Australian Expats still awaiting decision on CGT change

In our blog of 25 February this year we reported on what we consider to be highly inequitable capital gains tax changes that the Government has introduced into parliament. The changes are contained in the Treasury Laws Amendment (Reducing Pressure on Housing Affordability Measures No. 2) Bill 2018.  

The Bill, as drafted, denies foreign residents (including Australian expats) access to the capital gains tax (CGT) main residence concession if they sell their former main residence while they are living overseas. In short, no CGT relief would be available to Australian expats who sell their property while they live overseas even for the period of time they lived in their home before departing Australia. 

The Bill has still not been passed and seems for now to be held up in the Senate, which we hope augurs well for Australian expats.

Main Residence Exemption Removal still possible

Unfortunately despite a number of sensible submissions to the Senate (including our own CST Tax Advisors Submission), the Senate Committee has recommended that the Government proceeds with the proposals as announced.

Essentially the Committee indicated that it ‘considers that the measures contained in these bills will form an essential part of the government’s comprehensive and targeted plan to improve outcomes for Australians across the housing spectrum’.

The Committee did not explain why it thought that removing the CGT main residence exemption is a targeted plan to improving housing outcomes. We believe the natural reaction for most Australian expats to a potential loss of the CGT exemption would be not to sell their property until they one day return to Australia. Essentially a lock-in effect will be created rather than improving the quantity of housing stock available for sale. The Senate Committee Report can be access by following this link.

Our Recommendations

We sincerely hope that despite the Senate’s recommendation to proceed that the Government will rethink their proposal to ensure that Australian expatriates are treated equitably.

We strongly urge the Government to fix the Bill by ensuring that amendments are made so that:

  • all Australian expatriates who were already non-resident of Australia when the changes were announced on 9 May 2017, should continue to be able to access the absence concession regardless of where they reside; and
  • all persons should be able to access the partial CGT exemption for at least that part of the ownership period during which they lived in the property and were resident of Australia.

If the Government does not fix the equity issues in the Bill, at the very least we hope that the Government can extend the transitional period end date from 30 June 2019 (way too close) out to 30 June 2020 or 2021 to give people sufficient time to consider their options. Expecting Australians living overseas to be aware of ‘legislation by press release’ is not satisfactory.

Given that the changes are so fundamental in our view the Government owes a minimum duty to write to all foreign residents taxpayers who are lodging tax returns in relation to Australian rental income, in the event that these fundamental changes apply to them.

In this regard we note the Committee’s recommendation that it “recommends that the Australian Government ensures that Australians living and working overseas are aware of the changes to the CGT main residence exemption for foreign residents, and the transitional arrangements, so they are able to plan accordingly.“(Recommendation 1, Paragraph 2.34 of the Senate Committee Report on Page 17).

Want to make a Submission?

If you wish to make a submission to the Government it would not be too late to write to the Federal Treasurer. Alternatively you can contact CST for more information.