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A question of trusts

Written By: - Date published: 1:17 pm, August 18th, 2009 - 52 comments
Categories: national/act government, tax - Tags: ,

Here is Bill English in the cocktail tapes talking about Working for Families:

“the reality is if we had been the government, with the surpluses they had, we would have done something similar, like Working for Families… there’s a set of inevitable problems, it’s like physics… If you give people cash [that abates as income rises], they’re going to have high marginal tax rates [or people on high incomes are going to get payments]. That’s it. You can’t get around it. Don thought he could. So did John actually… so the raw choice is, fix the money by taking the money off them… the punters are keen to keep it… The last thing we want is to spend to the whole election with families of four on TV saying ‘Mr Key took our money off us’. So later on we’ll have to have a bit of a sort out”

English was right: you can’t avoid high marginal tax rates if you’re going to give a decent tax break to low and middle income families without well-off families also getting something. It’s simple maths.

The problem is, those high marginal tax rates have encouraged some wealthy families to hide their income in investment properties, companies, and trusts so they can keep on getting WFF and avoid going into the top tax bracket at the same time. It’s a classic rich man’s rort.

Working for Families isn’t the problem. The problem is that mechanisms like trusts can be used to abuse the system. If National really wants to stop some well-off people rorting the rest of us, they should target those mechanisms. As far as I can see, the only reason people use family trusts is to avoid tax (and shove the burden on the rest of us). Clamp down on that. Change the rules so investment properties and trusts can’t be used simply to minimise taxable income.

Unfortunately, National’s tax review group thinks the solution is to get rid of Working For Families altogether and make the top tax rate 23%. That’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Hundreds of thousands of low income families depend on the WFF payments they receive. They would get nothing from cuts to the tax rates over $48,000. A family of four with an income of $50,000 would lose $150 a week. Meanwhile, wealthy people (including the people who are rorting the current system) would get enormous tax cuts – $115 a week for an income of $100,000.

When English has his “sort out”, I hope he will think of all those “families of four” and not take their money away to give to the rich. Instead, he needs to have the guts to stop tools like trusts being used by some wealthy people to rip-off everyone else.

52 comments on “A question of trusts ”

  1. burt 1

    So hang on a minute here, are we saying complicated tax structures can be used to manipulate complex tax rules… wow – who would have guess that.

    I have linked this graph here on the standard before;
    http://nbr.infometrics.co.nz/graphing–ideological-burps-_1038.html

    • Ianmac 1.1

      But can the “workers” take advantage of “complicated tax structures can be used to manipulate complex tax rules”? The beauty of PAYE is its simplicity but for wage/salary earners there is not the same wriggle room as some I know. Farmers are able for example to write off their income so apparently they pay no income tax, and enable their kids to access Student Allowance at universty.

      • burt 1.1.1

        Ianmac

        Yes exactly. But you forget the wisdom of Dr. Cullen – students won’t borrow interest free money to invest….

        • Bright Red 1.1.1.1

          Any evidence that students have maxed out their loan to invest, on any significant scale? (I want more than one of two isolated cases)

        • burt 1.1.1.2

          Bright Red

          Do your own digging. I’m too busy planning my Kid’s OE with interest earned from free money. But hey, I’m probably the only one doing it….. Wharrrrrp – thanks for playing.

          • Killinginthenameof 1.1.1.2.1

            OE to nelson is it?

            $166 a week in living costs and a 1 off of $1000 at the start of the year (if you are willing to lie to study link (you’d never do that would you now Burt?) is all you can get out in cash on a student loan, so I call bullshit.

            • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1.2.1.1

              Yep, investing from the student allowance isn’t possible.

              It is possible for rich parents to minimize their income so that their kids get the student allowance and the savings that the parents get then go back into their investments.

              Oh, that’s right, that’s what this post is about – rich people rorting everyone else.

            • aj 1.1.1.2.1.2

              Exactly, bullshit.
              And if the kid is banking the student loan, they still have to live off cash at some point, guess where that would come from, the parents, grandparents less likely, so use of money foregone there. It all robbing peter to pay paul, but makes a great anecdote. Pity its all bullshit.

            • burt 1.1.1.2.1.3

              Draco

              ASG…. Unlike Labour govt’s not everone pays for everything from todays cash flow.

            • luva 1.1.1.2.1.4

              What about the situation where Daddy would have paid for the fees in the first place.

              Rich Kid A now borrow’s 20 grand for his Bcom over three years. The interest free loan pays for the fees directly but the 20 K daddy was going to spend is invested.

