The DPN Regime was introduced by the Australian Taxation Office (“ATO”) in 1993 as a method to ensure corporate compliance with taxation liabilities. Under the DPN regime, directors could become personally liable for the company’s debts under certain circumstances. The primary objectives of the DPN regime were to ensure directors caused the company to meet its taxation obligations or if this was not possible, promptly seek professional advice with the view to placing the company into voluntary administration or liquidation.
Until recently DPNs had only applied to Pay As You Go (PAYG) withholding liabilities. However, in July 2012, the DPN regime was expanded to include Superannuation Guarantee Charge (“SGC”) liabilities. The regime was also amended to make directors automatically liable for PAYG withholding or SGC where such amounts have been both unpaid and unreported for more than three (3) months after its due date (known as the lockdown provisions). Under the new DPN regime a director cannot avoid personal liability where they have fallen foul of the lockdown provisions by placing the company into Voluntary Administration (“VA”) or Liquidation. The clear emphasis here is that directors need to ensure that at reporting the company’s obligations on time to still avail themselves to being able to avoid personal liability by subsequently placing the company into either VA or Liquidation.
In the recent Administrative Appeals Tribunal Decision of James Gerald Michael Healy v Commissioner of Taxation ( AATA 281), Senior Member C R Walsh was required to consider the tax deductibility of various expenses incurred by Mr Healy in defending and addressing a DPN (and also in annulling his bankruptcy). While Mr Healy was primarily unsuccessful on a technical aspect (the expenses were not in fact incurred by Mr Healy as his brother paid them), Senior Member Walsh analysed the ability of directors to claim a tax deduction for expenses incurred “in managing his or her own tax affairs and in complying with a legal obligation in relation to another taxpayer’s tax affairs.”
Senior Member Walsh explained that Section 25-5 of the Income Tax Administration Act 1997 (“ITAA”) provides for a taxpayer to deduct expenses incurred for “complying with an obligation imposed on you by a Commonwealth law, insofar as that obligation relates to the tax affairs of an entity.” The definition of tax under the Income Tax Administration Act 1997 was considered to be sufficient to encompass amounts due under the PAYG withholding regime. Under the DPN, Mr Healy’s obligation as a director was to:
- Cause the company to comply with its tax obligations (by paying them)
- Make an agreement to repay the company’s tax debt;
- Appoint a voluntary administrator to the company; or
- Place the company into liquidation.
As such, Mr Healy’s obligation would be “complied with” if one of the above events occurred. In Falcetta v Commissioner of Taxation (2004) FCAFC 194, the Full Federal Court were of the view that under Section 25-5 of the ITAA, expenses relating to, amongst other things, preparation of income tax returns, managing and complying with a DPN and obtaining legal advice on these issues would be deductible. In that case, Mr Falcetta incurred legal expenses in obtaining advice regarding the DPN for unpaid PAYG withholding debts of the company. The ATO Interpretative Decision (ATO ID 2004/831) on this authority suggests that the legal expenses will only be deductible under section 25-5 of the ITAA 1997 of:
- It is complying with an obligation imposed on the taxpayer by a Commonwealth law that relates to the tax affairs of an entity; and
- The advice is provided by a recognised tax adviser.
Based on these recent cases, it appears that directors have further incentive to seek prompt professional advice regarding any DPN received.
The ATO continue to use DPNs actively as a tax collection measure for companies, particularly those in the SME sector where non-compliance with PAYG withholding and SGC is more significant. Importantly DPNs are sent to the residential address of the directors as per ASIC records. So encourage your clients to open the mail they receive to their home address, rather than leaving it unopened on the kitchen bench as we have seen occur on a number of occasions which generally limits the options available to them.
If you would like to know more about DPNs please do not hesitate to contact us.