We have seen a number of measures over the years restricting access to tax concessions for foreign investors, particularly for residential property investments. The recent Federal Budget goes one step further, restricting access to tax concessions, increasing taxes, and penalising investors who leave property vacant. Measures include:
- Charge for leaving properties vacant - Foreign owners of residential Australian property will incur a charge if their property is not occupied or genuinely available on the rental market for at least 6 months each year. The charge, which is expected to be at least $5,000, does not appear to apply to existing investments but those made on or after Budget night, 7:30pm on 9 May 2017.
- Excluded from main residence exemption - Foreign and temporary residents will be excluded from the main residence exemption. The main residence exemption excludes private homes from capital gains tax (CGT). Existing properties held prior to 9 May will be grandfathered until 30 June 2019. However, it remains to be seen whether partial relief will be available to those who have been residents of Australia for part of the period they owned the property and whether this change will apply to Australian residents who were classified as a foreign resident for part of the ownership period.
- Increase in CGT withholding tax - When someone buys Australian real property (i.e., land and buildings) they are currently required to remit 10% of the purchase price directly to the ATO as part of the settlement process unless the vendor provides a certificate from the ATO indicating that they are an Australian resident. These rules do not currently apply if the property is worth less than $2 million. From 1 July 2017, the CGT withholding rate under these rules will increase by 2.5% to 12.5%. Also, the CGT withholding threshold for foreign tax residents will reduce from $2 million to $750,000, capturing a much wider pool of taxpayers and property transactions.
- Rules tighten for property purchased through companies or trusts - Australian property held through companies or trusts by non-residents or temporary residents is also being targeted by expanding the principal assets test to include associates. The move is to prevent foreign residents avoiding Australian CGT liability by splitting indirect interests in Australian real property.
- Level of foreign investment in developments capped - a 50% cap is being placed on foreign ownership in new developments.