Revelations the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) doesn’t know how much it has paid and received in interest for over and underpayments of tax have left a tax accountant speechless.
Questions were raised last month over the fact the IRD uses different benchmarks to calculate its ‘use of money’ rates applied to over and underpayments of tax.
This has seen it hike the rate it charges those who pay too little tax, and cut the rate it pays those who pay too much tax - all the while the Official Cash Rate continues to track down.
In investigating the matter, interest.co.nz asked the IRD how much it had paid/received in interest over the last 10 years.
Having processed the inquiry under the Official Information Act, it responded: “Our current systems allow us to report on the tax collected or amount refunded as totals, reflecting the way that Inland Revenue receives and makes payments.
“For interest on underpayments, when payments are received, they may include a combination of assessed tax, interest and/or penalties for multiple periods. Inland Revenue reporting is completed on the total received only, accordingly, we are not able to break payments down to a level where we could accurately provide a total of each component the payment was allocated to.
“For interest on overpayments, interest is applied to credit balances and may either be refunded with the overpayment (or credit assessment) or offset against tax debt. As with payments received, Inland Revenue reports on the total that is refunded and does not report on the components that make up the payment.
“As we are not able to report on interest collected or paid, I must refuse your request under section 18(e) of the OIA, as the information you requested does not exist.”
Accountant Terry Baucher of Baucher Consulting said he didn’t know what to say about the fact the IRD couldn’t separate out and record interest paid/received.
He said he was “highly surprised” and questioned how it was supposed to measure the efficacy of the system it uses to incentivise people to pay the right amount of tax, when it doesn’t have full and proper information.
“That just does not compute,” he said.
Baucher believed those wanting to challenge the IRD on tax matters often backed down knowing they were clocking up a higher interest bill while they waited for their issues to be resolved.
He said the use of money rate was a “critical” part of the tax system.
EY tax partner Aaron Quintal said the fact interest payments/receipts weren’t separated out was “disappointing” but “understandable” given the constraints of the IRD’s old computer system.
Quintal said that if this sort of data couldn’t be collated going forward, further to the IRD’s $1 billion ‘Business Transformation’ system overhaul, that would be concerning.
Indeed, the IRD confirmed it didn't plan to collate this data using its new system.
Quintal said that from a user’s perspective, the new system wasn’t proving to be all it was cracked up to be.
While he believed the data requested would be interesting, it wouldn’t tell the whole story in terms of determining whether the rates were encouraging people to pay the right amount of tax and not use the IRD as a bank, or place they could essentially borrow money from at a low rate.
He said one would really need to look at individual taxpayers to weigh up the effect of the rates.
As of August 29, the rate for underpayments will increase from 8.22% to 8.35%, while the rate for overpayments will fall from 1.02% to 0.81%.
The IRD is required, through statutory regulation, to calculate the rate that under-payers pay by adding 250 basis points to the Reserve Bank’s floating first mortgage new customer housing rate.
It calculates the rate the over-payers receive by knocking 100 basis point off the Reserve Bank’s 90-day bank bill rate.
As detailed last month, Baucher said the rates should be calculated off the same benchmark so they moved in the same direction.
Quintal added the fact under-payers will be penalised more, while over-payers compensated with less, didn’t help the perception of fairness.
The IRD responded to the story on Wednesday, with the following statement:
Individual taxpayers should be confident that we accurately assess what they may owe Inland Revenue. Our system identifies very clearly how much of their debt is the original amount of tax they owed, how much is interest-owed on overdue debt , and how much is penalties for overdue debt. That is made clear on the assessment information we provide to individual taxpayers.
There is no business need for IR to break down payments from taxpayers into those debt/interest/penalty categories. We simply measure amount received against the amount assessed.
So the effectiveness of using interest and penalties to encourage on-time payment of debt, is measured by how much we collect and how quickly.