GST on Housing

Brian Fallow writes:

Here’s a suggestion for the tax working group set up to figure out how to put the tax system on a more durable and efficient footing to consider: scrap the provision exempting mortgage payments and rents from GST.

A brave suggestion.

But remember, any recommendations the working group comes up with are expected to be revenue-neutral, taken as a whole. And the broader the tax base the lower rates can be.

The question I then have is how much extra GST revenue would ending the housing exemption bring in, which would indicate howmuch in other areas could decrease.

More than 40 per cent of the tax – much the biggest single source of Government revenue – comes from the 10 per cent of taxpayers ranked by income, which is dangerous when labour is as mobile as it is and the gap with Australia and most other developed countries is as large as it is.

It sure is. The 9% pay 42% of tax and the top 14% pay 53%.

What is so special about expenditure on housing that warrants exemption from a consumption tax? Other necessities like food, clothing and attract GST.

A fair point.

According to Statistics New Zealand’s household economic survey the average household expends just over $10,000 a year on rents or mortgage payments (including principal).

With nearly 1.6 million households, at the current GST rate and ignoring any second round effects, that would yield about $2 billion a year. That is also about what an increase in the GST rate to 15 per cent would yield and is reportedly enough to fund, for example, a cut in the tax rate to 30c in the dollar – an avowed goal of the Government.

Oh I love it when a journalist actually does research and provides the info you need.

It would cost around $800 million to drop the 38c rate to 30c and around $280 million to drop the 33c rate to 30c so GST on housing would easily allow that it seems.

But that is not all. Applying GST to mortgage payments deals with one of the biggest distortions in the current tax system, the problem of “imputed rentals”. Avoiding the need to pay rent is a large part of the return on investing in the roof over your head. An untaxed capital gain is the rest.

My incentive was to stop paying rent. Any capital gain is a bonus.

Compared with a land tax or the McLeod review’s tax, attacking housing through the GST system has the advantage of not relying on what someone from Quotable Value – however professional and incorruptible – estimates a property is worth. How much you pay a bank or landlord is cut-and-dried, not a matter of opinion.

I wonder why Fallow advocates GST on a mortgage only, and why not GST on the sale of a house? Maybe because most sellers are individuals and not GST registered?

The brutal reality is that if politicians set their face against a shift in the tax mix from direct to indirect taxation because they think the short-term distributional effects are too hard to deal with, then they are bequeathing to their successors a tax system that resembles an iceberg drifting slowly northwards. It will just not deliver the revenue required to provide the services people have come to expect from the state.

This is the killer paragraph and one the Government should remember.

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