The government-proposed $10,000 economy-wide cash payment limit has understandably elicited some confusion. Chief among the questions is to what extent personal transactions will be included in the limit. To dispel some of the confusion, the government has released information outlining the circumstances in which the limit would not apply in relation to personal or private transactions. While this proposal is not yet law, once enacted it will be a criminal offence for certain entities to make or accept cash payments of $10,000 or more.
Among other categories, payments that will not be subject to the $10,000 limit include those relating to personal or private transactions (excluding transactions involving real property). The exemption only includes payments that satisfy one of the following:
- payments solely for supplies or acquisitions that are not made in the course of an enterprise;
- payments that are made or received by an entity in circumstances where that entity reasonably believes that the payment is solely for supplies or acquisitions that are not made in the course of an enterprise;
- payments that are made as or as part of a gift (not in the course of an enterprise); or
- payments that are made or received by an entity as a gift (or part of a gift) in circumstances where that entity reasonably believes that the payment is not made or received in the course of an enterprise.
The term "enterprise" in this context has the same broad meaning as in the A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999 (GST Act), meaning that an entity will be undertaking an enterprise if, for example, it carries on a business (or in the form of a business), offers real property for rent, is a charity, political party (or candidate) or other recipient of gifts that are deductible for income tax, operates a super fund, or is the Commonwealth, a state or a territory or an entity established for public purposes under an Australian law. In essence, the only circumstance in which an entity will not be carrying on an enterprise is where the entity is acting in a wholly private or personal capacity.
Therefore, cash gifts to family members (as long as they are not donations to regulated entities such as charities) and inheritances are likely to be exempt. In other words, it is unlikely that you will be prosecuted for a criminal offence if you give your family members a lavish cash wedding gift or help your kids with a house deposit that happens to be over $10,000.
However, if you occasionally sell private assets (eg a used car) you may need to be careful and take reasonable steps to ascertain whether the other party is acting in the course of an enterprise. For example, if you sell your car to another individual and you believe the car will be acquired for private use after undertaking reasonable inquiries such as searching the Australian Business Register, then the exemption for personal/private transactions will apply.
On the other hand, if you did not undertake "reasonable inquiries", and incorrectly believe that the other party is not acting in the course of an enterprise, then it is possible you may be prosecuted for a criminal offence. In general, whether a belief is reasonable will depend on the circumstances of the transaction and the parties. However, a reasonable belief must be a belief about the facts and does not protect those ignorant of the law or the legal implications of the facts. In other words, you cannot claim that you didn't know about the rules surrounding the cash payment limit.