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ATO affirms Bornstein decision

In an earlier blog I discussed the ATO’s reluctance to exercise its discretion to disregard excess superannuation contributions. You may recall that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has found in favour of the ATO in all cases except two: Bornstein and Longcake. The ATO has now released a Decision Impact Statement in support of the AAT’s decision in Bornstein.

 

Bornstein concerned a taxpayer who was a sole director, shareholder and employee of a small company. At the end of each financial year Mr Bornstein, as ‘employer’, would make a superannuation contribution into his own superannuation fund. While overseas between 21 June and 8 July 2007, Mr Bornstein emailed his accountant to ask whether a superannuation contribution needed to be made prior to 30 June. Mr Bornstein received no response from his accountant, and decided to check the ATO website to see when the contribution could be made.
 
Mr Bornstein found on the website that an employer has up until 28 July to make a compulsory contribution for the previous quarter in accordance with the Superannuation Guarantee Administration Act 1992 (Cth). However, the site did not identify the consequences of such late payment on the employee under the excess contributions regime. Mr Bornstein was not aware of this parallel regime.
 
In reliance on the belief that a payment on 10 July 2007 would relate to the 2007 income year, Mr Bornstein proceeded to make a contribution. In June 2008 Mr Bornstein made a further contribution to his superannuation fund after confirming with his accountant that this was correct.  The ATO later assessed him for excess contributions tax because of the June 2008 payment.
 
Based on the circumstances, Mr Bornstein applied to the Commissioner to exercise his discretion to disregard the resulting excess contributions. However, the Commissioner did not exercise his discretion to do so.
 
On appeal of the decision, the Tribunal held that the Commissioner’s decision should be set aside and that discretion should be exercised in favour of Mr Bornstein. Senior Member McCabe held that special circumstances existed because there was a “‘perfect storm’ of events, miscommunications and misunderstandings”.
 
The Decision Impact Statement released by the ATO affirms this decision, and states that the decision is consistent with its stated view in PS LA 2008/1. In particular, paragraph 37 of PS LA 2008/1 provides that “each individual case will present a unique set of circumstances that need to be considered and weighed up in forming an opinion. It may not be helpful to focus too closely on each particular circumstance and ask whether it is special. Of itself, one particular matter is unlikely to be special for there would be many other individuals in a similar situation. The question is whether, when the relevant circumstances of the individual and the making of the relevant contribution are looked at in their entirety, they may be fairly described as unusual, uncommon or exceptional so as to warrant the exercise of the discretion”
 
It is not surprising that the ATO has affirmed this decision, as the decision establishes a very high threshold for exercising the discretion. 
 

Posted in: Tax & ATO News Australia at 20 March 13

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Author: David Hughes

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