              The interest free student loan has freed up that money. At the end of the three year degree the loan can be paid off in full and any interest earned on Daddy’s 20k is essentially money for nothing.

              Rich Kids say thank you Dr Cullen

  2. Geo 2

    you mean like setting up a trust so you can steal/rort accommodation allowances for renting your own house?Not that he lives in wellington.yeah right.

    • burt 2.1

      Geo

      Yes the culture of entitlement is not restricted to welfare out-patients. The situation here with WFF is an unintended consequence of having tax policy that picks winners and loosers (social engineering).

      • Pascal's bookie 2.1.1

        The situation here with WFF is an unintended consequence of having tax policy that picks winners and loosers (social engineering).

        I’m not sure I follow burt. Mike’s 2.35 is a clear case of social engineering. What do you mean by the term?

      • Draco T Bastard 2.1.2

        And social engineering that was put in place by the rich for the rich.

  3. And those rich families became rich by working hard and making the right choice.

    Sorry to bring up the word, CHOICE, I know those here hate that word.

    • Derek 3.1

      Brett, wrong argument. It doesn’t matter if these families are rich because they worked hard or because they sold poisoned milk to school children. The point is they’re rorting the system. Don’t you have a problem with that?

  4. Lanthanide 4

    To be honest, I am pretty sure the suggestion of a 23% tax rate has been taken out of context from a vague news report. Peter Dunne and Act are in favour of a set of 10/20/30% band of tax rates, I don’t see why this would suddenly drop to 23% for the top rate to ‘fix’ WFF, which is targetted squarely at those in the middle tax rate.

    No, what I think is they meant the *middle* tax rate which is currently 33% should drop to 23%. That way you are still targeting the middle income earners who are currently getting WFF while easing the high marginal tax rates by virtue of not having tax rebates messing the whole picture up. Of course going from 23% to 38% is a big marginal tax increase too, so that’s probably not the whole picture.

    Yes, this is conjecture on my part, but dropping the top tax rate to 23% to ‘fix’ WFF simply makes no sense. Maybe I’m being unrealistic to expect the MSM to make sense, though.

  5. mike 5

    Always thought WFF should be capped at 5 kids. I am convinced some people breed past their means so they can claim more.
    I have 3 and believe me that’s plenty…

    • Bright Red 5.1

      Did you see the earlier post on the economics of breeding for a business? It doesn’t add up mike.

      You get like $80 a week per child, doesn’t cover the cost of a child, does it?

      Or have you got some evidence to back up your conviction? Something more than class prejudice?

      • mike 5.1.1

        They are obviously not so sharp on economics if they if breed they 8 kids on one income are they?
        They look at the IRD spreadsheet and see $ signs – more smokes and beers eh

        • Shambling Rambler 5.1.1.1

          Are you fucking kidding?

          I have 7 siblings, neither of my parents are Catholic, nor are they ‘breeding’ for the WFF.

          You’re a fucking animal.

  6. Tom Semmens 6

    “…And those rich families became rich by working hard and making the right choice(sic)…”

    Or they could be like most of Auckland’s rich whites – lucky enough to be born into a family whose great-grandfather had a big dairy farm in what is now Epsom.

    And that is the problem with this sort of nonsense. The assumption that no one else contributed to your success is stupid beyond belief. The roads you drive on, the police and doctors and teachers you rely on, the sanitation that keeps you healthy… All of these things contribute to peoples success.

  7. tsmithfield 7

    There are reasons for having trusts that don’t involve rorting the tax system.

    In fact, according to my accountant, any tax benefits from a trust are only legitimate if they are ancillary to some other purpose. For instance, the main reason for a trust maybe to enable personal assets to be to enable smooth estate administration.

    If the trust is set up only for the reason of rorting the tax system, then it is likely to be attacked by the tax department.

    Anyway, the wealthy may not be so inclined to set up tax avoidance schemes if they didn’t see their money being tipped down the toilet by whatever party happens to be in power at the time.

    • Pascal's bookie 7.1

      Good to hear it, Smithy.

      In light of the audits being done on those few welfare recipients getting over $1000/week, I think the IRD should be directed to check out the trusts of the people involved in the WFF rort.

      If all is above board all to the good, but otherwise, what’s the difference between this and welfare fraud. If there is no difference, why are they being treated differently by this government?

