Service Tax on Residential Complexes: Past, Present, Future
Budget 2010 revived what many thought was a closed chapter for millions of home buyers in India. Ever since it was introduced, there had been uncertainty about the government’s service tax on residential constructions and the manner in which it had to be collected. Following a circular in 2009, the issued seemed to have been laid to rest – though there was a lot of confusion on how the refunds were to be claimed. Now, Budget 2010 has brought the issue back into the limelight. Let’s take a look at the whole issue in detail.
Service Tax for Residential Complexes: The Beginning
During the heady years of the construction boom which started around 2004, the government came up with a unique idea to augment its finances. It decided to levy a service tax on builders for offering their services to anyone who’s buying a residential or commercial property from them. The proposal came into effect from June 16, 2005 and a 10.2% tax (10% service tax and 2% education cess) was levied on 1/3 of the cost of sale price.
The builders promptly passed on the burden to the buyers. Many of them started including this as part of their scheduled payment structure. Meanwhile, the builders association and various taxation experts called for the removal of this tax. According to them, land was a state subject and the Central government couldn’t levy any charges on it. They also argued that the nature of the transaction between the buyer and a seller is not of a service but of a sale. The builders also argued that it was hampering sales and creating unnecessary confusion in the minds of the buyer.
Cancellation of Service Tax on Residential Complexes
The government responded with clarification that the taxation was not on “buying and selling” of the flats, but on the services rendered. If the construction activities were undertaken entirely by the builder or in cases where no service provider was involved, there would be no service tax involved. Plus, to protect the interest of small builders, no service tax was applicable for projects that had less than 12 units in it.
The clarifications created more confusion and led to a situation where multiple circulars/trade notices were issued by various departments of the government. Finally, realizing that the industry needed to recover following the economic depression, Circular No. 108/02/2009 – ST (http://www.servicetax.gov.in/circular/st-circular09/st-circ-108-2k9.htm) tried to bring the entire episode to a closure. It contained two major clauses:
a) since the sale was happening only after completion of the project, the construction service provided by the builder is considered as “self-service” which is not liable to tax and
b) In case of under-construction projects, since the buyer gets ownership only after its completion, it came under the exclusion provided in the definition of “residential complex”. There would be thus no service tax applicable on residential complexes.
Following this circular, the amount collected as service tax was refunded under the provision Section 11B of the Central Excise Act. The refund was to be collected by individual buyers directly from the government or the builder could repay the buyers and then claim a refund by keeping evidence of the repayment.
Refund can be claimed in the following manner:
- Fill application Form R and submit it to the jurisdictional ACCE or DCCE before the expiry of one year from the relevant year. Affix a revenue stamp after signing it.
- The application in Form R shall have valid grounds for refund.
- The applicant should seek a personal hearing
- Proof should be submitted that refund would not result in unjust enrichment. Invitation for authorities to verify the accounts maybe attached. A Charted Accountant (CA) certificate that the Service Tax has not been passed on may also be obtained and submitted where the CA clearly specifies the books, records, payments received verified.
Budget 2010 and its implications
When everyone expected the dust to have settled on this issue – Budget 2010-11 seems to have reversed the decision of the earlier circular by raising a claim for service tax on under construction residential complexes or completed buildings that have not received their occupation certificates. The budget had initially proposed a tax of 10% on 33% of the sale price. This was later reduced to 25% of sale price. So, if the apartment you’re buying costs Rs. 40 lakhs, then as per the Budget proposal, the applicable service tax would have been Rs. 137,333 (at the rate of 10% service tax and 3% cess on 33% of the property value). However, with the amendment, the service tax gets reduced to 103,000, resulting into savings of Rs. 34,333. The amendment also benefits those who are buying a low cost flat. For example, if you were buying a low cost flat worth Rs. 15 lakhs, then as per the Budget proposal, applicable service tax would have been Rs. 51,500. This has now becomes nil, as per the amendment announced. This tax will not be applicable if full payment is made after completion of the construction. Service tax is also not applicable where the builder is engaging his own contractors, designers and other service providers. In some states like Maharashtra, the buyer has to pay an additional 1% VAT on the cost of the flat.
Builders have already started collecting the amounts from buyers and it’s causing a lot of resentment and distrust between them. With home buyers caught by surprise and the construction industry unhappy about it, experts believe it’s only a matter of time before the tax gets challenged again. Also, it’s not clear at what stage the service tax will be levied. Will it be at the time of registering the sale, during the documentation process itself or during the handover of the flat? There are too many unanswered questions for which both builders and buyers are trying to find answers. The ball clearly is in the government’s court on this one!
This article is vetted by Mr. Deshpande R P, Director of Institute of Home Finance, the first of its kind institute dedicated to mortgage banking studies. Mr. Deshpande is a Mortgage Banking Professional with Civil Engineering background and has more than 25 years experience in Mortgage Banking sector.
This article aims at collating and providing information on service tax for residential complexes at one place for benefit of ApnaComplex customers and readers. While ApnaComplex has taken every care to ensure the information is accurate, we suggest to please use it only as a guidance for further discussion and action with help of relevant professionals. If you need professional advise on this topic and any other property related matters, please send your request through our contact us form. You may post your questions/inputs in the Comments section below and we will try and get them answered through relevant subject matter experts.