SMSF update from the ATO

In a recent speech, Alison Lendon, Deputy Commissioner Superannuation, spoke to a number of issues that affect super funds and their trustees and advisers. The following are excerpts:

Applying to the ATO for advice

If trustees of superannuation funds want a written explanation of the ATO’s view on how the super laws apply to their SMSF, they can apply for ‘SMSF specific advice’.

While this advice isn’t legally binding, it will provide certainty to trustees about the application of the super laws to their fund, and the fact that trustees acted in accordance with the advice would be an important factor in their favour. We can assist with this application process.

The most common topics the ATO is asked about for specific advice are:

  • confirming when a property meets the requirements to be ‘business real property’, and working through the acquisition of business real property from related parties;
  • understanding the limitations of investing in related unit trusts;
  • what’s an ‘improvement’ or a ‘repair’ to property acquired under a limited recourse borrowing arrangement (LRBA);
  • the acquisition of assets from related parties and low-interest loans for LRBAs; and
  • requests about collectable and personal use assets since specific requirements regarding their storage and usage were introduced in 2011, especially regarding insurance and gold bullion.

Related party transfers

From 1 July 2013, new legislation will broaden the types of assets currently prohibited from being acquired from a related party, but will also provide more transparent exceptions whereby acquisitions will be permissible.

By way of example, the acquisition of ‘business real property’ will be prohibited unless acquired at market value as determined by a qualified independent valuer. Similarly, listed securities acquired from a related party will also be prohibited unless they are acquired in a way that is prescribed under the regulations. The legislation will also introduce a prohibition on the disposal of SMSF assets to a related party, unless similar exceptions are satisfied.

Payments for electricity generated from solar panels

Will you be taxed for selling solar-panel generated electricity back to the grid?

More and more homeowners are installing solar panel systems in their homes.  In some cases, the solar panel system may produce more electricity than they consume.  If this is the case, the homeowner can often “sell” the excess electricity back to their electricity company, which will be released into the electricity grid.

This obviously begs the question: will the payments they receive from the electricity company be included in their assessable income?

The ATO has basically confirmed that, in typical situations where payments are received from electricity retailers by homeowners for the power generated by their solar panels that is exported to the grid, the payments would generally not be classed as assessable income, as they would be private or domestic in nature.  This conclusion takes into account the amount of equipment used to generate the electricity, the current pricing structure, and the fact the homeowner produces the electricity for a domestic purpose only.

In addition, since the payments are not assessable income and are private or domestic in nature, a homeowner in the above situation would not be able to claim a deduction for the costs associated with the solar system, such as interest and depreciation.

Note, however, that if the characteristics of the activity change (including the motivation for undertaking that activity, how the activity is undertaken and whether there is a real prospect of profit from the activity), the receipts or credits from the activity may become assessable income.