The ATO has warned taxpayers against entering into a scheme through their self-managed superannuation fund (SMSF) which claims to allow individuals to purchase property using money from their super.

This sort of scheme typically involves the rollover of a member’s super benefits from an existing fund into a new or existing SMSF, which then invests in a property trust for a fixed period and rate of return, being a contributory fund with other investors. However, the money from the property trust is then on-lent to individuals from a third party in the form of a loan to assist in the purchase of real property secured by mortgages over the property.

Depending on the type of scheme, the money on-lent to the individual may be used for all or part of the deposit, the balance of the purchase price, costs relating to the purchase, or even to help consolidate a member’s personal debts to enable them to secure a home loan. The scheme promoter will usually charge a high fee to the fund and establish both the SMSF and the property investment, as well as organising the purchase of the property (in some cases house and land packages).

The ATO notes that these arrangements are established and promoted under the guise of a genuine SMSF investment with the added benefit of
helping individuals purchase a home, but they are not in fact legitimate investments. They often contravene one or more of the super laws by providing members with a current-day benefit while also being set up in ways that don’t comply with the sole purpose test.

Tip: The “sole purpose test” means that the SMSF needs to be maintained for the sole purpose of providing retirement benefits to members, or to their dependants if a member dies before retirement.

The ATO will apply a “look through” approach when considering this type of scheme. That means if an SMSF’s fund money is used to help purchase a property for a member, whether it be indirectly through the SMSF’s investment in other entities, it will be treated as illegal early access to super benefits by the member. The amount used to help purchase a property will be included in the member’s assessable income and taxed at their marginal rate, and tax shortfall penalties may apply.

People who may have been persuaded by slick marketing or promoters and inadvertently entered into these schemes are urged to contact the ATO to make a voluntary disclosure, which will be taken into account.