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.

What Does A Seller Do When Someone Refuses To Pay HST?

This is a problem now and the problem will occur more regularly in British Columbia after the referendum results are misstated and people believe the HST should not be charged.  The answer that vendors, sellers & service providers do not want to hear is the only answer to give.

GST/HST registrants are tax collectors for the government.  They must charge, collect and remit the HST or risk an assessment plus interest and penalties.  During an audit by the Canada Revenue Agency ("CRA") will assess the registrant for failure to collect HST or a failure to remit the HST.  This means that if the vendor does not charge the purchaser HST (when he/she should), the CRA will assess the vendor.  If the vendor does charge the HST on the invoice and the buyer does not pay the HST, the vendor must remit that HST to the government with its GST/HST return for the period during which the transaction took place (regardless of whether the money was actually received).  If a vendor fails to remit HST, it will be assessed.

There are special rules for bad debts that do not apply to only the HST portion.  There are also special rules that allow a registrant (seller) to sue a recipient (vendor) for HST, however, these rules only kick in after an assessment by the CRA.

The CRA auditors will not be sympathetic when a vendor does not follow the rules.  Telling an auditor that the buyer refused to pay the HST will fall on deaf ears.  The auditors will not care that the vendor would have lost the sale and the profits related to the sale.

Vendors in British Columbia should post a sign in their shops telling buyers that HST will be collected until the transition date (currently said to be March 2013).  This includes service providers who provide in person services (such as hair salons).  Other vendors and service providers should include a statement in quotations that:

 "Harmonized Sales Tax ("HST") is payable in respect of any property or services provided prior to the date established by the Province of British Columbia and Federal Government of Canada to transition to a provincial sales tax (the "Transition Date").  HST will continue to be charged after the Transition Date if required by law.  All applicable provincial sales taxes are payable in respect of property and services provided after the Transition Date."

This statement may be added to contracts for property or services.

If a buyer does not pay the HST after the property or services are provided, the vendor may pursue the buyer in Small Claims Court or the provincial court for breach of contract.  However, in respect of point of sale refusals, the vendor will have to make a business decision whether to meet refusal with a refusal to make the sale. Service providers and restaurant owners who have provided the service and experience the refusal at the cashier are in a very difficult position and may have no other option but to call the police before the person dashes (while being careful to avoid a false imprisonment claim made against them).

In any event, document any situation where there is a refusal to pay the HST and provide as much detail as possible..  Even if an unsympathetic CRA officer will not accept the information, the Tax Court of Canada may sympathetically suggest that a remission order would be appropriate.

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.

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.

Reminder: The Quebec Sales Tax Rate Increased Effective January 1, 2011

Effective January 1, 2011, the Quebec sales tax (QST) rate increased from 7.5% to 8.5%.  Have you updated your computerized systems to reflect this change? Are you charging the right amount of QST to your Quebec based customers/clients?

For more information about the QST rate increase, please go to the Quebec Ministry of Revenu e web-site.  Quebec has issued statements that may be helpful to you.

Please note that the QST rate is nominally 8.5%, but is also applied to federal 5% GST. The effective QST rate is 8.925%.  The QST rate will increase to 9.5% (effective provincial rate 9.975%) on January 1, 2012.

It is Unlikely You Will Get HST Corect If You Do Not Ask The Right Questions

Harmonized sales tax ("HST") is complicated.  I get asked easy and hard questions every day.  What I am seeing is that many business owners want to be correct on all maters HST, but do not ask the right questions.  A business owner must ask:

  • What am I supplying?
  • Am I making a single or multiple supply?

Many business owners start with a different question.  Unfortunately, they do not take sufficient time to analyze what they actually supply (or may be seen by a Canada Revenue Agency Auditor to supply) as a first step.  BUT, if you do not know what it is that you are supplying, then you may not property apply other HST rules (such as the place of supply or transition rules).

For example 1: A number of years ago, I had a client tell me that they license computer programs.  I asked to see the licenses that allowed users to use their computer programs.  They looked at me blankly and said none of their customers had signed a license agreement.  When we dug into what they actually supplied, they ran a web-site that allowed persons to access information via the Internet.  They had developed a computer program for their own use in order to run their web-site and process information received from Internet users.  They never gave the Internet users the ability to download this computer program.  The actual deliverable was a list of names and useful information that the Internet user could then use to contact one of the supplied names to acquire an unrelated service from a third party.

This client thought that they provided tangible personal property when in fact they performed a service or provided intangible personal property.

For example 2: Another client is an interior designer.  The interior designer said she provided interior design services.  However, for many clients, the interior designer bought and resold paint, tiles, wall paper, furniture, etc. and chargde a 15%-25% mark-up.  The interior designer actually provided tangible personal property and services.

For example 3: Another client is an exterminator (of pests).  The exterminator thought he performed a valuable service.  In the world of HST, he actually performed a service in respect of real property.

The list of examples could go on and on.  My point is that unless you look at the question of "What Am I Supplying?" from an HST perspective, you may not apply the other HST rules properly.  There are many other HST rules to apply properly.

Bed Bugs and HST

The bed bug extermination business is thriving (not good for renters, home owners, hotel operators and others, but good for pest control service providers).This post is for the pest control service providers.  I was recently asked which place of supply rule applies to pest control services.  The person asking had incorrectly assumed that the general HST place of supply rule applied.

The correct answer is that the HST place of supply rule for services in respect of real property will apply to most (if not all) pest control services.  The service provider must go to a particular building to undertake the actions to rid the place of the bed bugs.  The service provider goes to a home, an apartment building, a hotel, a condominium building, a nursing home, or a theatre.  These places have particular locations.

Based on the HST place of supply rules, if the place is located in an HST province (e.g., Ontario), HST would apply to the amount charged for the service.  If the place is located outside an HST province (e.g., Quebec), HST would not apply (but GST would apply if the place is in Canada) to the amount charged for the service.  If the place is located on a reserve, then the point of sale rebate would apply.

Bed bug exterminators should clearly identify on their invoice the location at which the services were performed.  This will help the HST auditor apply the HST place of supply rules correctly and assess the correct rate of GST/HST.

For persons located in Ontario and British Columbia, pest control services were not taxable under the provincial sales tax regimes of either province.  Many persons who are recipients of pest control services are consumers and, therefore, are not able to recover the HST by way of an input tax credit.  Landlords, for example, cannot recover HST paid on pest control services in rental properties. Another good example is a home owners is the final consumer and cannot recover HST paid on bed bug removal - even if the bed bugs arrived from a foreign hotel.

Bed bugs and other pests may carry diseases and cause health issues, but the extermination services are not considered to be health care services.  People (and parents) must pay the HST to protect their families from bed bug bites and health issues.

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.

Will ORST Refunds Be Another TFSA Miscommunication?

Many businesses may be entitled to a refund of Ontario retails tax (ORST) paid in respect of goods and/or "taxable services" paid for before July 1, 2010 where the goods and/or "taxable services" are provided after July 1, 2010. 

The best examples I can give are annual subscriptions/licenses of computer software and leases of goods (however, there are other situations).  Please review your invoices to see if you paid an annual or other periodic amount of ORST before July 1, 2010 and set aside those invoices that relate, in part, to the period after July 1, 2010.

As a matter of law, it may be that the Canada Revenue Agency expects to receive harmonized sales tax (HST) for the portion o the supply that occurs after July 1, 2010. The HST transition rules may require an allocation between the pre-HST period and the post-HST period.  It also may be that as a matter of law, you were required to pay ORST on the full invoice at the time it was paid and things changed. You may entitled to receive a refund of ORST paid pre-HST in respect of the post-HST period.  I know that this may sound silly, but tax changes sometimes have silly effects/results.

I have reviewed the Canada Revenue Agency web-site for some guidance on this issue and have found nothing (so far).  I have also reviewed the Ontario Ministry of Revenue web-site for some guidance on this issue and have found nothing (so far).  It is for this reason that I am saying that the HST may be a source of confusion, like tax free savings accounts.  It would be helpful for businesses to be told clearly what is expected of them.

