
  • Take steps to ensure that the business stops collecting retail sales tax/social services tax on July 1, 2010 and that the final returns are prepared
  • Prepare PST/RST/SST records to be audited as both Ontario and British Columbia have said they plan to conduct four years of audits in the next two years.
  • Consider whether the job descriptions of employees need to be updated to reflect HST responsibilities.
  • Public relations - consider whether you need to educate your customers about HST.

This list is not all-inclusive.

Preparing for Harmonized Sales Tax

The current plans are that Ontario and British Columbia will harmonize their provincial sales taxes ("PST") with the goods and services tax ("GST") on July 1, 2010. Whether you support the idea of harmonized sales tax ("HST") or not, all businesses must prepare for the sales tax reform or risk costly errors in the future.

In preparing for the HST, there is a very long list of questions that should be asked. The following list is only the "tip of the iceberg":

1.      Has your business changed the general ledger ("GL") accounts for your 2010 taxation year to reflect change on July 1, 2010? Since HST will be implemented on July 1, 2010, any business that does not have a June 30th year end will need to ensure that the accounting records have the additional GL accounts so that PST is recorded pre-July 1, 2010, HST is recorded post-July 1, 2010 and that the tax base of depreciable capital costs include PST pre-July 1, 2010 and do not record recoverable costs post July 1, 2010. There are a number of other adjustments that will be required.

2.      Has your business adjusted its record-keeping to track restricted input tax credits? The Ontario and British Columbia HST proposals included the announcement that between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2012, large businesses (businesses making over $10 million in taxable sales) will not be entitled to receive any input tax credits ("ITCs") (that is, recover HST paid) on purchases of:

  • (a)    Energy (except where purchased by farms and for use in producing goods for sale;

  • (b)   Telecommunication services (other than internet access and toll-free numbers);

  • (c)    Certain automobiles and road vehicles; and

  • (d)   Meals and entertainment expenses.

The time period for full restrictions on ITCs may be extended. The current plans are for the restrictions to be phased out between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2015. As a result of the restrictions on the HST component, large businesses and any business that may become a large business (that is, may exceed the $10 million taxable sales threshold in an affected taxation year) should record the GST component and HST component separately in their books and records for these expense items.

3.      Has your business considered whether HST will affect cash flows and budgets? Many businesses have not yet considered whether payment of HST on commercial rent, electricity, production equipment and machinery, management fees, legal fees, accounting fees, temporary placement, rights to use intellectual property, etc. will affect their cash flow. Businesses that file GST/HST annually, quarterly or even monthly may have to address cash flow issues that will arise due to the upfront payment of GST/HST to suppliers and the delay before claiming permissible input tax credits.

4.      Has your business considered when the HST rules will start to affect your business decisions and activities? On October 14, 2009, the Ontario and British Columbia governments released publications outlining the transition rules for transactions that occur after October 14, 2009. The underlying purpose of the transition rules is to ensure that the provinces receive HST after July 1, 2010, even if arrangements were made prior to that date.

Type of Supply

Consideration Due or paid after July 1, 2010

Consideration Due or paid between May 1, 2010 and July 1, 2010

Consideration Due or paid between October 14, 2009 and July 1, 2010 (Category A Businesses)

Sales of Tangible Personal Property

HST applies

HST applies – registered vendors should begin collecting

HST applies re certain businesses required to self assess

Leases and Licenses Tangible Personal Property

HST Applies

HST applies – registered vendors should begin collecting

HST applies re certain businesses required to self assess

Services

HST Applies

HST applies – registered vendors should begin collecting

HST applies re certain businesses required to self assess

Sales of  real property (not residential)

HST Applies

NO HST

NO HST

Sales intangible property

HST Applies

NO HST

NO HST

Type of Imported Supply

Consideration Due or paid after July 1, 2010

Consideration Due or paid between May 1, 2010 and July 1, 2010

Consideration Due or paid between October 14, 2009 and July 1, 2010

Imported TPP (crosses border into Ontario/BC after July 1, 2010

HST applies

HST applies

HST applies re certain businesses required to self assess

Imported Services for consumption, use or supply in ON or BC to extent service performed a/f July 1, 2010

HST Applies

HST applies

HST applies re certain businesses required to self assess

Imported IPP for consumption, use or supply in ON or BC to extent IPP leased, licenses a/f July 1, 2010

HST Applies

HST applies

HST applies re certain businesses required to self assess

(There are many complex transition rules but these are not set in this abridged article. See the editor's note below. Indeed, there are a number of industry-specific transition rules relating to prepaid funeral and cemetery services, subscriptions to newspapers, magazines and periodicals, passenger transportation services, freight transportation services, commercial parking passes, memberships in clubs, organizations and associations, admissions to places of amusement, direct sellers, continuous supplies, real property construction, combined supplies, progress payments, holdbacks, etc.)

5.      Has your business undertaken a review of each existing contract to determine whether HST is going to be applicable? This question needs to be asked if your business is the vendor/supplier or the purchaser/recipient. If a business does not undertake this exercise, the business will be exposed to audit risk.

6.      Are there any changes required to your business' public statements on web-sites, quotation sheets, contracts, etc.?  Does your business communicate to customers/clients which sales taxes you will be charging or whether certain sales taxes are included in quoted prices? Do you sell to persons who may not be familiar with the proposed HST changes and who may challenge the charges at a late date in court? Do you sell to municipalities that will not be entitled to receive 100% of the HST by way of a public sector rebate? Do you sell to businesses and charities which are not able to recover the entire HST component? In short, the manner in which your business communicates information may expose your business to litigation risk with third parties.

7.      Are there any improvements that should be made to your documentation to ensure that you have the evidence necessary to justify non-collection of HST on export sales of goods and services that occurred outside Ontario or British Columbia? If a business does not charge, collect and remit the correct percentage of GST/HST (13% for Ontario and 12% for British Columbia), then a Canda Revenue Agency ("CRA") auditor may ask for evidence to justify a decision. If a business exports goods, the auditor may require proof of exportation and all shipping documents, including import documentation from the foreign jurisdiction. If the destination is another Canadian province, proof of delivery to that jurisdiction will likely be required. Contracts and invoices should indicate the place of delivery clearly. Since it is difficult to document the place of delivery of services and intangible property, questions should be asked concerning what documentation may be recorded and maintained. For example, a service provider may be required to present dockets on time spent outside Ontario or British Columbia performing services, hotel receipts, travel tickets, etc. 

8.      Has your business educated the accounting staff about the HST changes and trained the staff on recording information on incoming and outgoing invoices to account for the HST component? The CRA auditors require the business to review each and every invoice to ensure the GST/HST is correct. If a business fails to detect errors by suppliers, the recipient may be assessed unpaid GST/HST, penalties and interest. In addition, if an incoming invoice from a supplier does not satisfy the documentary requirements for claiming ITC's, an auditor may deny the credits.

9.      Has your business implemented codes of conduct or internal policies relating to sales taxes and income taxes in Canada that must be updated? If your business does not have internal controls, should internal checks & balances be established?

10.  Has your business considered whether the change to HST creates any opportunities to save money?

As mentioned, this list of questions is not definitive, but points to the scope of matters to be considered in preparing for harmonization.