Brian Fallow

The Economics Editor of the NZ Herald

Relief as tax changes narrowed

Employees' city car-park perk appears main target but devil will be in the detail

Commuters who choose a parking space instead of salary could be hit in the pocket. Photo / Greg Bowker
Commuters who choose a parking space instead of salary could be hit in the pocket. Photo / Greg Bowker

Tax practitioners have welcomed the Government decision to significantly narrow the scope of planned changes relating to salary trade-off benefits.

What remains, which largely relates to car parks in the Auckland and Wellington central business districts, nevertheless represents an expansion of the tax base and will impose compliance costs for a modest yield in revenue.

And inevitably at this stage of the law-making process, boundary and definition issues remain - what counts as the CBD?

What counts as a "work vehicle" or a "late night shift" or "disabled parking", all of which will be exempt?

Deloitte chief executive Thomas Pippos said it was hard to disagree with the high-level principle behind the reforms: that employees should not be able to trade-off taxable salary income for non-cash, non-taxable benefits.

And it was positive that the very wide "dragnet" approach of the original proposals last April had been significantly narrowed.

But such changes always created boundary issues and it remained to be seen what devils would lurk in the details of the tax bill to be introduced next month, he said.

One thing Revenue Minister Peter Dunne's announcement on Wednesday did make clear is that the moves to tax salary trade-offs will be through the fringe benefit tax rules, rather than employees' income tax.

However, employees are affected inasmuch as "explicit" salary trade-offs involving vehicles and car parks will be included in the definition of income for Working or Families and other social assistance programmes, student loan repayments and the parental income test for student allowances.

"It is not clear at this stage what will constitute an 'explicit' salary trade-off," Pippos said.

"However, we expect it is intended to cover instances where an employee chooses to take a non-cash benefit over salaried income," he said. "This should be distinct from situations where an employee is provided with a car park or vehicle by their employer as part of an overall employment package."

The original proposals would have caught benefits provided to employees of charities.

Most of that has been dropped, except for petrol and grocery vouchers.

Dunne said that to reduce compliance costs standard values would apply when a car park was not provided through a commercial car park operator.

KPMG tax partner Murray Sarelius said he expected this would be around $10 to $15 a day, based on typical CBD parking rates.

- NZ Herald

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