I will give an example in order to clarify: 

For example, some businesses and MUSH sector entities may an annual license for computer software in May 2010 and paid Ontario retail sales tax in addition to GST and the lump sum annual lease price.  In this example, computer software was licensed for a year for $120,000 and GST would have been $6000 and ORST would have been $9600. However, the ORST portion would be in respect of software that could be used post HST and, therefore, the purchaser must pay HST is respect of the period after June 30, 2010.  10 of 12 months would be subject to HST instead of ORST.  As a result, the purchaser would have to self-assess and remit HST on $100,000 = $8,000.  The business would be entitled to a refund of ORST from the Ministry of Revenue in the amount of $8000.

The self-assessment would occur on the GST/HST return for the first reporting period after July 1, 2010.  There is a line on the GST/HST return for self-assessed GST/HST.

The refund application would not be filed with the CRA, but, rather would be filed with the Ontario Ministry of Revenue. Here is the general refund application form - it is difficult to find on the Ontario Ministry of Revenue web-site.

This may sound silly - robbing Peter in order to pay Peter (and Paul). Some businesses for some purchases may pay both HST and ORST and will have to wait to get the ORST back.  These same businesses have audit risk under both the ORST and HST tax regimes.  The business has paid the correct amount of tax initially and then has a problem and can be assessed for failing to ensuring the tax was paid to the right person. 

You will not be able to say that ultimately Ontario received its money because technically under the HST regime, the HST goes into a pot of money and that money is allocated according to formulas, which are not based on the place of supply.  The formulas do not allow for a matching of HST to a particular province.

In a more perfect tax system, there would be a joint CRA and Ontario Ministry of Finance form that would allow a business to identify payments of ORST in the pre-HST period that cover the post-HST period.  In a more perfect tax system, the governments would ask for a copy of the invoice and make the corrections for you.  In a more perfect tax system the governments would waive interest and penalties when there is not intention to underpay sales taxes.  It should be easy for businesses to comply with sales tax laws, but sometimes it is not simple or easy.

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...

Tip: 3 Days Left in Pre-HST World: Do Some File Cleaning

Today is June 28, 2010 and there are only three more days left in pre-HST Ontario/BC.  Those in the service industry (where files are maintained for clients) should bill for services rendered before July 1, 2010.  Services rendered before July 1, 2010 are not subject to harmonized sales tax ("HST").  In addition, many services are not subject to Ontario retail sales tax ("ORST") - only "taxable services" as defined in the Retail Sales Tax Act (Ontario) are subject to ORST in Ontario.

I offer this advice to help not confuse an auditor - close any dormant files on Monday-Wednesday  (June 28-30, 2010) (pre-HST period).  Send those files to records (and you will not have to pay HST on the service fee of the moving company if the service is performed before July 1).  Hire a temporary worker to provide assistance in the pre-HST period and save the HST.  Both GST and HST are payable of the services provided by temporary employees services.  If your employee (that is, he or she is on your payroll and is not a third party service provider or employed by a third party service provider) provides the assistance in closing the files in the computerized system and putting the files in boxes, then his/her employment related services are not subject to wither GST/HST.

You will both clean your office and save the HST at the same time.  More importantly, you will have documentation to show that the files were closed prior to HST.  You will have additional proof to give an auditor that you took steps to make a clear division for the purposes of the application of the HST transition rules. The easier you make it for the auditor, the easier you make it for yourself.

In addition, if that client comes back and needs more work performed by you post-HST, you can open a new file, gather the new information for your HST decision tree and start fresh (and start charging HST where applicable).

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.

Tip on Pre-HST Billings

Many service providers (such as lawyers, accountants, marketing gurus, consultants, advisors, custom computer  software programmers, certain graphic designers, etc.) do not currently charge Ontario retail sales tax (ORST) on their services.  Starting on July 1, 2010, these service providers must charge harmonized sales tax (HST).

The HST transition rules provide that if services are commenced prior to July 1, 2010 and continue after July 1, 2010, the supplier will be required to allocate between the pre-HST period and post-HST period and not charge HST on the pre-HST period and charge HST on the post-HST period. An allocation is required (except if 90% or more of the services are provided prior to July 1, 2010).

Suppliers need to maintain evidence to provide to Canada Revenue Agency auditors.  While it is incorrect to say that all auditors are difficult idiots, I often tell clients to assume that such an auditor will show up on their doorstep in the future to conduct an audit.  What evidence and documentation are you going to have to prove your point to the auditor?  With respect to not charging HST on pre-July 1, 2010 supplies of services, what evidence are you going to be able to present?

Good documentation will include docket entries, time sheets, employee punch cards, etc.  What will also be helpful are invoices issued in June 2010 billing the client for pre-July 1, 2010 services that have been performed.  I often refer to this as "blowing out your WIP (work in progress).  If you issue a bill and it is recorded in your computer system prior to July 1, 2010, it must be that the the services recorded as being provided before July 1, 2010 were actually provided. Note that if you are billing in May/June 2010 for services to be rendered on or after July 1, 2010, HST will be applicable.

I have one caveat that I have to highlight - you need to ask whether it is likely your client will pay the invoice. If a supplier issues an invoice prior to July 1, 2010 and must charge GST (that is, the supply is not zero-rated or exempt), the supplier will be required to remit the GST to the Receiver General of Canada with the GST/HST return for the reporting period in which the invoice is issued (e.g., June 2010).  If the recipient does not pay the GST by the GST/HST return filing deadline, the supplier still must remit the GST.  As a result, there can be a cash flow issue.

If a supplier cannot issue an invoice, we are recommending a "WIP freeze".  This means that the supplier would generate a document that would evidence the pre-July 1, 2010 work in progress.  Depending on the circumstances, the document may evidence the number of hours worked and/or the value of the services rendered prior to July 1, 2010.  The document will need to be supported by some verifiable data (e.g. a date stamped printout of computerized records). The method must be able to withstand scrutiny and be reasonable in the circumstances.  What is communicated (and the words used) may be important as auditors assessment radar is often triggered by the words taxpayers use.

I would be pleased to provide services to help you generate evidence of the provision of pre-HST services.

I should also mention that it is better to do generate the evidence now as an employee may not be available at the time the auditor arrives. In other words, it is sometimes difficult to substantiate facts at a later point in time.

June Billings & HST Transition Rules

I was speaking with a service provider (marketing advisory services) in Ontario the other day about her June 2010 billings.  She said that she will be sending out invoices on June 15, 2010 in respect of services to be provided between July 1, 2010 - July 31, 2010.  She does not currently charge Ontario retail sales tax on her advisory services.  She asked me whether she is required to charge Ontario harmonized sales tax (HST).

The answer is yes (assuming the client being billed is located in the province of Ontario).  ABC Co. would charge GST on her marketing advisory services.  She would remit the GST with her GST return for the period June 1, 2010-June 30, 2010 (she is a monthly filer).

She would also add HST to the invoices.  However, she would remit the HST collected with the GST/HST return for the post-HST implementation period being her July 1-July 31, 2010 GST/HST return, which is due at the end of August 2010. She does not include the HST in the GST/HST return that she files in July even though the HST was invoiced in June 2010.

Yes, there is an unusual delay in the remittance of the HST.  This is because the HST must go into the HST pot so that it can be properly allocated to the HST Zone provinces (including Ontario).  If the HST is remitted to the Government of Canada in July, Premier McGuinty does not get any of the money.  Also, the supplier would be making a mistake and may be penalized at the time of an audit.

We Now Have Place of Supply Regulations And More

In the June 9, 2010 Canada Gazette, the final HST place of supply regulations are published as SOR/2010-117 - now called "New Harmonized Value-added Tax System Regulations". Also included in the regulations are the HST anti-avoidance rules (Part 2), the HST transition rules (part 3), repeal of Place of Supply (GST/HST Regulations (Part 4) and application rules (Part 5).

It is about time that the nuts and bolts of the HST law is being made available to businesses in harmonized provinces. However, much is still missing, such as the real property rules and transition rules for builders of residential complexes. 

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.

