Saturday Jul 09 2022

FBR paves way for imposing inheritance tax

Inheritance tax document representational image - Canva/file
Inheritance tax document representational image - Canva/file

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has made major adjustments to the advance tax on capital gains on the disposal of immovable property, paving the way for the imposition of an inheritance tax, officials said Friday, with the experts terming the move "unjustified and arbitrary".

The revenue authority has included inherited and gifted property in its tax net by amending the Finance Act of 2022 to impose an advance tax on sellers and buyers and collect Capital Gains Tax (CGT) on such properties. 

The action is viewed by tax specialists as the implementation of an inheritance tax. "The federal government is prohibited from collecting Capital Gains Tax on inherited or gifted property. The act violates the Constitution," according to an expert.

"Irrespective of the need to increase the tax burden on incomes from real estate transactions, some of the changes made are unjustified, arbitrary, and against the principles of fair taxation," the expert added.

The scope of capital gains tax was extended to real estate in 2012. In addition to the imposition of a capital gains tax on the sale of immovable property, an adjustable withholding tax will also be collected from sellers of immovable property.

The FBR circular clarified that the advance tax has been introduced for the purpose of providing a mechanism for the collection of capital gains tax on the disposal of immovable property. 

"The actual quantum of capital gain and tax payable thereon is to be computed at the time of filing of return of income," the circular said.

"Section 236C is not an independent provision and does not operate in isolation. Since Capital Gains Tax has been imposed only on disposal of properties held for a period up to two years, therefore, advance tax is also to be collected from sellers who held the immovable properties for a period up to two years."

The FBR, in subsequent years, increased the rate of withholding tax to 1% for filers and 2% for non-filers. It was also made applicable to properties sold during the first four years of their acquisition, as capital gains on properties sold after a holding period of more than four years were not taxable.

The Finance Act 2022 has increased the rate of withholding tax to 2% for filers and 4% for non-filers and made it applicable on all properties sold irrespective of the holding period.

"This creates an anomaly as the capital gains tax will be applicable only on properties that are sold within six years of the date of purchase," another tax expert said. "So, the principle laid down in the FBR’s own circular is being violated."

The withholding tax collected from a person selling a property which is not liable to capital gains tax will be forced to pay an amount of tax that he cannot adjust against his capital gains tax liability, and if he has no other income tax to pay at the time of filing an income tax return, he will be forced to go through the hassle of obtaining a refund of the withheld amount from FBR.

Interestingly, the Finance Bill contained a proposal to extend the scope of withholding tax to properties being sold within ten years of their purchase, but in the Finance Act this limit was also removed.

Another surprising change has been the omission of sub-section (4A) of section 37 that imposes capital gains tax. 

A capital gains tax is imposed on the difference between the sale price and the purchase price of the property. In some cases, such as properties acquired through inheritance or gift, the purchase price is zero, and the entire sale price would become the capital gain that would increase the burden of taxation.

To remove this hardship, the above-mentioned sub-section (4A) was added to section 37. This provides that in the case of the sale of a property that was acquired through a gift, inheritance, etc., the property's fair market value at the time of acquisition of the property will be taken as its cost and capital gains will be determined accordingly.

This legal provision that enabled fair taxation has now been eliminated, and now the entire sale price of such properties will be subjected to capital gains tax, creating an unbearable burden of taxation and will amount to the imposition of an inheritance tax that the federal government cannot do under the Constitution, they concluded.

Originally published in The News