For some time the ATO has been reminding trustees to "keep SMSF assets in the Fund's name". A common catch-cry in ATO speeches and media releases this year, it is actually a little misconceived. As trusts aren't separate legal entities (which is why they have a trustee), legal title to assets can't actually be registered in a fund's name: they have to be registered in the trustee's name. The ATO is actually targeting the obligation of trustees, under the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993, to "keep the money and other assets of the entity separate from any money and assets" of the trustee or, say, the employer sponsor (see s52(2)(d)).
Where possible, you should record assets as being held by the trustee, say, "on behalf of the Carmody Family SMSF". This obligation to keep assets separate is crucial and you can expect the ATO to police this more vigorously over time. While the ATO announced that it would not take action where auditors reported a contravention of this requirement in the 2004/2005 financial year, it has stated that from 1 July 2005 if auditors report a contravention "trustees will be subject to scrutiny".
The ATO seems increasingly concerned at the lack of records kept by SMSF trustees. Keeping accurate records assists trustees of SMSFs demonstrate their compliance with legal obligations such as the duty to give effect to an investment strategy, keep assets separate and keep track of changes of trustees. The ATO has also mentioned that SMSF trustees regularly fail to document leasing arrangements. Taking measures to keep these kinds of records is not difficult: they're simple steps to help ensure the fund's ongoing compliance.
From July 2005 the ATO will be contacting SMSFs to confirm important details such as number of members, trustee structure and contact details. Where the ATO becomes aware through this process that an SMSF structure is non-compliant, they have said that trustees must make the necessary changes to ensure the fund meets the definition of an SMSF, and notify the ATO accordingly.
Overall, one gets the idea that the ATO is ramping up its regulatory supervision of SMSFs. It's important to realise this has been a gradual process over the past two years and you would expect that this "tap on the shoulder" approach will escalate to more interventionist regulation over time.
Those clients considering a move from retail superannuation funds, whether or not to a SMSF, should be encouraged to request the most recent version of their existing fund's PDS. From 1 July 2005, all PDSs issued by such funds must contain prescribed information about fees and charges in a common format: this makes it easier to decipher just how much fees and charges are affecting member returns. And because all such funds have to comply, it also makes it simpler to compare different funds' fee structures.
Geoff Musgrove is a partner in the Maddocks Commercial team.
Geoff's principal areas of practice are:
Geoff acts for a wide range of commercial, government, accounting, manufacturing, professional and rural industry clients.
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