Ontario Government and BC Government May Not Follow HST Transition Rules & Give Selves Sale Tax Holiday

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has issued GST/HST Info Sheet GI-073 "Ontario and British Columbia: Transition to the Harmonized Sales Tax - Payment of the GST/HST by Ontario and B.C. Government Entities (May 2010) and the examples provided put the government entities in Appendix A outside the HST transition rules. So, I have to warn suppliers to the Appendix A government entities to be careful because CRA auditors may try to apply the transition rules.  I find it funny and sad that the Governments do not follow their own transition rules to save the HST (when businesses and consumers do not get the same breaks).

Example 3 in GI 073 provides as follows:

In may 2010, an Ontario ministry, which is listed on schedule A to the RTA, orders and pays for furniture, but the furniture will not be delivered and ownership will not be transferred to the Ontario ministry until August 2010.  The furniture is acquired in the name of the Province and the Ontario ministry provides a Crown funds exemption request or certification clause to the supplier.

Because the Ontario ministry is listed on Schedule A to the RTA, and the consideration for the supply of the furniture is paid before July 1, 2010, the Ontario ministry will continue to claim an exemption from GST/HST.  Therefore, the supplier does not charge GST/HST on the consideration for the supply of the furniture to the Ontario ministry.  In this case, the supplier may accept the Ontario ministry's Crown funds exemption request or certification clause requesting relief from both the GST and the HST as the consideration for the supply was paid before July 1, 2010.

The HST transition rules applicable to everyone else were released on October 14, 2009. The HST transition rule for tangible personal property (goods) provided that if tangible personal property was purchased after May 1, 2010 and consideration was paid between May 1, 2010 and July 1, 2010 and the tangible personal property was delivered on or after July 1, 2010, HST would be applicable.  To save the HST, the tangible personal property would have to be purchased before May 1, 2010 and the consideration paid before May 1, 2010. As a result, the Ontario and B.C. Governments have beneficial treatment not available to others. 

The other interesting issue relating to Example 3 is that Ontario retail sales tax or B.C. social service tax would be payable if the furniture had been delivered before July 1, 2010.  So, it looks like (according to the CRA's GI-073) the rules applicable to Ontario and B.C. provide the Government entities with a tax holiday between May 1, 2010 and June 30, 2010.  How is that fair?

All I can say is for suppliers to the Ontario Government and BC Government to beware.  This does not seem correct.

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.

Canada's Department of Finance Has Released Financial Institution Rules for the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST)

On May 19, 2010, the federal Department of Finance released "Financial Institution Rules for the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST)", which is a rather long and complicated document. The good news is that only financial institutions (including de minimis financial institutions) must figure out how this document changes their way of doing business and imposes new obligations.  The bad news is that financial institutions may charge higher service fees to cover their compliance costs / assessment risks.

The released document provides information on changes to rules for selected financial institutions (also known as SLFIs).  The changes include changes to the test for determining whether an entity is an SLFI.  As a result, it will be important for entities to apply the new test to see whether they are still SLFIs and whether they are now considered to be a SLFI.  The release states:

British Columbia and Ontario's decision to join the HST, effective July 1, 2010, will significantly increase the number of FIs that are SLFIs. For example, a bank with branches in Ontario and Manitoba and in no other provinces would become an SLFI only as a result of Ontario harmonization.

This statement suggests that some entities (were not considered to be SLFI before and are considered to be a SLFI now) now have a lot of work to do to prepare before July 1, 2010.

The released document also provides information to financial institutions about the "special attribution method" (friendly name "SAM") that they are required to use.  This complicated formula will likely appear in the coming weeks in regulations and, therefore, will not be subject to scrutiny by opposition MPs and the Canadian Senate.

The SAM attribution methods are briefly discussed for:

i. banks

ii. insurance corporations

iii. trust and loan corporations

iv. investment plans and segregated funds

v. other corporations, individuals and trusts

The publication also covers the following topics:

  • information requirements
  • penalties
  • MTFs that are ETFs
  • timing of PVAT (provincial HST component) determination under SAM
  • compliance rules
  • transitional rules for SLFIs re Ontario and BC
  • recapture of ITC rules for SLFIs
  • SLFI transition installment base
  • Imported supplies - non resident trusts
  • SLFI rules respecting deemed pension supplies and pension rebate


Ontario's Small Business Transition Credit Raises Questions

On May 14, 2010, the Ontario Government released Ontario Tax Tip 7 "Prepare for Ontario's HST: Small Business Transition Support" in which Ontario discusses a payment small business would receive to offset costs of modifying systems in order to transition to harmonized sales tax (HST).  Ontario Tax Tip 7 is intended to help small businesses understand if they are eligible for a small business transition support payment and explain how the support payment will be delivered to them. This support payment has been commonly referred to as the “Small Business Transition Credit”.

In order to qualify for a transition support payment, an eligible business must:

  • not be a listed financial institution under the Excise Tax Act (Canada);
  • carry on business in Ontario and be a GST/HST registrant on July 1, 2010;
  • make GST/HST taxable supplies (including zero-rated supplies) in the course of carrying on business;  and
  • have taxable annual revenues of less than $2 million (as announced in the 2010 Ontario Budget, the province will prescribe the 12-month period for calculating the $2 million taxable revenue threshold for purposes of the transition support payment).

If a small business for the transitional support payment, the amount the business will receive will be based on the following:

Total Quarterly Taxable Revenues Amount of Transition Support Payment
Up to and Including $15,000 $300
Over $15,000 and Up to and Including $50,000 2% of Taxable Revenue for the Quarter
Over $50,000 and Up to and Including $500,000 $1000

How is the Ontario Government going to program the computers to identify sole proprietorships and partnerships (joint ventures) and other businesses that are not separate legal entities?  There are many forms of small businesses that are not Ontario incorporated entities.  There are many forms of business that do not file separate tax returns.  A sole proprietor would report business income on his/her personal income tax return.  A partnership is not a legal entity for income tax purposes and the partners report business income and business losses on their respective income tax returns. 

Will the Canada Revenue Agency look at both income tax returns and GST/HST returns?  If the CRA is going to look at GST/HST returns, how will the annual filers be found and their quarterly sales revenues determined?

Are branches of foreign companies going to be treated differently than Ontario corporations?  If so, this approach would not encourage foreign direct investment to Ontario.

Are municipalities, schools, school boards, hospitals and other MUSH sector entities entitled to receive the small business transition credit if their taxable sales fall within the thresholds?

What is the Ontario Government going to do to prevent abuse?  What if a person registered 1000 corporations in June 2010?  Would they receive $30,000 from the Ontario Government even if each reported revenues of $10?

There are a number of questions that need to be answered so that all small businesses are recognized.  Equally as important, questions need to be asked so that cheques are not blindly written to HST-abuse vehicles.

Small businesses will need the financial assistance because it will cost more than $300-$1000 to implement the necessary changes correctly.  The problem is that there are problems with the mechanism.

Finally, I should mention that the small business support is taxable for income tax purposes.  The Department of Finance confirmed this today at the Southern Ontario Commodity Tax Group Meeting at the Toronto Board of Trade.

Ontario Finally Lets Suppliers Know They Have To Start Charging HST

Is it a coincidence that today I had a discussion with an accountant who asked about whether a client must start charging GST and HST on July 1, 2010 (or starting on May 1, 2010 if the transition rules apply) and the Ontario Government comes out with Tax Information Notice 6 "HST Notice for Suppliers of Taxable Property and Services to the Ontario Government"?  Probably it was a coincidence.

Tax Information Notice 6 states:

Under the sales tax harmonization agreement between the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada, the Canada-Ontario Comprehensive Integrated Tax Coordination Agreement (CITCA), Ontario has agreed that, effective July 1, 2010, all Ontario government ministries, agencies, boards, commissions and Crown corporations ("Ontario government entities") will pay Goods and Services Tax (GST) / Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) on their purchases of taxable property and services. Property could be goods, real property or intangible personal property such as trademarks, rights to use a patent, and digitized products downloaded from the Internet.

What this means is that existing contracts where suppliers do not charge goods and services tax (GST) and/or Ontario retail sales tax (ORST) may be subject to GST and HST after May 1, 2010.  It used to be that Ontario Government ministries, departments and crown corporations told suppliers that they are GST-exempt.  This was not the correct term: the Ontario Government ministries, departments and crown corporations were not exempt under a provision of the GST legislation (a.k.a, the Excise Tax Act (Canada)).  The correct term is that the supplies were not taxable (but were not in the non-taxable importations schedule to the GST Legislation).  In simple terms, the federal government could not request that the provincial government pay tax and entered into a reciprocal taxation agreement.

