Commissioner issues Decision Impact Statement for Qantas

On Friday the Commissioner issued his Decision Impact Statement for the decision of the High Court in Commissioner of Taxation v Qantas Airways Ltd [2012] HCA 41.

Some highlights from the Commissioner’s views in the statement include:

  1. The decision does not cause any significant change in the way the Commissioner approaches ‘supply’ or the nexus between supply and consideration.
  2. In cases where a payment is made on entry into a contract which secures rights (whether conditional or not) to a further supply, the Commissioner considers that the payment will be consideration for a supply consisting of at least the provision of those rights (and entry into the corresponding obligations), even if the further contemplated supply is not ultimately made
  3. There is nothing in the Qantas decision that would suggest that supplies need to be ‘dissected’ into their component parts, or that the focus of GST should be on contractual rights and obligations instead of performance.
  4. The Commissioner maintains the view, as recognised in his public rulings, that in many cases, the entry into contractual obligations and corresponding creation of rights should be construed, where relevant, as part of a composite supply that includes the performance of those obligations.

The views of the Commissioner in the Decision Impact Statement will likely cause much discussion.  For my part, I am not sure that matters 2, 3 and 4 sit comfortably together.

International cases update – September 2012 – single vs multiple supplies and possible impact of Qantas

In September 2012 the following cases dealing with VAT issues were published in the UK.  From my research there were no significant cases published in New Zealand or Canada.

It is notable that two of the decisions of the Tribunal involved the perennial question of whether a transaction involved a single supply or multiple supplies for VAT purposes.  My analysis of these decisions can be found here.  Also, as discussed in my analysis, one wonders whether the recent decision of the High Court in Qantas will impact on how Australian Courts will approach this question going forward.

United Kingdom

First Tier Tribunal

  • Chipping Sodbury Golf Club v Revenue & Customs [2012] UKFTT 557 – VAT – sporting exemption for golf clubs – Article 13A(1)(m) Sixth Directive – members’ subscriptions – single supply or multiple supplies – Card Protection Plan considered – held single supply – profit making proprietary clubs – whether entitled to exemption – no – appeals dismissed
  • Colin Summers & Christopher Summers v Revenue & Customs [2012] UKFTT 590 – VALUE ADDED TAX — registration — whether appellants trading as single partnership or as two differently constituted partnerships — on the evidence, two separate partnerships — appeal allowed
  • Goals Soccer Centres plc v Revenue & Customs [2012] UKFTT 576 – VAT – Single or multiple supplies; five-a-side football; Pitch hire agreements and management services of sports leagues; whether single supply or multiple supplies, whether artificial to split or artificial to combine; tests to be applied and factors to be taken into account; relevance of the principle of fiscal neutrality
  • Goodman Equine Ltd v Revenue & Customs [2012] UKFTT 565 – VAT – input tax claim refused – horse trading – is business test satisfied – no
  • JIB Group Ltd v Revenue & Customs [2012] UKFTT 547 – VAT – INPUT TAX – was professional independent trustee of pension schemes entitled to deduct VAT on services of third party advisers relating to schemes? – held yes – are amounts paid by schemes in relation to advisers’ services consideration for supplies of services by trustee? – held yes – do principles of legitimate expectation, fiscal neutrality and equal treatment lead to different result? – held no – appeal allowed
  • Lakeside Collector Cards v The Commissioners Revenue & Customs [2012] UKFTT 563 – VALUE ADDED TAX – Input tax – Change from cash accounting – Return submitted 2½ years late – Capping provisions – Whether input tax capped as from time return due or from time received by Respondents – Status of Respondents’ manual published on Internet considered
  • Lok’nstore Group Plc v Revenue & Customs [2012[ UKFTT 589 – VAT – INPUT TAX – partial exemption – whether standard method and special method produce fair and reasonable attribution of input tax – held yes – whether special method proposed by Appellant produces fairer and more reasonable result than standard method – held yes – appeal allowed
  • Nathaniel David Roden and Rebecca Catherine Roden v Revenue & Customs [2012] UKFTT 586 – VAT –  let of hotel accommodation by undisclosed agent – deemed supply by and to agent under s47(3) VATA – whether deemed supply to agent necessarily has same VAT status as deemed  supply by agent – no – whether Item 1(d) of Group 1 to Schedule 9 VATA only exempts supplies to physical user of accommodation – no – appeal allowed in principle
  • Westminster College of Computing Ltd v Revenue & Customs [2012] UKFTT 579 – VAT – EXEMPT SUPPLIES – education – whether appellant school – held no – whether appellant college of institution of UK university– held no – appeal dismissed

High Court allows Commissioner’s appeal in Qantas

Today the High Court handed down its decision in Commissioner of Taxation v Qantas Airways Ltd [2012] HCA 41.  By a majority of 4:1 (Heydon J dissenting) the Court allowed the Commissioner’s appeal and found that Qantas was liable to pay GST with respect to fares for travel which was not taken by passengers.

In summary, the view of the majority was that upon entry into the contract with passengers, Qantas made a taxable supply for consideration (being the fare) and GST was payable and attributable to the tax period in which the fare was received.  At [33] the majority said as follows:

The Qantas conditions and the Jetstar conditions did not provide an unconditional promise to carry the passenger and baggage on a particular flight.  They supplied something less than that.  This was at least a promise to use best endeavourrs to carry the passenger and baggage, having regad to the circumstances of the business operations of the airline.  This was a “taxable supply” for which the consideration, being the fare, was received.

My initial comment is that while this case involved the GST implications of a transaction which did not proceed to completion, the majority’s conclusion would appear to apply to all contracts, regardless of whether those contracts complete or not.  Accordingly, whenever a party enters into a contract and receives consideration (or provides an invoice), that party makes a taxable supply, with the supply being the entry into the obligations and or the provision of rights to the recipient.  This may raise a number of difficulties going forward.

In his dissenting judgment, Heydon J essentially approved of the reasons given by the Full Court.  In doing so, his Honour found that the expression “supply for consideration” connoted a bargained-for exchange of value for performance and identified the flight as what the passenger paid for. His honour also found that an interpretation of s 9-5 fastening on the latter supply (ie, the flight) conforms more closely to practical reality.

News Flash! High Court to hand down Qantas decision on Tuesday morning

The High Court email notification service shows that the Court will hand down its decision in the Qantas case on Tuesday morning at 10.15am.  The decision involves the GST treatment of fares paid by passengers who did not show for the flight.  The Commissioner appealed against the decision of the Full Federal Court that no GST was payable (the Full Federal Court having allowed Qantas’ appeal against the decision of the Tribunal that GST was payable).

The decision should appear on the High Court website and austlii during the day.