In 2018, the ATO issued a controversial draft ruling which took a very strict stance on the four-year time limit for claiming input tax credits and fuel tax credits. The ruling had been used by the ATO to deny input tax credits and fuel tax credits where the Commissioner makes a decision on an objection or amendment request outside the 4-year period. However, a recent observation by a judge ruling on a related matter has put the ATO's strict stance in doubt and as a result, the ruling has been withdrawn.
The ATO has recently withdrawn Draft Miscellaneous Taxation Ruling MT 2018/D1 on the time limit for claiming input tax credits and fuel tax credits. Generally, under s 93-5 of the GST Act, the right to claim an input tax credit expires after 4 years and commences on the day on which the entity was required to lodge a return for the tax period to which the input tax credit would be attributable. Section 47-5 of the Fuel Tax Act has a similar provision which limits claims to 4 years after the date which taxpayers were required to give the Commissioner a return.
The withdrawn draft ruling created much controversy for its strict stance on the four-year time limit rules for claiming the credits. It stated that a tax credit would not be taken into account in an assessment when the taxpayer lodges an objection or requests an amendment, even if the objection or amendment request is made within the 4-year entitlement period. Therefore, the effect of the draft ruling was that if the Commissioner's decision on an objection or amendment request is made outside the 4-year period (but the request by the taxpayer is lodged within the 4-year period), the taxpayer would not have been entitled to the tax credits even if the decision is favourable to the taxpayer.
After the draft was issued however, the Federal Court in Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty Ltd v FCT  FCA 1582 did not quite agree with the ATO stance. It accepted Coles' submissions that s 47-5 is only intended to prevent an ongoing entitlement to claim credits in a later return where a return has not been lodged or credits not claimed.
The Court noted that once a return has been lodged and objected to, there is no scope for the operation of s 47-5 to disentitle a taxpayer to fuel tax credits as the right of the Commissioner and taxpayer are protected by various sections of the TAA
In a decision impact statement following the judgement in the Coles case, the ATO acknowledged that the Court's observations were contrary to its views. Subsequently, it withdrew the ruling conceding that the views expressed in MT 2018/D1 was no longer current. While the Coles decision only refers to fuel tax credits, given the similarity of the provisions between fuel tax credits and the GST Act, and the Court's observations regarding the right of the Commissioner and taxpayer being protected by TAA, it would stand to reason it would also apply to input tax credits. Thus, the ATO is planning to issue a new ruling that takes into account the Federal Court's observations in early 2020.
In the meantime, what it means for affected taxpayers is that, where the Commissioner makes a decision on an objection or requests for amendment in relation to input tax credits and/or fuel tax credits outside the 4-year period (with the initial objection or amendment request lodged within the time limit), taxpayers will no longer be automatically denied the credits in situations where the decision is favourable. As a result, any taxpayer that the draft ruling has affected (ie has had input tax credits or fuel tax credits denied because objections or amendment decisions by the Commissioner had been made outside the 4-year time limit) is encouraged to contact the ATO.
Have you been affected?
If your business has been affected by the denial of input tax credits or fuel tax credits due to this ruling, we can contact the ATO on your behalf to see what remedies can be offered. If you're not sure whether you have been affected, we can also help you figure that out, contact us today.
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