Tax Information Notice 6 goes on to state:

Ontario government entities that are currently paying GST, as well as those that are currently claiming an exemption from GST (i.e., ministries and other provincial entities listed on Schedule A of the current Canada-Ontario Reciprocal Taxation Agreement (RTA) – see Appendix for list of entities, will pay GST/HST on their purchases of taxable property and services effective July 1, 2010. (Emphasis added)

Suppliers to the Ontario Government need to revisit existing contracts and change their invoicing and record keeping.  More importantly, the suppliers may need to educate their Ontario Government clietns/customers that they need to pay GST and HST. Information Notice 6 contains a warning not to be fooled by Ontario Government clients/customers:

Accordingly, suppliers must generally charge and collect GST/HST on any consideration that becomes due on or after July 1, 2010 in respect of a taxable supply to an Ontario government entity. In these cases, suppliers should not rely on or accept any Crown funds exemption requests or certifications requesting GST/HST relief at the point-of-sale.

Can you imagine the conversation between suppliers and their Ontario Government customers/clients where the Ontario Government customers/clients say they do not have to pay the GST/HST and the supplier must "respectfully disagree"?

I have to warn you about the May 1, 2010 - June 30, 2010 period.  The Ontario Government is telling suppliers in Information Notice 6 that if they currently have to pay GST (because they are not in Appendix A), they have to continue to pay GST.  If they currently are not required to pay GST (because the client/customer is listed in Appendix A), they do not have to pay GST during the May 1, 2010 to June 30, 2010 transition period (but will after July 1, 2010).  If they have to pay HST during the May 1, 2010 to June 30, 2010 transition period (and Appendix A does not apply when one talks about OHST), they must pay such OHST. Thanks for clearing up that up! 

Some suppliers who are not currently registered for GST purposes (because they only make non-taxable supplies to the Ontario Government) will have to get registered for GST/HST purposes.  Some suppliers who are not collecting and GST will have to adjust their record keeping to charge GST and HST on invoices and record such collections in their accounting records.  In addition, such businesses who have not been claiming input tax credits will need to record input tax credits in accounting records in connection with purchases.  Large businesses may be affected by the restricted input tax credits rules and cannot claim all OHST paid on business inputs. Some suppliers will need to file GST/HST returns electronically and be in a position to retrieve information from accounting records with respect to GST/HST collected, GST/HST invoiced and collectible, and input tax credits on purchased inputs. There is a lot more suppliers to the Ontario Government need to do to prepare for HST.

One last word of warning is that suppliers to the Ontario Government should prepare to be audited after implementation of HST.  They will be "low hanging fruit" for Canada Revenue Agency auditor as some will be making mistakes.  These changes are big changes.

Beware: Some Tips to Save HST Are Wrong

On May 12, 2010, the Globe and Mail ran a print article entitled "Tips for cheating the harmonized sales taxman".  Some of the tips provided in the origin version were incorrect and have been removed in the online version.

Printed Version:

Tip 1 "Buy Now, Use Later

Even if you prepay, you still pay HST on services used after July 1.  But products aren't subject to that rule.  So if you know the purchase of some durable product (e.g. washing machine, fall wardrobe, camping gear) is in your near future, buy it before July 1, even if it sits unused.  In fact, since HST adds 8 per cent and you can borrow money at a much lower rate, do this even if you save to take a short term loan to do so."

This advice is INCORRECT.  First, durable goods, including washing machines, fall wardrobes and camping equipment, are subject to Ontario retail sales tax (ORST) at the rate of 8%.  So, if a consumer buys goods before July 1, 2010, they will be paying a combined sales tax rates (GST and ORST) of 13%. Second, the transition rule applies to services and goods.  If you buy a good to be delivered before July 1, 2010, ORST and GST are payable.  If you buy a good before July 1, 2010 and the good is delivered after July 1, 2010, the good will be subject to GST and HST.

Printed Version:

Tip 2 "Get to Know the Internet

Look for retailers in Alberta and other "tax havens". They won't charge you HST or even PST if you have an out-of-their province shipping address.  Even after paying shipping and handling, you'll save money."

This advice is also INCORRECT.  Due to the HST place of supply rules for goods (also known as tangible personal property), a GST registrant in Alberta would be required to charge, collect and remit HST if the goods are shipped to an address in the HST Zone (Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Newfoundland/Labrador).  if you buy goods in Alberta and pay for shipping to Manitoba, you will not be required to pay HST.  However, if you live in Ontario, you will have to pay for someone to ship the goods from Manitoba to Ontario.  This second shipping may wipe out any HST savings.  Further, the transshipment may add risk of loss or damage to the transaction.

Printed Version:

Tip 5 "Get on the Internet

The government has a rebate program and the exempted products and services are many and varied.  You can't adjust your spending until you know where the tax applies and doesn't"

Continue Reading...

Real Estate Agents Have A Good HST Question

I have been contacted by an old friend (an Ottawa lawyer that I know and respect from my days at Goodmans LLP) who asked whether residential real estate commissions are subject to harmonized sales tax (HST) if the fees are in respect to activities performed by a real estate agent before July 1, 2010 and where the agreement of purchase of sale was signed before July 1, 2010, but the actual transfer of the residential real estate to the purchaser(s) occurred after July 1, 2010.  Obviously, the real estate at issue is located in Ontario.

What was explained to me was that all or substantially all of the real estate agent's services are performed prior to the conclusion of an agreement of purchase and sale by the vendor and purchaser.  Based on my personal experience buying a new home and selling an old home is that most of the services of the real estate agent are provided before the agreement is signed.  The vendor's real estate agent makes the house or condominium unit pretty and takes pictures.  Then they make a promotional brochure.  Then they advertise the property.  Then they take appointments for showings and sometimes attend the showings.  They sometimes host open houses.  The vendor's agent works to bring together a group of persons who would be interested in the property and often aims to create the environment of a bidding war between potential buyers.  The vendor's real estate agent then receives the offer(s) to purchase and forwards the offer(s) to the homeowners.  The negotiation process proceeds and eventually the vendor accept an offer an the paperwork is drawn up and signed.  Very little in the way of services is required from the vendor's real estate agent after the agreement of purchase and sale is signed and sent to the lawyers.

The purchaser's real estate agent performs services of identifying properties that meet the purchaser's requirements, setting up appointments with other agents for listed properties and takes the purchasers to the various appointments.  These services can take place over a number of months.  Eventually the perfect property is located and the purchaser's agent assists the purchaser in arranging financing and drafting an offer.  The purchaser's agent assists the purchaser with the negotiation of the deal and the final step is the agreement of purchase and sale.  It is possible that the offer/negotiation stage may transpire on many homes until the purchaser concludes a contract with a vendor.  In my experience, the purchaser's agent may also assist the purchaser find a lawyer and an inspector. Very little in the way of services is required from the purchaser's real estate agent after the agreement of purchase and sale is signed and sent to the lawyers.

That being said, after the date the agreement of purchase and sale is signed, there may be conditions in the agreement that must be satisfied (e.g. arranging financing, a home inspection, selling an existing home, etc.) before the contract is perfected. As a result, the important date is either the date of signing the agreement of purchase and sale or the date that the conditions are satisfied or expire. 

The question is whether under the transition rules, the real estate agent must charge HST.  The transition rule for services is that HST would generally apply to the supply of a service to the extent that the service is performed on or after July 1, 2010.  HST would generally not apply to a supply of a service if all or substantially all (90 per cent or more) of the service is performed before July 2010.  Consideration due or paid on or after July 1, 2010 would be subject to HST to the extent that  the consideration is for the part of a service that is performed on or after July 1, 2010 (See Ontario Ministry of Revenue Information Notice #3 "General Transition Rules for Ontario HST")

Based on the transition rules:

1) With respect to residential real estate deals signed before July 1, 2010 and all conditions are satisfied before July 1, 2010, it should be that HST is not payable if all or substantially all of the real estate agent's services are performed before July 1, 2010.  If the agreement of purchase and sale is signed and the conditions expire before July 1, 2010, it should be that all or substantially all of the services are considered to be performed before July 2010 and, therefore HST should not be payable. 

