Singapore’s tax system is designed to avoid complexity both in terms of the number of taxes and their respective mechanisms. The major taxes levied in Singapore include Income Tax (corporate and personal), Goods and Services Tax, Stamp Duties and Property Tax. Other less well-known taxes include excise duties, casino tax, carbon tax and the development charge. Estate duties were abolished in 2008 and there are no general forms of inheritance taxes or gift taxes.
The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (“IRAS”) is tasked with the administration and collection of most of the forms of taxes in Singapore. Each tax has its own relevant statute and charging provisions, for example, the Income Tax Act 1947, the Goods and Services Tax Act 1993, the Stamp Duties Act 1929 and the Property Tax Act 1960. These statutes and subsidiary legislation provide for the mechanisms for administration and collection of their own respective taxes. There is no single overarching statute to provide for tax administration across the various taxes, as might be the case in other jurisdictions such as the UK.
In the case of any disputes with the tax authority, the starting point for a taxpayer would be to engage the IRAS to attempt to resolve the issue. Officials of the IRAS will generally ask for more information relating to the taxpayer’s position and have various statutory powers to compel the production of documents and other materials if necessary. In the event that a dispute cannot be resolved, the taxpayer has the right to object to the relevant assessments and bring the case before a court or tribunal. There are three main statutory administrative tribunals or “Boards of Review”. The Income Tax Board of Review, Goods and Services Tax Board of Review and Valuation Review Board are tasked to hear disputes relating to Income Tax, GST and Property Tax respectively. Decisions of these Boards are appealable to the General Division of the High Court and, subsequently, the Appellate Division of the High Court. Cases involving all other taxes are heard directly by the General Division of the High Court and may also subsequently be appealable to the Appellate Division of the High Court. In cases where an appeal will raise a point of law of public importance, leave to make a further appeal to the Court of Appeal from the Appellate Division of the High Court may be granted.
Depending on the facts of the case, a taxpayer may choose to commence judicial review proceedings instead of relying on the procedures specified in the relevant tax statutes. The Boards of Review are administrative tribunals without the power of judicial review, and thus such cases must be heard directly by the General Division of the High Court. Care must be taken to assess whether the case is an appropriate one for judicial review proceedings or whether it may more appropriately be brought before one of the Boards of Review. Appeals of judicial review decisions made by the General Division of the High Court are to be heard directly by the Court of Appeal.
The various tax statutes generally empower the tax authorities to insist that any tax assessments be paid upfront first, before any disputes are brought before the tribunals or courts. In practice, the taxpayer may request for the payment of the disputed tax to be deferred pending the outcome of tribunal or court proceedings. The IRAS has generally been very reasonable on this front but the onus is on the taxpayer to make a formal request and justify its case. If the amount of tax payable is large, it may also be possible to request for the tax to be paid in instalments, typically over a period of up to two years.