Parliament recently passed legislation amending the taxation law to impose withholding obligations on the purchasers of certain Australian assets – generally property purchased from a non-resident.  However, the changes will affect most purchases of property in Australia.

The amendments impose a 10% withholding obligation on purchasers of ‘Taxable Australian Real Property’ (generally, this means an interest in Australian land) from certain foreign residents, as well as certain ‘indirect Australian real property interests’ (such as shares in companies that own a lot of land) and options to acquire such assets.

The amendments will generally apply where the contract to purchase an applicable asset is signed on or after 1 July 2016.

Tax Warning!

Where the land, or the interest in the land, is worth $2 million or more, the new law requires the purchaser to withhold 10% of the purchase price and send it to the ATO unless the vendor has obtained a ‘clearance certificate’ from the ATO and provided it to the purchaser prior to settlement.

This obligation arises regardless of whether the vendor is a foreign resident or not. 

Example

On 1 August 2016, Harvey enters into a contract to purchase a residential property in Sydney for $2.5 million, with settlement proposed to occur on 1 October 2016.  He does not know whether the vendor is a foreign resident. 

Despite many requests from Harvey’s lawyer, the vendor refuses to obtain a clearance certificate from the ATO to give to Harvey.

 

As Harvey is acquiring Australian land with a market value greater than $2 million and he has not received a clearance certificate from the vendor by the time settlement occurs, Harvey will be required to withhold and pay to the ATO $250,000, whether or not the vendor is an Australian resident.