That being said, it would be useful for the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to issue an administrative statement that they agree with the timing of the services.  I cannot imagine what basis the CRA would give that 10% or more of the services are performed after the satisfaction of all conditions.

Real estate agents should help themselves by taking detailed records of when they performed services for clients so that they can do the math for the auditors.

2) With respect to residential real estate deals that are signed before July 1, 2010 and some of the conditions expire after July 1, 2010, the facts and the HST status of the supply will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.  It is possible that more than 10% of the services will be performed after July 1, 2010 if the conditions create particular complications or if the buyer picked the first home they saw and the real estate agent's time was required to keep a deal together.

3) With respect to residential real estate deals that are signed before July 1, 2010 and fall apart after July 1, 2010, the facts and HST status of the supply will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis with respect to amounts received by real estate agents from the deposits.

More Horror Flicks - Transitional Rules for Intangible Personal Property; Admissions Memberships and Transportation Passes

The Canada Revenue Agency has released a new Web Cast on harmonized sales tax transition rules for intangible personal property, admissions to places of amusement and transportation passes - some of the hot topics on April 29 & 30th.

Under the Ontario retail sales tax (ORST) regime, intangible personal property and transportation passes are not subject to ORST.  However, admissions to places of amusement are subject to ORST unless exempted (e.g. theaters with less than 3200 seats).  As a result of HST, previously non-taxable tickets are subject to 13% (5+8) tax.

Passenger transportation passes, memberships, and admissions have special transitional rules.

What is a "Service" for GST/HST Purposes?

The harmonized sales tax (HST) transition rules and HST place of supply rules set out general and specific rules for tangible personal property, real property, intangible property and services.  What is important and glaringly missing is guidance on how the Canada Revenue Agency divides up the categories.

Subsection 123(1) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) defines "service" to mean:

"anything other than
(a) property,
(b) money, and
(c) anything that is supplied to an employer by a person who is or agrees to become an employee of the employer in the course of or in relation to the office or employment of that person"

This means that the catch-all basket is the services basket.  It also means that you must determine if the supply at issue fits in another basket and whether it is property, money or supplied in the context of an employer-employee relationship.

I will focus on the more difficult concept - property. Subsection 123(1) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada) defines "property" to mean:

"any property, whether real or personal, movable or immovable, tangible or intangible, corporeal or incorporeal, and includes a right or interest of any kind, a share and a chose in action, but does not include money."

"Personal property" is defined to mean "property that is not real property".  So, you must ask if the supply is real property.

"Real property" is defined to include:

(a) in respect of property in the Province of Quebec, immovable property and every lease thereof,
(b) in respect of property in any other place in Canada, messuages, lands and tenements of every nature and description and every estate or interest in real property, whether legal or equitable, and
(c) a mobile home, a floating home and any leasehold or proprietary interest therein;

If the supply does not fit within this "real property" definition, you must ask if the supply is "tangible personal property or intangible property.  However, the terms "tangible personal property" and "intangible personal property" are not defined in the Excise Tax Act.  That being said, there is significant case law on the subject(s).
In short, if you can determine that the supply is not real property, not property, not money and not supplied in connection with an employer-employee relationship, the rules relating to services would apply.

The various publications by the Canada Revenue Agency, Department of Finance and Ontario/BC contain examples in connection with the transition rules.  This helps if certain situations fall between the lines or in the grey area.  In my 16 years of practice I have seen many grey areas and have seen auditors move supplies from one basket to another.  I expect this practice to continue.

If your situation falls between the lines in the grey area, please seek the advice of a specialist.  For example, the Canada Revenue Agency is going to have difficulties with computer programs.  Over-the-shelf software will likely be considered to be tangible personal property.  Custom computer software may be considered to be tangible if provided on a disk/CD-Rom or a service if custom or intangible personal property if the contract sets out license rights.  Whether a computer software maintenance contract is a contract for services or intangible property is an open question that the Canada Revenue Agency is considering.  If it is possible that no maintenance would be required in a given period, the Canada Revenue Agency may consider the contract to be in respect of intangible personal property.  The same issue arises for warranties and help desk contracts.

More Horror Flicks - CRA Web Cast on Transition Rules on Supply and Install Contracts

The Canada Revenue Agency has released a WebCast on harmonized sales tax (HST) transition rules for supply and install contracts that straddle the July 1, 2010 HST implementation date.  This WebCast is intended to help supply and install businesses in Ontario and British Columbia.

An example in the WebCast relates to the installation of a home theatre system.  However, the example presumes that the equipment is delivered to the home on June 30, 2010 and installed on July 2, 2010.  This is not a typical scenario supply & install contract.

Another example relates to the provision of a computer program on June 15th and training is supplied in July 2010.  Again, not a typical supply and install situation in an Ontario retail sales tax context.

Under the ORST regime, some businesses in Ontario and British Columbia currently do not charge ORST or BCSST because in their business tangible personal property becomes real property upon installation.  A carpet installer would supply installed carpet and no ORST is payable (but the installer pays ORST on its purchases and builds it into the price of the installed carpet).  A kitchen design store/contractor may supply installed kitchen cabinets, kitchen counters, a sink, tiles and appliances and not charge ORST to the homeowner (but the supplier pays ORST on its purchases and builds it into the price of the installed kitchen).  These scenarios are not adequately addressed in the WebCast.

Ontario Government Email Alert at 5:02AM Today About HST Starting

At 5:02AM this morning I received an email alert from the Ontario Ministry of Revenue about harmonized sales tax obligations starting today.  First, I must say "Thank you for the notice".

Here is the contents of the emailed "Revenue Alert:

Reminder: Helping Businesses Transition To The Harmonized Sales Tax

What You Need To Know For May 1
On July 1, 2010, the retail sales tax will be replaced with a more modern, value-added tax that will be combined with the federal GST to create a harmonized sales tax for Ontario.
To help ease the transition to the HST, Ontario released general transitional rules in October 2009. Some of these rules take effect May 1.

What You Need to Know

• As of May 1, the HST will generally apply on pre-payments for products and services that are going to be provided or performed on or after July 1.
• The HST should not be charged for any goods received or services performed before July 1.

These transition rules are consistent with the approach used in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec. They are also similar to the transition rules that were used for the GST. BC has also largely adopted these transition rules.
The HST and cuts to business taxes will cut Ontario's marginal effective tax rate on new investment in half. Ontario will be providing $4.6 billion in tax relief over three years, including Corporate Income Tax cuts starting July 1, 2010.

• Find out more about the General Transitional Rules for Ontario HST
• Read about the Canada Revenue Agency's HST transitional rules
• Read more about What You Need to Know to prepare for the HST
• Get the list of Important Dates to Remember

Not the most helpful.  There were no attachments (but there were the four links that I am able to click on).

The Ontario Ministry of Revenue is not asking the most important question "How can the Government of Ontario help businesses comply with the HST rules that result from our tax reform decisions?"  The Ontario Government should do more to make it as easy as possible for Ontario businesses and businesses selling to people in Ontario to be able to comply with the new HST rules.

The fact that this is a similar approach to the approach in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador is irrelevant to the business owner who is struggling in the current economic climate.  The fact that marginal rate rates may be lower and may encourage new businesses to come to Ontario is also not important to the existing businesses.

Business owner wants someone to help them understand what they have to do to keep auditors happy.  No business owner wants auditors to find mistakes.  No Ontario business owner wants to be assessed in 1-2-3-or 4 or more years.

What is glaringly missing from today's email is basic instructions.

1) If you take on order after April 30, 2010 to sell a good AND will deliver the good after June 30, 2010, HST is collectible.  if you take an order after April 30, 2010 to sell a good AND deliver the good before July 1, 2010, HST is not collectible.

2) If you enter into a lease after April 30, 2010 to lease a good AND the lease term extends beyond June 30, 2010, HST is collectible on the part of the lease that takes place after June 30, 2010, but not the part before July 1, 2010).

