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While there are benefits to running an SMSF, they do not come without their compliance responsibilities. This includes lodging your fund’s annual return on time, attending to reporting obligations, and having an investment strategy. SMSFs who do not meet their obligations are subject to penalties by the ATO through the following measures.
An SMSF trustee who does not meet compliance requirements can be given a written direction to undertake a course of education that is designed to improve their ability to meet their obligations, reducing the risk of future non-compliance. The course may be completed online within a nominated timeframe. Failure to comply with an education direction can result in an administrative penalty of 10 units.
SMSF trustees are liable to pay administrative penalties if they contravene provisions of the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 (SISA). This includes contraventions of borrowings, in-house assets, education direction, duty to notify of significant adverse events, and accounts and statements. The minimum penalty is $1,050 and the maximum penalty is $12,600.
SMSF trustees may be able to rectify non-compliance by providing a written commitment to an enforceable undertaking. The ATO may or may not accept the undertaking, which should include:
- A commitment to ending the non-compliance behaviour.
- What action will be taken as rectification.
- The designated time period to rectify the contravention.
- How and when the trustee will report the completion of rectification.
- Strategies employed to prevent future contraventions.
The ATO may decide to provide a trustee with written direction to rectify their contravention. The trustee will then be required to undertake specified action to rectify the non-compliance within a given timeframe. Rectification commonly involves employing managerial or administrative arrangements that will prevent similar contraventions in the future. Proof of compliance with the direction to rectify will be required. Failure to comply with the direction is an offence of strict liability, which can lead to disqualification or the removal of the fund’s complying status which may result in a significant tax penalty on the fund.
The ATO has the ability to disqualify individuals from acting as a trustee due to their non-compliance. This will take into account the severity of the contraventions and the likelihood of them reoccurring. Continuing to act as a trustee after disqualification is an offence that may result in further penalties.
Civil and criminal penalties
Civil and criminal penalties through court can apply when SMSF trustees contravene with provisions such as:
- The sole purpose test
- Prohibition of avoidance schemes
- Promotion of illegal early release schemes
- Duty to notify the regulator of significant adverse events.
SMSFs may be issued a notice of non-compliance when serious contravention of super laws have occurred. This causes the fund to remain non-compliant until a notice of compliance is received. For every year the fund remains non-complying, its assessable income is taxed at the highest marginal tax rate.
Winding up the fund
After a contravention has occurred, the trustee may wind up the SMSF and roll over the remaining benefits to an Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) regulated fund. However, in some cases, the ATO may continue to issue the SMSF with a notice of non-compliance and/or apply other compliance measures.
Freezing the SMSF’s assets
A trustee may be given a notice to freeze an SMSF’s assets when it appears that conduct by the trustees or investment manager may adversely affect the interests of the beneficiaries. The notice may restrict the trustee or investment manager from acquiring assets and disposing of assets.