Labor’s family trust tax costed at $7.7 billion amid concern small business will be hardest hit

family trust

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen.

Labor has released long-awaited costings for its plan to introduce a 30% tax on family trust distributions to adults, revealing the policy will claw back almost $7.7 billion into government coffers over four years.

While the opposition first announced its discretionary trust policy several years ago, estimated savings for taxpayers have skyrocketed on previous estimates, increasing from $4.1 billion over three years.

The new costings, calculated by the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO), show more than $26.8 billion will be added to the budget over 10 years if Labor wins the next election.

Labor said the sharp increase on previous costings was evidence wealthy Australians are using trusts “frequently” to minimise their tax bills.

“The fact is that the cost to the budget of income splitting through discretionary trusts has blown out,” Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen said in a statement.

Part of its broader agenda to close tax loopholes, Labor wants to crack down on the use of discretionary trusts to skip out on income tax by pooling their income with other family members who may not be involved in their business.

However, there is concern thousands of small businesses using trusts legitimately, dispensing benefits to family members who work in their companies, will be caught in the crossfire.

Tony Greco, general manager of technical policy for the Institute of Public Accountants, says many family businesses will need to rethink their business structures if the policy is implemented.

“If you’ve got a mum and dad scenario and you compare it to a partnership, depending on the level of income, they’re going to be disadvantaged,” Greco tells SmartCompany.

“They’re not looking at the collateral damage of a one-size-fits-all approach,” Greco says.

Further, Greco says businesses who set up their affairs under the current rules could be penalised by charges like stamp duty if they try to restructure.

“It’s not easy moving assets, there are a lot of entities that will have to rethink the current structure they’re in,” he says.

Labor has defended the policy, saying 98% of taxpayers won’t be affected and small businesses can simply pay a wage to family members.

Labor also today revealed costings for its plan to cap deductions available to taxpayers for getting advice managing their tax affairs.

Under the plan, which exempts businesses with turnover of less than $2 million, Labor will introduce a $3,000 cap on deductions, saving taxpayers an estimated $370 million over four years.

More than $130 million would be spent over four years helping small businesses who employ young people entering the workforce or older Australians struggling to find work.

Meanwhile, the Australian Investment Guarantee, which has long been a centrepiece of the ALP’s small-business policy agenda, is slated to cost taxpayers more than $850 million by 2021-22 and more than $15.2 billion over the next decade.

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