3) If you enter into a verbal or written contract after April 30, 2010 to provide services AND the services are to be performed in whole or in part after June 30, 2010, HST is collectible in respect of services to be performed after June 30, 2010 (unless 90% of the services are performed before July 1, 2010 and certain other conditions are satisfied).  if you enter into a contract after April 30, 2010 to provide services and the services are performed in whole before July 1, 2010, HST is not collectible.

4)  If you entered into a written agreement of purchase and sale for residential real property in Ontario into after June 18, 2009, AND both ownership and possession are transferred after June 2010, HST is collectible.

5) If you sell a subscription to a magazine or periodical or newspaper and receive payment for the subscription in full before July 1, 2010, then HST is not collectible. If you sell a subscription to a magazine or periodical or newspaper and receive payment for the subscription in full after June 30, 2010, then HST is collectible.

6) I you collect HST before July 1, 2010, DO NOT add it to your GST/HST return until after July 1, 2010.  DO NOT include the HST in tax collected on your GST/HST filed in May or June 2010.  Include the HST in GST/HST return after July 1, 2010.

7) If your situation is not covered by the above rules because your business activity straddles the pre-July and post-HST periods, consult with an expert or the Ontario Ministry of Revenue (and take notes of who you spoke with and the advice they gave in case you need a due diligence defence in the future).

The Canada Revenue Agency Takes the Position that a Deposit is Not Consideration

Based on the current Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) position on deposits, a vendor/purchaser may not be able to get around the harmonized sales tax (HST) transition rules by having a client/customer pre-pay a deposit on April 30 or before.  The CRA's position (following statutory provisions in the GST Legislation) is that a deposit is not treated as a payment for a supply until the supplier applies it against the consideration for that supply. For example, if a person pays a deposit of $100 in April 2010 but the consideration for a taxable supply of property/a service becomes due (and the deposit is applied) on or after July 1, the $100 deposit and the balance of the consideration will be subject to HST.

The relevant statutory provision is subsection 168(9) of the Excise Tax Act (Canada), which provides:

For the purposes of [the rules on when tax is payable], a deposit (other than a deposit in respect of a covering or container ...), whether refundable or not, given in respect of a supply shall not be considered as consideration paid for the supply unless and until the supplier applies the deposit as consideration for the supply."

This provision does not leave much discretion to the CRA auditors.  I can look into my crystal ball and hear them now quoting this section after HST implementation and saying that they have no choice as the Act mandates them to issue assessments in respect of deposits.  Without a legal clarification or an administrative statement, there is assessment risk - real assessment risk.

The reason for this rule is that until the property or service is actually supplied, it is not known what was provided and whether it was provided.  It is possible that  a service/good is never be provided and, therefore, the deposit would be returned.  It is possible that an exempt or zero-rated service would be provided and, therefore, no GST/HST would be payable. 

The characterization as a refundable deposit is the problem.  The same problem exists relating to retainers and other forms of deposit that are money on account and not consideration for property or services.

Please be careful to characterize pre-payments as pre-payments.  Otherwise, a CRA auditor may take the position in the future that HST was payable, collectible and/or remittable on amounts paid before the May 1, 2010 transition rule deadline.

A little guidance is provided in CRA New Memorandum Series 19.1 Real Property and GST/HST.  For clarification, the problem is NOT restricted to real property - this is just a policy to read.  The CRA has not issued a policy statement on deposits.

Vendors in Ontario and BC Face Audit Risk If Fail To Follow HST Transition Rules

Many businesses in Ontario and British Columbia are not prepared for harmonized sales tax (HST) transition, which starts on May 1, 2010.  Yes, July 1, 2010 is the official implementation date for HST.  However, the transition rules require businesses that deliver property and/or render services after (or lease goods beyond) July 1, 2010 to collect and remit HST with respect to consideration paid after May 1, 2010.  In other words, any contracts entered into after May 1, 2010 where consideration is paid after May 1, 2010 for property delivered or leased or services rendered after July 1, 2010 would be subject to HST.  The two key facts to remember for the HST transition rules at issue are (1) delivery/provision/rental after July 1, 2010 and (2) payment received after May 1, 2010.

It is not clear why the Governments decided to implement this transition rule - except the concern that consumers and exempt businesses would somehow circumvent HST in the months of May and June 2010.

In the end, it is businesses that are most at risk.  If a vendor makes a mistake and fails to charge HST, they may be audited and assessed a penalty for failure to collect HST.  When this happens, the HST is an unrecoverable cost to the business (unless the business can pursue the consumer).

If you consider goods, this is where the vendor may get hit hard.  The vendor of goods would likely collect both GST and Ontario retail sales tax (ORST) (unless the goods are exempt from ORST) in May or June because most goods are subject to ORST.  However, a Canada Revenue Agency auditor can come along and reassess the vendor for HST if the transition rules apply.

For example, if a vendor enters into a contract to sell a $200,000 motor home on May 15, 2010 and receives payment in full, he/she may collect GST in the amount of $10,000 and mistakenly collect ORST in the amount of $16,000.  If the motor home is delivered in August 2010 (because it needed to be manufactured), the vendor should have collected HST and not ORST.  If the vendor remits the GST to the Receiver General of Canada and the ORST to the Minister of Finance in Ontario, a Canada Revenue Agency auditor may assess the vendor for failure to collect and remit HST (or may even take the position that the ORST was actually HST and that the vendor collected and did not remit HST).  The vendor may be assessed the $16,000 and interest and a penalty for making a mistake.  This mistake could require the vendor to pay over $20,000 depending on when the audit occurs (taking into account interest and penalties).

If more than one mistake is made between May 1, 2010 and July 1, 2010, the amounts could really add up.

The HST transition rules are flawed.  The vendor may face a catch-22 situation.  If the vendor promises to deliver the motor home on June 25, 2010 and collects the $200,000 on May 15, 2010, the vendor would believe the $16,000 is ORST.  The vendor must remit the ORST with its May ORST return that is due on June 23, 2010.  If the motor home is not available by June 30, 2010 and the motor home is delivered after July 1, 2010, the HST transition rules would turn the ORST into HST.  Under the HST transition rules, the vendor would be required to remit the HST with it GST/HST return for July 2010, which is due on August 30, 2010.  In other words, the vendor is required to keep the HST a little bit longer and remit the amount to the Receiver General of Canada instead of the Minister of Finance.

It will be easy for an auditor to come along in 2012 and say what a vendor should have done in the circumstances.  The auditor may not be sympathetic to the fact that the vendor did collect the right amount of sales taxes and that the Government of Ontario actually was not out any money.

Where the Government of Ontario would be out money is with respect previously non-taxable services and previously exempt goods.  With respect to the ORST exempt goods, Ontario taxation policy effectively changes on May 1, 2010 (e.g., custom computer software, bicycles, manufacturing and production equipment, etc.).

With respect to services, this is really the focus of the HST transition rules,  Here are some links to articles I have written that may help service providers:


Hint: Go to The HST Library for Harmonized Sales Tax Transition Rules

I have linked many of the harmonized sales tax (HST) publications by the Government of Ontario, Government of British Columbia, the Canada Revenue Agency and the Federal Department of Finance in the HST Library. Look at the horizontal bar at the top of this blog (below the lighthouse).  These documents contain the official position on what are the transition rules and what they mean.

If you do not find what you are looking for, please go to the links section of the blog in the right side bar.  Publications posted in the last two weeks have not been linked yet - sorry for that,

Most of the rules are vague and difficult to understand - sorry to be the messenger.  The HST transition rules regulations are drafted as broadly as possible so that the auditors can say that your particular situation is covered.  Too bad that the average person may not be able to understand how to apply a general rule to their specific fact situation.

If you need assistance in getting ready for the HST transition, which starts on May 1, 2010 (I have bee saying for a while that July 1 is not really the date), please feel free to contact me at 416-760-8999.

Reminder: May 1, 2010 May Be Your Official Start of HST Collection/Paying Obligations

This may be your last week of harmonized sales tax (HST) freedom. Sorry to be the messenger of the news.

July 1 may be the "official" implementation date of HST in Ontario/British Columbia; however, under the transition rules, all current GST registrants (wherever they are located) currently doing business in Ontario/BC, may be required to collect the 13% HST starting on  May 1, 2010.