  8. TightyRighty 8

    marty, you seem to have forgotten that people got on pretty well before WFF.it is essentially middle class welfare. this site always screams for pay rises for the lower paid, well why should they get it when they have WFF, have to take time of work for the kids etc. why not pay the young childless people who are discriminated against by the tax system those higher wages? thats fair and equitable if your going to take a stand against no WFF and lower taxes all around. oh, and i have no problem with wealthier families using trusts to take advantage of middle class welfare. especially if this site has a collective problem with education subsidies being taken away from those whose welfare payments exceed the average wage.

  9. richgraham 9

    you say “Working for Families isn’t the problem”.
    I think it is the problem.
    When I received WFF for 1 child when I was on a low income it was immediately clear
    to me that this was an irresistible trap – I confidently predicted WFF would increase the birth rate and larger families would result.
    WFF was invented by Labour with the main intention of creating a new set of welfare class, it was a deliberate strategy to increase the number of state dependents, and thus secure a larger group of supporters for the Labour pary at election time.
    It has worked well, we have a vastly increased welfare class, and a lot more children.
    Oddly enough, I think the increase in the number of children is a good thing !

    • Akldnut 9.1

      bitchgraham – what a load of crap!

      I confidently predicted WFF would increase the birth rate and larger families would result.

      Post a link to it creating larger families.

      WFF was invented by Labour with the main intention of creating a new set of welfare class, it was a deliberate strategy to increase the number of state dependents

      WTF! What would national have done?
      Just in case you haven’t read it properly here’s the first few lines of this post

      “Here is Bill English in the cocktail tapes talking about Working for Families:

      “the reality is if we had been the government, with the surpluses they had, we would have done something similar, like Working for Families….

      Don’t that make you sick

      and thus secure a larger group of supporters for the Labour pary at election time.

      If you had thought about the election result, you would have shut up & deleted this!

    • So Bored 9.2

      Rich G, if WFF was an irresistable trap when you claimed for one child (my tax dollars of course, but hey I am generous and I assume your child needy), where perchance are your children numbers two, three etc?

      Did you resist the temptation, therebye proving that the theories of rational materialists wrong, that higher motives might really be at play? Heroically demolishing the sacred shibboleths so loved by new right economists? Well done.

      • burt 9.2.1

        Draco T Bastard

        The fact that National might have done the same is no argument to support the policy as being a good one.

        However I can’t see National crowing before an election that they have a welfare package that 75% of families will get access to – but that’s my opinion.

        Agree wages are too low in NZ. Still who’s going to want to push their wages up when abatement rates against benefits make the aggravation of a pay rise above CPI barely worth the cost of a latte.

        MP’s on the other hand did pretty well throughout the last 9 years. We would have a very different median wage today if the median wage had risen by 9% every year for the last 9 years like the MP’s public CEO’s salaries did. I don’t suspect National will be any different to Labour in this regard over the next few years.

        • Draco T Bastard 9.2.1.1

          The fact that National might have done the same is no argument to support the policy as being a good one.

          Good or not, it’s still needed because there’s no way you could get the capitalists to pay enough in wages. That’s what your tax dollars are being used for there burt – to subsidize businesses who refuse to pay the cost price of living.

    • Draco T Bastard 9.3

      …as wages decrease so the working class will die off
      Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, vol. 1 (probably not exact but close enough)

      WFF isn’t the problem. The problem is that businesses aren’t paying enough wages to cover the costs of living. This forces smaller families (which is good IMO) but capitalism needs a growing population else it will collapse so WFF was needed to counteract peoples propensity not to have children because they can’t afford to. As Blinglish said “the reality is if we had been the government, with the surpluses they had, we would have done something similar, like Working for Families “ – National would have done the same and for the same reason.

  10. aj 10

    “I confidently predicted WFF would increase the birth rate and larger families would result”

    Link to prove this has happened please? 🙂

    Meantime back in the real world…..

    http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/population/births/BirthsAndDeaths_MRJun09qtr.aspx

    National will never be able to dismantle WFF without introducing some even more complex scheme that will have loopholes as well.
    Oh, right – apart from a flat tax.

  11. burt 11

    Mental note: Do not tell Labour supporters that flagship Labour policies are not working exactly like the glossy red brochure said they were. As a messenger you get shot for delivering the message that the brochure didn’t want you to know about.

    I see nobody has made any comment about the graph link I provided…. Guess that $60K threshold had no effect on tax payer behaviour either…. the graph is BS… yes I get it now.

    • Marty G 11.1

      burt. My point is borne out by your graph – the rich rort the system.

