Ordinarily, if a taxpayer incurs a tax loss within a particular year, they are able to carry that loss forward and offset it against income derived in a future year, thereby reducing the taxpayer’s future tax payable. As part of the Government’s Covid-19 response, on 30 April 2020 legislation was passed under urgency which allows tax losses to be offset against income derived in a previous year, thereby enabling the taxpayer to obtain a refund comprising prior year income tax paid. This temporary tax loss carry-back scheme is available to most taxpayers, e.g. trusts, companies and individuals.

A permanent scheme to replace the temporary rules is under development and will apply from the 2022 income year, however, the current scheme applies for a two-year period as follows:

  • A tax loss incurred in the 2020 income year is able to be carried back and offset against taxable income derived in the 2019 income year.
  • A tax loss incurred in the 2021 year is able to be carried back and offset against taxable income derived in the 2020 year.

A tax loss cannot be carried back multiple years, instead it applies to the “net loss year” and the immediately preceding “taxable income year”.

Taking each year in succession, most taxpayers will have already filed their 2019 income tax return, but a request to amend that return can be made via MyIR or a letter can be sent to IRD requesting a reassessment (pursuant to section 113 of the Tax Administration Act 1994). The loss amount can be determined by either preparing a 2020 tax calculation based on ‘actual’ results or preparing an estimate. The ability to make an estimate allows taxpayers to access the refund faster. However, if an estimate of the 2020 tax loss is later found to exceed the actual loss amount, tax will need to be repaid to IRD, on which interest will apply.

With respect to utilising expected losses in the 2021 year against profits derived in the 2020 income year, in most cases the 2020 income tax return would not have been filed and may not be filed for some time, however 2020 provisional tax may have been paid to IRD. To enable provisional tax payments to be refunded, taxpayers will have the option of submitting an estimate of their 2020 provisional tax liability (that takes into account expected losses for 2021) – the time to do so has been extended to when the tax return is filed. Excess tax paid, based on the provisional tax estimate, will be refunded.

If a company incurs a loss and it is a member of a wholly owned group of companies, it can only carry back the amount that can’t first be offset against the income of other companies in the group.

If taxable income for the 2019 year was paid by way of shareholder salary, this cannot be reversed under the tax loss carry back initiative. However, provisional tax paid for the 2020 year in relation to an expected shareholder salary could be refunded under the initiative.

Under ordinary rules, 49% shareholder continuity must be maintained from the time a loss is incurred until it is utilised. A similar rule will apply to the loss carry back scheme, i.e. if there has been a change in ownership that breaches the threshold, a tax loss cannot be offset against income derived prior to the breach. However, part period calculations can be completed, as applicable.

The pragmatism underpinning this scheme will be appreciated as it allows sound businesses to secure a refund of tax paid in better times.