Rule 1: If a customer purchases goods after May 1, 2010 AND pays for the goods after May 1, 2010 AND the goods are delivered after July 1, 2010, HST will be collectible on that sale even if the money is paid before July 1, 2010.  For example, a consumer purchases a custom sofa on May 2, 2010.  The delivery date for the sofa is July 23, 2010.  HST will be collectible and payable on the amounts paid for the sofa after May 1, 2010 due to the delivery date of the goods.

Rule 2:  A client purchases services after May 1, 2010 AND pays for the services after May 1, 2010 AND the services are provided after July 1, 2010, HST will be collectible on that sale even if the money is paid before July 1, 2010.  For example, a client contracts with a painter who is really busy due to the incoming HST.  He cannot paint the rooms in the house until August 2010.  Even if the client pays the painter before July 1, 2010, the supply is subject to HST because the services will be performed after July 1, 2010.

Exception to Rule 2: HST will not be payable by other clients of the painter who starts to provide the services before July 1, 2010 and is 90% complete as of July 1, 2010.

Rule #3: If a lessor (supplier) leases equipment to a lessee (recipient) starting on May 1, 2010 for 12 months and is paid in full on May 30, 2010 for the 12 month lease period, GST and HST will be collectible and payable on 10 of the monthly lease installments. GST and Ontario retail sales tax (or British Columbia Social Service tax) would be collectible and payable for 2 (May and June) of the 12 months.  Assumption is that place of supply rules puts the equipment in Ontario or BC.

If a supplier collects HST in May or June 2010, they do not remit it until their first GST/HST return after July 1, 2010.  In other words, this is the one time that it is okay to keep the tax collected for a little longer than your next return.  The reason why the Ontario and British Columbia do not want supplies to remit the HST in May or June is that the provinces will not get the money.  The HST will be characterized and GST in the computer systems.  That being said, all GST, ORST and BCSST must be remitted on time.

Consumers in Ontario and British Columbia Are Confused About HST

Today, the Toronto Star published and article entitled "Marketers latch on to HST deadline", which rightly points out that sellers are using harmonized sales tax (HST) implementation on July 1, 2010 as a marketing/sales tool to encourage consumers to buy now (before July 1).  Examples of goods and services that are being marketed by savy marketers include, cars, gym memberships, homes, bikes and season theatre tickets.

I would like to help consumers with the following (which is not a complete analysis):

Bikes: In Ontario, bicycles are exempt from Ontario retail sales tax (ORST).  After July 1, 2010, bikes will be subject to GST and HST in Ontario.  As a result, individuals can save the 8% HST component by purchasing a new bike before July 1, 2010 (and taking delivery before July 1, 2010).  If you plan to by a stationary exercise bicycle, the ORST exemption does not apply and, therefore, the tax will be the same before and after July 1, 2010.

Homes: Most new homes and substantially renovated homes are subject to GST.  Homes are not subject to ORST (or British Columbia social service tax (BCSST)).  That being said, the tangible personal property (e.g., lumber, bricks, tiles, windows, paint, etc.) that is used to build or renovate a home is subject to ORST (and BCSST) and is embedded in the cost. 

After July 1, 2010, new homes will be subject to HST and the buyer may or may not be entitled to receive a new homes rebate.  The HST will be charged on the sale price of the home (not just the tangible goods that were used to build the home).  As a result, more tax is likely payable after July 1, 2010.

As a general rule, used homes that have been lived in by an individual generally are not subject to GST (and will not be subject to HST).  There are a number of exceptions to this rule that are fact specific.

It is important to note that whether a new home or a used home is being purchased/sold, after July 1, 2010, the real estate agent's commission, home appraisal fees, home inspection fees, legal fees, moving services and renovation services will be subject to HST (not previously subject to ORST).  Some buyers and sellers are trying to close deals before July 1, 2010 in order to save the HST component on these fees.

It is important to note that the BCSST rules on services are different than Ontario and some services are subject to BCSST.

Cars: Cars are subject to GST.  Cars are also subject to ORST or BCSST.  The combined tax on a new car should be the same before and after July 1, 2010.

In Ontario, ORST is payable on private transfers of used cars.  This ORST will continue to be payable after July 1, 2010 if a car is sold via a private sale after July 1, 2010.  The ORST is paid at the time the change on ownership is registered at the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.  If a used car is purchased at a car dealership, the dealer will charge GST and HST.

Gym Memberships:  The HST transition rules include a special rule for memberships.  If a membership is purchased before May 1, 2010 and paid for in full before May 1, 2010, then HST is not applicable. If a membership is purchased after May 1, 2010 or paid after May 1, 2010, then HST is payable only in respect of the portion of the membership fees attributable to goods and services rendered after July 1, 2010.  Marketers must make it clear that the special savings apply only in the membership is paid for in full before May 1, 2010.

Here is the example provided by the Government of Ontario:

Example 14: In June 2010, a person purchases a four-month membership in a fitness club for the months of June through September 2010. The HST would be payable with respect to three of the four months of the membership (i.e., on 75 per cent of the total consideration).

Season Tickets to the Theatre: The HST transition rules provide that if a contract for property and/or services are purchased before May 1, 2010 and paid in full before May 1, 2010, then HST will not be applicable.  In order to save HST, some consumers may wish to buy seasons tickets before May 1, 2010.

That being said, in Ontario, amusement ORST is a 10% tax as opposed to an 8% tax.  The amusement ORST applies to admissions into places of amusement (including theatres)depending on the size of the venue (there is an exemption for theatres with fewer than 3,200 seats). As a result, depending on the size of the theatre, it may or may not be beneficial to make the purchase before May 1, 2010.

One quote in the Toronto Sun article struck my attention:

“It’s expected businesses would promote those types of sales,” said Tatiana Chabeaux-Smith, a spokeswoman at Consumer Protection B.C. “There doesn’t seem to be anything deceptive — it’s a sales tactic.”

I have to disagree.  If the car salesman convinces a person to buy a car now in order to save HST, he/she is providing incorrect information in order to make the sale.  This should not be an acceptable sales tactic.  I will predict more small claims court cases after July 1, 2010 when pressure tactics to make a sale are discovered and the enthusiasm for the purchase dissipates.

Ontario Releases HST Tips for Public Service Bodies

On April 19, 2010 the Ontario Ministry of Revenue issued Tax Tip #5 "Public Service Bodies" to give guidance to public service bodies about how harmonized sales tax implementation will affect them.  It is important to note that the document itself says it was issued in "April 2010", which is technically correct - but it may be misleading in 2 years or more when an auditor wishes to use this document against a PSB in the context of an audit.  I  am looking into my crystal ball and see an auditor telling a PSB that they had an entire month before the May 1, 2010 transition rule date to read the document.

This tax tip is for PSBs, which includes charities, municipalities, universities, public colleges, school authorities, hospital authorities and non-profit organizations.  These entities provide exempt supplies (at least in part) and are not entitled to claim full input tax credits to recover goods and services tax (GST) and harmonized sales tax (to the extent that it is applicable on their purchases).  That being said, these entities may be entitled to claim certain public service body rebates:

Type of PSB Federal Rebate Percentage (of GST) Ontario Rebate Percentage (of HST)
Municipalities 100% 78%
Universities and Public Colleges established and operated on a non-profit basis 67% 93%
School Authorities established and operated on a non-profit basis 68% 93%
Hospital Authorities (only for activities of operating a public hospital), Hospitals (for eligible activities other than the operations of a public hospital) and facility operators and external providers (for eligible activities) 83% 87%
Charities and Qualifying Non-profit Organizations 50% 82%

It is important to note that the provincial rebate percentage in other provinces in the HST Zone (e.g., British Columbia) are different.

What this chart means is that if a charity makes a purchase for $100, it will pay $5 in GST and $8 in HST.  The charity is entitled to a PSB rebate of $2.50 of the GST and $6.56 of the HST.  The charity does not recover $3.94, which is an unrecoverable expense.  When the charity completes its GST/HST return, it must claim the rebate amounts and fill out all the necessary paperwork to recover the $2.50 and $6.56.  While recovery of otherwise unrecoverable amounts is good - there are administrative costs that need to be acknowledged (for which compensation is not available).