      The solution isn’t to throw out the system and lose all the good aspects of it, it’s to remove the tools for rorting it. Just because the bathwater is dirty, you don’t need to throw out the baby too.

    • burt 11.2

      Marty G.

      Are you suggesting a completely flat tax rate ? Because that is what it will take to stop people working the angles. Don’t forget that if people cap their income at $60K (or the current rich prick threshold) then they are still paying tax on all income till they are classified as rich. If everyone who was working was paying as much tax as them then we wouldn’t have a problem.

      I know Dr. Cullen though the idea behind taxation was to pluck the goose with the least amount of hissing but there is an alternate view that taxation should be fair.

      The key problem with taxation debates is that some people believe it is unacceptable that large tax payers get tax cuts when unemployed people don’t, but as long as we have progressive taxation then the reality of adjusting progressive thresholds will cause this to happen. However if you think that progressive taxation is a broken model because adjustment favour big tax payers then you will not get any argument from me.

  12. Pascal's bookie 12

    “I know Dr. Cullen though the idea behind taxation was to pluck the goose with the least amount of hissing but there is an alternate view that taxation should be fair”

    English, Douglas, and every other politician that you care to mention believes exactly the same thing you ascribe to Cullen.

    I’ll let you in on a non-secret. People have different ideas about ‘fair’ means. They do. They really really do. It’s not a trick, they’re not lying. They really truly have differences of opinion about this notion of fairness. It’s what accounts for politics burt.

    So given that there is this genuine difference of opinion about what ‘fair’ means with regard to taxation policy, what’s the fairest way of deciding what to do about it?

    I don’t know, but I do believe that the method we use at the moment for deciding which opinion should be enforced is the best we’ve managed to come up with so far.

    It’s called ‘having regular elections, in a liberal, pluralistic democracy’. If folks don’t like the current policy, and think it’s unfair, they are free to try and change it. Is it fair to rort that democratically expressed will of parliament burt? Or do you think that would be corrupting that system?

  13. burt 13

    Pascal’s bookie

    I have no argument that different people have different views of fair. Some people think progressive taxation is fair but that lifting top thresholds (which only gives benefits to top tax payers) is unfair. So sure, fair is very subjective.

    Oh, stolen elections are not democratic and neither is telling lies about tax policies to win votes.

    Nobody earning under $60K will pay a cent more income tax – Broken promise within the one year of it being said.
    Only the top 5% will pay this top tax rate – Broken promise the day it was implemented.

    But of course Labour went on in 2002 claiming they had kept all their 1999 election promises and the really weird thing is that some really thick people believed them.

    • Akldnut 13.1

      Hey Burt – My Prediction

      But of course National will go on in 2011 claiming they had kept all their 2008 election promises and the really weird thing is that some really thick people will believe them. 🙂

    • burt 13.2

      Akldnut

      I have no argument with you on that one. Myopic partisan crusaders of any stripe are all of questionable intelligence.

      • Akldnut 13.2.1

        Burt Myopic partisan crusaders of any stripe are all of questionable intelligence.

        Well put, but there was no need to get personal.

        I’m a bit disappointed that you’re lumping me in with the with National and all their short sightedness, whose policies/predictions you spent a large portion of your day defending.

        Would that make you a “Myopic partisan crusader”?

  14. Pascal's bookie 14

    “I have no argument that different people have different views of fair”

    So you agree then this:

    “…but there is an alternate view that taxation should be fair”

    is just a meaningless lump of twaddle.

    And ‘fair’ isn’t ‘very’ subjective, it’s purely subjective. (Randians and certain types of Communist might tell you different, but that’s what makes them mental.)

    Thanks again for your little potted history on what you found awful about the last government. I know you found it shocking. (I’m actually starting to suspect some form of tourettes is in play burt, I understand there are good treatments available to get this sort of thing under control if you ever find it makes life harder for you than life needs to be.)

    But it doesn’t answer my question burt.

    Do you agree that our system of governance is a fairly good one for determining what policies should be put in place, and if so, do you think it corrupt for citizens to rort the system just because they don’t think the system set up by our elected government is ‘fair’.

    It’s about the principle burt, if you can forget about your undying hatred of Labour for just a moment or two, I’d be much obliged.

    • burt 14.1

      Pascal’s bookie

      I, in the main, agree with you entirely PB. The issue I have is that fair taxation and popular taxation are not one in the same. Try selling a top tax bracket like was sold in 1999 to the masses now. Especially try doing it while telling people it will be set for 9 years and by the time it changes the average household income will classify them as rich if it is earned by one person.

