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New Research Shows New Zealand’s Wealthiest Pay Their Fair Share Of Tax

Auckland, 18 April 2023 — New independent research shows that high-wealth individuals pay more tax on average and represent a higher proportion of the total tax take than may previously have been thought.

It has been strongly suggested that, in practice, New Zealand’s income tax regime is not as fair as statutory tax rates would suggest*. However no reliable data exists to support this claim. Leading tax consultancy OliverShaw commissioned Australasian consulting firm, Sapere Research Group, to prepare a report on the effective rates of tax that New Zealand’s tax and benefit systems impose on the incomes of its residents. The 263-page report adopted the standard modelling methodologies used in the OECD Taxing Wages study to review the income and tax of illustrative households to calculate the average effective tax rates paid by low, medium and high-income earners in New Zealand.

Key findings

  • The rich pay most of the tax collected in New Zealand and the richer a person is, the more tax they are likely to pay.
  • Effective tax rates are generally less than the statutory rates.
  • Average effective tax rates increase as the net real economic incomes of households increase.
  • As a result of deliberate government policies, households of single employees renting face some of the highest average effective tax rates, and some of the highest marginal tax rates apply to some of the lowest income earners.
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“One of the questions asked is whether the very wealthy pay taxes at the same or higher rate than middle income earners,” says OliverShaw Principal, Robin Oliver. “This research shows clearly that, whether you consider taxable income or other measures, such as economic income, the answer is: ‘Yes, they do.’ The key conclusion of the Report is: “Average effective tax rates increase as the net real economic incomes of households increase.

“However, when it comes to considering whom to tax, on what basis and at what rate, trade-offs have to be made between taxing all income at the same rate and other policy concerns such as providing assistance to lower income families and encouraging investment. Tax rules are the product of policy conclusions as to what is reasonable, workable, efficient and equitable.”

In order to standardise the data the Sapere Report, following the OECD model, takes into account Working for Families and other benefits, as you cannot sensibly consider average effective tax rates (AETR) without doing so.

“Apparent inequities with the existing tax and benefit system are easy to identify,” says Oliver. “These occur when lower income earners pay tax at a higher effective marginal rate than higher income earners – for example when people on benefits have their benefits drastically abated once they start working and earning even a modest wage. They also occur when people who earn the same income are taxed at vastly different effective rates, as happens with the widely supported Working for Families tax credit. Inequities are usually the result of deliberate and considered government policy: Working for Families creates inequities because governments have decided to give more assistance to people with families to support, who need it most.

“The problem begins with a lack of agreement on what constitutes income,” says Oliver. “Is it taxable income as defined in the Income Tax Act? Does it include KiwiSaver earnings? Does it include monetary benefits received from the government? Does it include services that the government funds – healthcare and education – which are delivered to citizens? Does it include the appreciation in value of the family home – value that will be realised only on the sale of that home? Does it include the part of interest that merely compensates the loss of value resulting from inflation? Does it include investment in education that is expected to lead to higher future income? .

“The problem is compounded because those who earn most also have most discretion about how they earn. Wealthier individuals generally derive a greater share of their income from sources other than wages and are encouraged to take advantage of the different tax rates payable on income from companies, trusts, property and PIEs. Thus, increasing the top marginal income tax rate will likely have only a modest effect on their effective tax rate. This apparent anomaly is unsurprising. In taking advantage of different tax rates high, income earners are behaving in ways that economists advising government predicted, in the process meeting those policy objectives which governments favour highly – saving for retirement, protecting assets, investing in businesses, creating jobs, developing commercial and residential property

“The Sapere report provides a model for considering economic income which addresses some of the challenges faced in collecting hard, reliable data and considering the equity and efficiency implications of potential changes in the way income is taxed. The report makes clear that, to achieve equity, consideration of the redistributive function of the income tax system must take into account both taxation and the redistribution of funds by way of concessions, benefits and government-funded services.”

*“Until we have a more accurate picture about how much tax the very wealthy pay, relative to their full “economic income”, we can’t honestly say that our tax system is fair.” Hon David Parker: “Shining a light on unfairness in our tax system” 26 April 2022

For more information, or to download or share a copy of the Sapere Report, visit www.wereonthemoney.co.nz

About OliverShaw

OliverShaw is a specialist tax advisory practice founded in 2011 by Robin Oliver MNZM LLB MA and Mike Shaw CA, recognised experts in tax policy, tax economics and tax advice. Both have previously worked as senior partners at big four accounting firms, and Robin served as Deputy Commissioner of Policy at IRD for 16 years. OliverShaw has acted as advisors to the Corporate Taxpayer Group, the Financial Services Council, local bodies, NZX listed corporates, high wealth individuals and highly innovative start up organisations.

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