Finance Ministry explains implementation of new tax laws

Pretoria - The Ministry of Finance says the 2015 Tax Laws Amendment Act provisions relating to retirement will come into force on 1 March 2016.

“It should be noted that the 2015 Tax Laws Amendment Act (and the 2013 and 2014 Acts) provisions relating to retirement will come into force on 1 March 2016, except for the annuitisation implementation date and related provisions.

“The tax harmonisation reforms will therefore continue to be implemented as scheduled on 1 March 2016,” said the Ministry on Thursday.

This comes after Cabinet announced earlier today that it had debated and considered the full implications of the commencement of the Taxation Laws Amendment Act, 2014. In terms of that Act, the annuitisation of provident fund benefits were meant to commence on 1 March 2016.

Briefing the media following Cabinet’s meeting, Minister in the Presidency for Performance, Monitoring and Planning Jeff Radebe said Cabinet had noted the concerns that have been raised in respect of the retirement reforms relating to the requirement to purchase an annuity at retirement (i.e. to receive a regular monthly income during retirement instead of a lump sum) for provident fund members.

Minister Radebe said despite extensive consultation processes since 2012, government is proposing that the annuitisation requirement for provident fund members be postponed for two years to allow for further consultation with key stakeholders.

“Government has already initiated this consultation process by requesting a special meeting with all NEDLAC social partners, which took place Monday, 15 February 2016. Government has also engaged with non-NEDLAC stakeholders like NUMSA via separate section 77 (of the Labour Relations Act) hearings,” said the Finance Ministry.

Cabinet earlier today said it had decided to table a legislative amendment to the Taxation Laws Amendment Act as a matter of urgency to postpone the commencement date from 1 March 2016 to 1 March 2018 to allow for further consultations with all key stakeholders.

The Ministry said the following changes will be introduced through an urgent tax amendment bill to be tabled next week:

- The bill will propose to Parliament to postpone the annuitisation requirement for provident funds for two years, until 1 March 2018.

- Provident fund members will not be required to annuitise contributions to their funds that were made before 1 March 2018.

- To ensure the integrity of the retirement system, the ability to transfer tax-free from pension fund to provident fund will also be delayed until 1 March 2018. Clarity on possible misinterpretations will also be provided in the bill to ensure that payroll administrators apply the law in line with original intentions.

The Ministry said the following amendments will continue as scheduled from 1 March 2016:

- The tax deduction for contributions to all retirement funds (including provident funds) will increase to 27.5 percent of the greater of taxable or remuneration, up to a cap of R350 000 per year, from 1 March 2016.

-The minimum threshold required for annuitisation for pension and retirement annuity funds will still be increased from R75 000 to R247 500.

- Aside from the issues covered in the urgent tax amendment bill, all other provisions legislated in the 2015 Tax Laws Amendment Act (and all other tax laws) will come into force on 1 March 2016.

“There is broad consensus that the harmonisation and capping of tax deductions will make the tax system simpler, more equitable and progressive. It will limit the tax deduction to very high income earners and allow lower- and middle-income earners a bigger tax deduction,” said the Ministry.

A core principle of the tax legislation on deduction of contributions made to retirement savings is provided on the condition that there is annuitisation.

In the case of provident funds, even though the requirement to annuitise is to be postponed until 2018, the tax deduction will still be allowed whilst the review on annuitisation is undertaken. If no agreement is reached in the next two years regarding annuitisation, this tax benefit to provident fund members will be reviewed to achieve fairness between all retirement funds.

“Government remains of the view that the principle of annuitisation is in the best interest of all members of retirement funds as it can alleviate old-age poverty,” said the Ministry.

Since the only delay will be to the requirement to purchase an annuity for provident funds (i.e. annuitisation), the amendments for pension funds and retirement annuity funds will continue as previously legislated.

The Ministry said owing to incorrect statements on these reforms, it should be reiterated that the new laws do not make any changes to the treatment of retirement fund benefits when an individual resigns.

“We would also like to conclude by pointing out that members of all pension funds, including public servants who are members of the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), are not adversely affected by the new laws and should not risk their jobs by resigning. The hard-earned savings of all members of a retirement fund are perfectly safe, and accessible to them now and after 1 March 2016.”