      This is where fair in the context of having been elected as part of a popularity portfolio starts to get tricky in that it (the tax policy) is no longer operating in the way it was sold.

      Douglas has a low and flat view of taxation. This is his version of fair. It is a difficult logical argument to say that paying the same percentage of your income irrespective of how much you earn is unfair when we have welfare applied only to the lower income brackets. The current system where the biggest tax payers are entitled to the least welfare benefits is easy to justify with ideology but difficult with reason. However as you say, we get the govt we deserve and it is fair that they implement shitty tax/social policy if we vote for it.

    • burt 14.2

      Pascal’s bookie.

      If National decided that WFF was to be scrapped, GST put to 40% and income tax was to be abolished then by your definition that would be fair. I would say I disagree but because people voted for National I would be wrong. Under your definition, I take it you would say it was fair?

      • felix 14.2.1

        Fine with me if that’s what they campaigned on. As I recall National campaigned long and hard on “tax cuts north of $50 a week” which they’ll never deliver.

        Your hypo sounds more like something ACT would campaign on.

      • Pascal's bookie 14.2.2

        burt, I agree that such a regressive tax syatem would be manifestly unfair. However, if that’s what the elected govt put in place then the way for me to express my opinion about it would be try and get a new govt. It’s not about being ‘wrong’. ‘Wrong’ is for matters of fact, and ‘fairness’ is about opinion.

        I think it would be corrupt of me to use things that are set in place for some other purpose, like say charitable organisations or whatever, to avoid paying the GST. No matter how clever my accountants.

        Just so that we are clear, you agree that rorting the trust system to get WFF and avoid the 39% tax rate is, at best, morally corrupt, and that those that do so should, at the least, be thought of the in same way as those who ‘breed for a career’ and be audited to make sure that everyting is legit?

  15. Draco T Bastard 15

    There is an easy way to fix the rorts of course. Tax businesses and trusts the same as personal income.

    • burt 15.1

      Draco T Bastard

      Same as current personal income or as a flat rate? I despair if you really think companies and trusts could be taxed progressively without distorting the tax base even more.

      • Draco T Bastard 15.1.1

        The tax base is close to flat anyway. Due to GST which takes more as a percentage from those on lower incomes than from those on higher incomes the tax rate is close to a flat 30% (give or take a percentile). So, tell me burt, what distortion are you talking about?

  16. Maggie 16

    Gee, isn’t it great having a National government?

    307 families on welfare are being audited.

    9700 well off families rort the system and the answer is to give them a tax cut so they don’t have to rort it anymore?

    John Key somehow manages to keep a straight face while condemning rich people rorting WFF payments. Rich people rorting accommodation payments are in a different category, apparently.

  17. Meddler 17

    Tax is not the main reason why high net worth individuals (doesn’t that make rich pricks sound all nice?) put their money in family trusts. The main reason is the generously termed “creditor protection’ aka “here’s to you creditors, hahaha!’

    Trust lawyers and accountants would like to think that the law says any property in a person’s trust is not “their’ property (even if they have complete control of the trust); therefore, no one can take it in payment of a debt or on insolvency. (Petrecevic anyone?)

    Secrecy is another big benefit/problem with trusts. Anyone can search on the various public registers and find out who owns what, except that if something is owned by a trust it cannot be traced back to the real owner. One example is how it benefits MPs from all parties. Have a look at the MPs’ financial interests register and there are trusts all over it, i.e. MPs completely avoiding the purpose of having the register.

    There are some other well-known reasons for having a trust. One is to avoid paying for one’s care in a rest home. The rest home subsidy is a minimal benefit that is paid for rest home care for those in poverty and whose families can or will not look after them; it is not an entitlement. Yet lawyers are always advising people to have a trust ready so that if rest home care is ever required the taxpayer can pay instead. Trusts have also been used to avoid child support and to obtain legal aid but these loopholes have been blocked by legislation.

    The above uses of trusts are all rorts and completely overwhelm the moral uses of trusts, such as: administration of estates, charities, family arrangements for sharing property and care of property on behalf of those cannot care for it themselves (children, disabled, absent, etc). Trusts are expensive to set up and have administration costs that can be very expensive, which means they are only useful for very rich people; the rule of thumb with lawyers is $2 million before it is worth while.

    In short, another example of richies using law against the rest of the society.

  18. Swampy 18

    Any time you create a subsidy, people will find ways of rorting it. Can you rort tax cuts as easily?

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