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ATO warns: avoid ‘too good to be true’ tax schemes

The ATO has today launched Project Super Scheme Smart, an initiative aimed at educating advisers and individuals about the potential pitfalls of retirement planning schemes.

The program – which forms part of the ATO’s broader focus on tax avoidance schemes – provides targeted information for financial planners, accountants, and other advisers to help them identify, avoid and report illegal schemes.

ATO Deputy Commissioner, Michael Cranston, said the ATO had considerable success to date in shutting down tax avoidance schemes but recently had seen an increase in schemes designed specifically to target those approaching retirement.

“Retirement planning is a critical and exciting time in people’s lives as they work out how they’ll manage their finances after they leave the workforce. For many, they rely heavily on the advice of financial planners, accountants, and other advisers.

“Unfortunately, promoters of these risky schemes are aware of the role that advisers play at this critical time and are targeting advisers to get their assistance in recommending schemes to clients,” Mr Cranston said.

According to the ATO, people most at risk of being targeted are those approaching retirement. This can mean anyone aged 50 or over, looking to put significant amounts of money into retirement, particularly self-managed super fund (SMSF) trustees, self-funded retirees, small business owners, company directors and individuals involved in property investment.

There are a number of schemes currently targeting Australians planning for retirement. Some current examples, the ATO is concerned about, include:

  • Dividend stripping – Where the shareholders in a private company transfer ownership of their shares to an SMSF so that the company can pay dividends to the SMSF. The purpose being to strip profits from the company in a tax-free form.
  • Non-arm’s length limited recourse borrowing arrangements – When an SMSF trustee undertakes limited recourse borrowing arrangements (LRBA) established or maintained on terms that are not consistent with an arm’s length dealing.
  • Personal services income – Where an individual (usually at pension phase) diverts income earned from personal services to a self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF) where it is concessionally taxed or treated as exempt from tax.

“The ATO wants to play its part in ensuring soon-to-be retiring taxpayers protect their nest eggs.

That means working closely with the individuals but also with their trusted advisers. In order to put a stop to these schemes, we are encouraging people to come forward if they believe they are at risk, are already involved in a scheme or believe their clients are.”

Promoters of retirement planning schemes may incur significant punishment including prosecution and where intermediaries are found to have been encouraging clients to adopt these arrangements, the ATO will consider the application of the promoter penalty laws. The ATO may also consider referring the matter to the Tax Practitioners Board.

Mr Cranston concluded: “We want to work with you to help protect your clients’ retirement nest eggs from unwanted predators.


Griffin & Associates

79 Denham St, Townsville City QLD 4810

Phone 07 4772 6588

Chartered Accountants