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Uber BV v The Commissioner of Taxation

Last Friday, the Federal Court held that services supplied under the uberX service constitute “taxi travel” within the meaning of s 144-5 (1) of the A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999 (Cth).

 

To give context to this dispute, following the rise in popularity of the ride sharing platform the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) announced in 2015 that Uber drivers will have to register and pay GST, regardless of turnover. The general rule regarding registration is that an enterprise with a turnover of less than $75,000 is not required to register for GST. An exception to this rule is Section 144-5(1) which requires a person who is carrying on an enterprise of supplying ‘taxi travel’ to be registered for GST regardless of turnover. Section 195-1 of the GST Act goes on to define ‘taxi travel’ as ‘travel that involves transporting passenger, by taxi or limousine, for fares’.

 

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) took the position that the Uber platform fell within this exception. However Uber disagreed with this position and sought a declaration from the Federal Court that the services provided by UberX drivers did not constitute taxi travel.

 

Applicant Submissions:


The applicant made submissions on the construction of ‘taxi travel’ claiming:

 

  • ‘Taxi Travel’ was intended to apply only to the taxi industry as the legislature did not seek to deal with this issue in any other industry.

  • The statutory context suggests that the words “taxi” and “limousine” bear a trade or non-legal meaning. Alternatively the ordinary meaning of the words “taxi” and “limousine” was heavily influenced by the underlying regulatory regime.
  • The disjunctive “taxi or limousine” in the definition of s195-1 provides that “taxi” and “limousine” have different meanings.

 

Using the above mentioned arguments on statutory construction, the applicant put forward factual arguments distinguishing Uber from Taxis. The applicant contended that Uber services did not display the essential operational features of a taxi, on the basis that Uber vehicles do not show markings, the access is limited to Uber licensees (App Users), payment systems and calculations differ and Uber drivers are not required to display a fare meter.

 

Respondent Submissions:


The respondent’s made submissions that:

 

  • “Taxi travel” is to be construed as a whole and connotes the transport, by a person driving a private vehicle, for a fare irrespective of whether the fare is calculated by reference to a taximeter.

  • The services supplied by Uber demonstrate the essential features of transport “by taxi” and “by limousine”.
  • The applicant incorrectly relied on the regulatory regimes applying to the taxi industry.

 

The Commissioner in support of its submission on the construction of ‘taxi travel’ used dictionary definitions to help identify the key features of a ‘taxi’ in ordinary understanding.

 

Furthermore the Commissioner made submissions that the difference between a limousine and a taxi was that a limousine is not calculated by reference to a taximeter and will need to be pre-booked. Therefore, “limousine” could apply to any hire car.

 

Decision:


Justice Griffiths “accepted the Commissioner’s submission that the word “taxi” is a vehicle available for hire by the public and which transports a passenger at his or her direction for the payment of a fare that will often, but not always, be calculated by reference to a taximeter”. In reaching this decision, consideration was placed on principles of statutory interpretation. Further to this the dictionary definitions the Commissioner relied upon provided the court with a supporting context of this interpretation.

 

However, Griffiths J rejected the Commissioner’s position that limousine was not confined to luxury cars. Instead the ordinary meaning of limousine “was a private luxurious motor vehicle which is made available for public hire and which transports a passenger at his or her direction for the payment of a fare”. Although the present matter involved a Honda Civic which did not meet this definition, Griffiths J recognised this position may be different in cases of other UberX drivers who do use luxury cars.


Ultimately this decision will impose huge compliance burdens on Uber and its drivers. Particularly Uber drivers will now have to register both an Australian Business Number and register for GST, charge an additional 10%, lodge Business Activity Statements and claim Input Tax Credits.

 

With this being another win for the Commissioner, it can be expected that there will be a crackdown in tax compliance within the ride sharing industry. 

Co-authored with Ben Caratti

Posted in: Tax & ATO News Australia at 09 March 17

Qantas loses GST battle with ATO

On 2 October 2012, a landmark decision was handed down by the High Court of Australia in favour of the Commissioner of the Taxation.

 

The majority held that that Qantas must pay GST to the Commissioner of Taxation on tickets sold for flights that were never taken, and where customers never sought a refund.
 
Qantas argued that it was entitled to keep $34 million in GST on non-refundable and refundable but unclaimed tickets as it had not made a supply.
 
On the other hand, the Commissioner of Taxation argued that Qantas had made a supply by keeping its fares for its customers.
 
However, after examining the terms and conditions of Qantas’ contracts with its passengers, the majority held that Qantas does not provide an unconditional promise to carry passengers or their baggage on a particular flight. 
 
Instead the majority held that, “[Qantas] supplied something less than that. This was at least a promise to use the best endeavours to carry the passenger and baggage having regard to the circumstances of the business operations on the airline. This was a ‘taxable supply’ for which the consideration, being the fare was received.”
 
This case makes it clear that taxable supply is made incurring GST liability even if a passenger does not show up for their flight. This decision could therefore implicate other businesses that charge GST on non-refundable tickets, such as tour companies, ticket operators and other transport operators.
 

Posted in: Tax & ATO News Australia at 05 October 12

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Author: David Hughes

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