A recent case alerts us to the advantages of appointing companies as trustees of self-managed super funds (SMSF). The case highlights that individual trustees are exposed to personal liability for non-compliance with the relevant super laws.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) recently upheld a decision of the Commissioner of Taxation to impose tax liability (at 47%) plus penalties on the individual trustee of a SMSF despite the fact that:
The case is Shail Superannuation Fund v Commissioner of Taxation.Hadi Mazloum
The case of Shail reminds us:
VCAT was aware of the significant liability imposed on the trustee wife and was sympathetic to her plight. It felt, however, that affirming the Commissioner's decision was necessary to uphold the policies of the legislation.
You can read the full case here. We will discuss it below.
Corporate trustee vs individual trustee
There are significant benefits to appointing a corporate trustee (company) for your SMSF vs individual trustees. These include:
Perhaps the most notable of these benefits is that corporate trustees have limited liability. The situation in Shail would not have been so dire for the wife if a company had been the trustee of the SMSF.
More about the Shail case
The marriage between Mr and Mrs Shail was troubled and in 1992, they sought legal advice regarding a divorce. The couple reconciled and their relationship continued for some years. In 2005, withdrawals were made from the Shail Superannuation Fund (Fund) totalling $3,460,000 and were sent to a bank account in Turkey. By this time, Mr Shail had disappeared overseas.
- At the time of the withdrawals, neither trustee had reached their preservation age of 55 years.
- The Fund was declared non-complying by the Commissioner.
- The Commissioner assessed the taxable income of the Fund to be $3,369,944, with tax payable of $1,583,873 (the non-complying Fund lost its concessional tax treatment and was therefore taxed at 47%).
- The Commissioner also issued a notice of penalty assessment for $1,475,322.
- The total tax liability for the Fund was therefore $3,059,196.10.At VCAT, Mrs Shail argued that given she had no knowledge of the actions of her husband, she was not liable to pay tax on the stolen income.
VCAT found in favour of the Commissioner. While sympathetic to Mrs Shail's situation, the Tribunal decided that:
- the requirements as set out in section 42A(5) of the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 (Act) had not been met. The trustee had contravened regulatory provisions of the Act, so the Fund was deemed non-complying;
- Mr Shail had contravened sections 62 and 65 of the Act which require a trustee to maintain the Fund solely for its core purpose and to ensure that no money is lent from the Fund to a member or relative;
- the purpose of the Act is to ensure each member is fully involved and has the opportunity to participate equally in the decision making processes of the fund (ie: so that the fund is truly self-managed);
- there could be cases where discretion may be afforded to SMSFs under section 42A5(b)(ii) of the Act so as to grant relief to the trustee, but this was not such a case given the seriousness of the contraventions; and
- a finding of compliance would undermine the objects of the legislation and the policies that underpin it.
On the basis of the above, the Tribunal found the Fund non-complying and that the tax assessment and penalties issued by the Commissioner should stand.
More information from Maddocks
For more information, contact Maddocks on (03) 9288 0555 and ask to speak to a member of the General Commercial or Superannuation teams.
More information from Cleardocs
For more information about the Cleardocs:
  AATA 940.
Andrew is a lawyer in the Maddocks Tax & Revenue team.
Andrew provides advice on:
His advice covers both direct and indirect tax considerations.
Prior to joining Maddocks, Andrew was a tax consultant at a Big 4 Chartered Accounting Firm.
The legal information and commentary on this site is general only. Documents ordered through Cleardocs affect the user's legal rights and liabilities. To assess their suitability for the user, legal accounting and financial advice must be obtained.
For more information, contact Maddocks on (03) 9258 3555 and ask to speak to a member of their team.