The Federal Court has held that, where an assessment has not been issued, s 254 of the ITAA 1936 does not require retention of monies by a liquidator upon the mere happening of a CGT event (ie a disposal of property) and payment of those monies to the ATO.

  • The taxpayer company had been placed into administration in April 2011, its creditors resolved it be wound up and liquidators were appointed.
  • The company had a property asset at the time at was placed in liquidation which was disposed of by the liquidators in the course of the winding up.
  • That disposal constituted a CGT event.

A dispute arose between the liquidators and the Commissioner as to whether the liquidators were obliged by s 254 of the ITAA 1936, prior to the issuing of a notice of assessment to the taxpayer, to retain monies so as to meet what may be a tax liability in respect of the income year when the CGT event occurred and to pay to the Commissioner the whole of any tax due by the taxpayer in priority to other creditors of that company.

The accountants acting for the taxpayer and its liquidators sought a private ruling in January 2012 as to whether the liquidator was required under s 254 to account to the Commissioner out of the proceeds of sale, any CGT liability that crystallises on the sale of an asset that belonged to the company before liquidation. The Commissioner answered “yes”. The taxpayer’s objection was disallowed and the matter came before the Federal Court.

The Federal Court found that s 254 had no application to the liquidators. They were not, in the absence of any assessment, subject to any retention and payment obligation derived from that section, the Court said. The Court said that s 254 is but a collection provision and that the assessment of a taxation liability arising from what is the operation of other provisions of the ITAA 1936 or the ITAA 1997 is fully contestable under Pt IVC of the Taxation Administration Act 1953.

In the Court’s view, it followed that s 254 does not provide for an incontestable tax in the sense described by Gibbs CJ, Wilson, Deane and Dawson JJ in MacCormick v FCT [1984] HCA 20; (1984) 158 CLR 622 at 639-640. The Court held that the Commissioner’s objection decision should be quashed and the answers given in the private ruling by the ATO be set aside.

(Australian Building Systems Pty Ltd v FCT [2014] FCA 116, Federal Court, Logan J, 21 February 2014.)

[LTN 36, 24/2/14]

Extract from the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936

254 Agents and trustees

(1)  With respect to every agent and with respect also to every trustee [defined as including liquidators], the following provisions shall apply:

(a)      He or she shall be answerable as taxpayer for the doing of all such things as are required to be done by virtue of this Act in respect of the income, or any profits or gains of a capital nature, derived by him or her in his or her representative capacity, or derived by the principal by virtue of his or her agency, and for the payment of tax thereon.

(b)      He or she shall in respect of that income, or those profits or gains, make the returns and be assessed thereon, but in his or her representative capacity only, and each return and assessment shall, except as otherwise provided by this Act, be separate and distinct from any other.

(c)      If he or she is a trustee of the estate of a deceased person, the returns shall be the same as far as practicable as the deceased person, if living, would have been liable to make.

(d)      He or she is hereby authorized and required to retain from time to time out of any money which comes to him or her in his or her representative capacity so much as is sufficient to pay tax which is or will become due in respect of the income, profits or gains.

(e)      He or she is hereby made personally liable for the tax payable in respect of the income, profits or gains to the extent of any amount that he or she has retained, or should have retained, under paragraph (d); but he or she shall not be otherwise personally liable for the tax.

(f)       He or she is hereby indemnified for all payments which he or she makes in pursuance of this Act or of any requirement of the Commissioner.

(g)      Where as one of 2 or more joint agents or trustees he or she pays any amount for which they are jointly liable, each other one is liable to pay him or her an equal share of the amount so paid.

(h)      For the purpose of insuring the payment of tax the Commissioner shall have the same remedies against attachable property of any kind vested in or under the control or management or in the possession of any agent or trustee, as the Commissioner would have against the property of any other taxpayer in respect of tax.

(2)  Subsection (1) applies to the following in the same way as it applies to tax:

(a)      the general interest charge under:

(i)      section 163AA, former section 170AA, former subsection 204(3), former subsection 221AZMAA(1), former subsection 221AZP(1), former subsection 221YD(3) or former section 221YDB of this Act;

(ii)     section 5-15 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 ;

(b)      additional tax under former Part VII of this Act;

(c)      shortfall interest charge.

Note 1:       The general interest charge is worked out under Part IIA of the Taxation Administration Act 1953 and shortfallinterest charge is worked out under Division 280 in Schedule 1 to that Act.

Note 2:       Subsection 8AAB(4) of that Act lists the provisions that apply the general interest charge.

(3)  In paragraphs (1)(d) and (e), and in its first occurrence in paragraph (1)(h), tax includes, in addition to the things mentioned in subsection (2):

(a)      trustee beneficiary non-disclosure tax within the meaning of Division 6D of Part III; and

(b)      general interest charge payable under section 102UPin respect of such tax.