Tax debt release based on serious hardship refused - 9th December 2013

The AAT has affirmed the Commissioners decision to refuse to release an individual from his tax liability based on serious hardship grounds. Under the Taxation Administration Act, the Commissioner has a discretion to release an individual from paying a tax liability (in whole or in part) if satisfying the liability would cause that person serious hardship.

The man argued that due to his wifes illness, he had been increasingly required to care for her and their children and that this has reduced his capacity to earn income. The AAT was satisfied that the individual was facing serious hardship in the immediate future in the sense of lacking the means to purchase food, clothing and medical supplies for his family, and other basic requirements such as accommodation. However, it said the serious hardship was not caused by him being required to meet the tax liability. Rather, the serious hardship was due to the taxpayer’s liabilities, of which tax debt was just one, exceeding his assets, and the outgoings required to service those liabilities exceeding his income. As he had not met the relevant criterion, the AAT said it did not have the power to release him from his tax debts.

TIP: Even if the Commissioner is satisfied that serious hardship will result from payment of a tax liability, the Commissioner is not obliged to exercise his discretion in favour of the individual taxpayer. Nevertheless, it is clear that the ATO is obliged to act reasonably and responsibly, and should not act arbitrarily or capriciously. An application for release from an eligible tax liability must be in the approved form.

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