Tax Tip #5 covers the mere basics regarding (1) registration (including the small supplier threshold), (2) charging HST, (3) self-assessment (including the transition period between October 14, 2009 and May 1, 2010 - but does not give much assistance), (4) rebates, (5) quick method accounting, (6) special net tax calculation for charities, etc.

Continue Reading...

Key HST Dates to Help With Preparation

There are a number of key dates in the time lines for harmonized sales tax (HST) in Ontario and British Columbia.  I hope that these time lines help you prepare and organize yourselves.



March 23, 2009


McGuinty Government announces plans to implement HST

After October 14, 2009 Certain businesses and public service bodies may be required to self-assess and remit the provincial component of HST (=8%)
March 25, 2010 Place of Supply Rules announced
May 1, 2010

GST registrants will begin to charge and collect HST for property and/or services to be delivered after July 1, 2010 (if not paid in full by April 30, 2010)

Ontario businesses should be registered for GST/HST purposes

Systems should be in place to record and track HST (collected and paid) and restricted input tax credits

Week of June 28, 2010 To the extent possible, issue pre-HST invoices and reduce audit risk
July 1, 2010

HST Implementation Date (13% HST applies)

Certain Ontario businesses will be required to file GST/HST returns electronically

Businesses that are required to file GST/HST returns electronically should take steps to be ready

July 23, 2010 Final Ontario retail sales tax return is due
August 31, 2010 Any monthly GST/HST filer must remit HST collected between May 1, 2010 and July 31, 2010
October 31, 2010

Any applicable Ontario retail sales tax must be paid by this date

Any quarterly GST/HST filer must remit HST collected between May 1, 2010 and September 3, 2010

November 23, 2010 Final Ontario retail sales tax supplemental return is due


British Columbia


July 23, 2009


Campbell Government announces plans to implement HST

After October 14, 2009 Certain businesses and public service bodies may be required to self-assess and remit the provincial component of HST (=7%)
March 25, 2010 Place of Supply Rules announced
May 1, 2010

GST registrants will begin to charge and collect HST for property and/or services to be delivered after July 1, 2010 (if not paid in full by April 30, 2010)

BC businesses should be registered for GST/HST purposes

Systems should be in place to record and track HST (collected and paid) and restricted input tax credits

Week of June 28, 2010 To the extent possible, issue pre-HST invoices and reduce audit risk
July 1, 2010

HST Implementation Date (12% HST applies)

Certain British Columbia businesses will be required to file GST/HST returns electronically

Businesses that are required to file GST/HST returns electronically should take steps to be ready

July 23, 2010 Final British Columbia social service tax return is due
August 31, 2010 Any monthly GST/HST filer must remit HST collected between May 1, 2010 and July 31, 2010
October 31, 2010

Any applicable British Columbia social service tax must be paid by this date

Any quarterly GST/HST filer must remit HST collected between May 1, 2010 and September 3, 2010

January 23, 2011

Final British Columbia social service tax supplemental return is due

Vendors will be entitled to commissions re final British Columbia social services tax returns and supplemental returns filed before this date


For The Next Two Weeks Only, No HST On Goods and Services Delivered After July 1

Some businesses in Ontario and British Columbia have a promotional opportunity.  Businesses that sell goods and/or services may advertise that if payment in full is received before May 1, 2010 for goods and/or services to be delivered after July 1, 2010, HST will not be payable.  Few customers/clients may be aware of this opportunity to take advantage of the Ontario transition rules and British Columbia transition rules.  Please refer to the HST Library for more government publications on the transition rules.

April 16 - 30, 2010 presents an opportunity to place an ad on your web-site, post a promotional sign in your store window, change your voice mail greeting, or place more traditional advertising.  For example, a hair stylist or massage therapist may offer coupons for services to be delivered after July 1, 2010.  If the client pays in full for the book of coupons before May 1, 2010, then the service provider will not be required to charge, collect and remit HST (even when the pre-paid coupon is used).  Another example is that a buyer of custom furniture may pay for the furniture in full before May 1, 2010 and will not have to pay HST if the custom furniture is delivered after July 1, 2010.

There is a risk for the buyer of non-delivery of goods and/or non-performance of services.  Buyers will have to weigh the credibility of the supplier against their desire to save the HST.  However, if my hair stylist were to present this opportunity to me and I have been going to Jie Matar for years, I would feel comfortable parting with my money.  Each consumer will have to assess their comfort with pre-payment.

NOTE: Prepayment is different than a deposit.  A deposit that can be returned (such as a lawyer's retainer) may not satisfy the payment prior to May 1, 2010 transition rule requirement.  If the deposit is held in trust and is not applied to an invoice for delivery or performance before July 1, 2010, the CRA auditors may expect HST.  The CRA has administrative positions relating to deposits that are based on provisions in the Excise Tax Act.  In other words, use of the word "deposit" may be problematic in an audit.  The payment must be a pre-payment or consideration for the goods and/or services.

If a business takes advantage of the transition rules, they must keep detailed records.  An auditor may show up to conduct an audit in 3 years and will ask why HST was not collected on the deliveries (services performed) that occurred after July 1, 2010.  The business will have to provide evidence of the payment before May 1, 2010 (an auditor will not rely on a statement).  It will be important to enter the receipts of money into the business records (e.g., general ledger accounts for April 2010) as soon as possible and preferably in April 2010.  Frequent trips to the bank in April 2010 is highly recommended so that you can prove the deposits - you must have received the money from the customer or client if you deposited the money in the bank.  The purchase of a "PAID" stamp from the office supplies store would be helpful (but may not be considered definitive proof because the stamp could be used in May, June, July) -- a stamp on each paid invoice along with the date of payment would be evidence if matched with other documents (such as photocopied cheques, bank statements, credit card receipts, etc.).  Scanning documents into computerized records that will show an April 2010 saved date may be useful.

I would like to note that auditors can be difficult and not accept documentary evidence.  lawyers and courts like documentary evidence. A real attempt to keep accurate records may satisfy due diligence defense requirements even if the record-keeping is not perfect.

The Music Industry is Blogging About HST

I came across an interesting post by Music Central News about the implementation of HST. What is interesting about this post to an HST specialist is:

1) That they have attended GST/HST seminars;

2) They are communicating to their audience the HST as they understand them; and

3) They are concerned about the HST having an impact on an increasing underground economy.

However, I am concerned about such posts - Unfortunately, the information is not prestinely accurate.  They write:

If you have already booked with us for a date after July 1, 2010 and paperwork has been sent out with just the G.S.T. then you will continue to pay just the G.S.T..  An advantage for booking early!

Actually, the transition rule for services to be performed after July 1, 2010 requires (1) the contract to be entered into before May 1, 2010 and (2) payment of consideration before May 1, 2010.  If the payment is received after May 1, 2010, then the services performed after July 1, 2010 would be subject to HST. If the contract is not signed and returned before May 1, 2010 (it is not sufficient for the quotation to be mailed), then the services performed after July 1, 2010 would be subject to HST.  A deposit is not considered to be consideration for the performance of a service. A deposit is treated as consideration for the supply at the moment in time that it is allocated to the supply. Also, the amount owing under the contract must be paid in full before May 1, 2010 to satisfy the HST transition rule.

Another unfortunate issue is the underground economy. Just because a person does not charge HST does not mean that they are bad and part of the underground economy. If a small supplier does not make taxable sales in excess of $30,000 per year, they are not required to register for GST/HST purposes and do not have to charge GST/HST. A business cannot get around the small supplier threshold of $30,000 by having more than one business - the threshold is calculated based on the related businesses. If a business does not register for GST/HST purposes, they will not be entitled to recover input tax credits regarding the GST/HST paid on business inputs.

My last point, and I really hate to bring this up when the Music Central news is trying hard to be helpful, highlights the problem with prepayments of deposits. When amounts are paid for services before they are delivered, it is possible that the services will not be provided. Is the risk of non-performance of services worth saving the 8% HST. I would rather have control over 100% the money for the services.

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


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



Sales intangible property

HST Applies



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.