IRAS 99 1 – Latest News Summary and Learnings for Property Owners

iras 99 1

Table of Contents

Introduction – IRAS 99 1 Investigation

Starting as early as April 2023, new publications have been covering IRAS investigation of the 99 1 tax avoidance fiasco. Up till the latest news release on 27 May 2024, there have been at least 7 articles covering different aspects of the investigation. 

Aside from casual news readers reading to grave dance over those being penalised, the news articles serve as a valuable source of information for serious property investors to better understand IRAS stance on what’s right and what’s wrong. 

The goal of this article 

Instead of reading through multiple articles and sieving out the specific parts that matter to you. We aim to constantly update this article, capturing useful and relevant learnings from each of this news release to help intent driven property investors stay informed. 

In later sections, expect to see aggregation of all news coverage with regards to the IRAS 99 1 investigation, highlighting all key extracts with regards to IRAS commentary / stance on the issue. And extraction of valuable commentary from reputable lawyers, commenting on the IRAS 99 1 case within these news releases. 

You can then use these pointers as reference points to consider whether your plans could potentially raise some red flags. And most importantly, make advance preparation to ensure your plans remain legit, if another round of investigation does occur. 

Who is this article for ?

This article is written for the following group of property owners

  • Property owners that are currently holding a private property under a 50-50 joint tenancy structure and have got plans on decoupling
  • Property owners that are currently holding a private property under a 99-1 tenancy in common structure and have got plans on decoupling
  • Property owners that are looking to take a interim step, purchasing a new private condo and is considering if they should adopt a 99-1 structure or 50-50 structure to prepare for future decoupling
  • Property owners that have already decoupled a 99-1 structure and is concern over the recent news reporting

For readers that are uninitiated to the term decoupling property or if you are looking to decouple a HDB flat check out the article links inline. 

Your greatest concern – Whether your plans are legit ?

Your greatest concern would be whether you will get into trouble with IRAS if you were to proceed with decoupling your current property or adopt a 99-1 share split for a new property purchase and decouple further down the road. 

Legal Disclaimer

Before we begin, a legal disclaimer. Please do not take this as legal advice, for official legal advice, please seek consultation from a qualified lawyer with experience in decoupling property. 

If you need contact for a decoupling lawyer, drop us a text and we will save you some time researching for one.

What remains above board  ?

Putting it upfront, IRAS have not been penalising property owners that have decoupled their properties and purchased a second property. 

Similarly, IRAS have not penalised any property owners that have decoupled a property that is structured in a 99-1 tenancy in common ownership structure from the onset. 

And purchasing a new property and structuring its ownership with a 99-1, 90-10, 80-20 structure is not illegal. 

What are the cases that have been targeted in the IRAS 99 1 investigation

IRAS has actually been investigating and penalising property owners that have taken the following actions. Let’s call it a 100-1 transaction to prevent unnecessary confusion with decoupling. 

Here’s how it works

  • Property Owner 1 that do not currently own any property
  • Fronts the purchase of a private condo 
  • Owner 1 now owns 100% share of the property
  • No ABSD is incurred as this is the Owner 1’s first property 

Introducing Owner 2 

  • Enter Owner 2, who already owns a private property
  • Owner 2 is supposed to pay a full ABSD on the 100% value of a property, if he was to purchase one. 

Here’s where things gets murky 

  • Owner 1 then sell 1% share of the property to Owner 2 
  • Instead of paying full ABSD on 100% share value of the property, Owner 2 only pays ABSD levied on 1% share value of the property. 
  • This resulted is a significant reduction in ABSD to be paid by Owner 2 

Assuming a property valued at $1.4 mil, the ABSD cost differential is as follow

  • Normal circumstances – 20% ABSD on $1.4mil = $280,000
  • Illegal transaction (IRAS 99 1) – 20% ABSD on $14,000 (1% of $1.4mil) = $2,800
  • ABSD tax avoided – $277,200

If the goal is to minimise ABSD, why not keep it under 1 owner’s name ?

Good question, aside from avoiding ABSD. 

The goal is also to overcome the challenges with regards to financing. Owner 1’s income may not be high enough to take up the necessary loan for the property. Hence, by including Owner 2’s name, the bank loan eligibility will be based on both owners income, allowing for a much larger loan quantum. 

Keep the following in mind as we read the 2nd section

In what’s deemed illegal in the IRAS 99 1 investigations. The transactions possessed the following characteristics.

First, there were 2 steps taken in the transaction. Purchasing 100% then selling of 1% in a short time frame. 

Finally, there is no genuine commercial interest in taking this 2 step transaction except for ABSD tax avoidance.

IRAS have not been penalising Decoupling or Decoupling 99-1

Decoupling  and Decoupling 99-1 is a totally different setup. 

It works in accordance to the following steps

  • Both Owner 1 and Owner 2 did not own any property from the get go.
  • Owner 1 and Owner 2 then jointly purchased a property in one transaction, at the same time 
  • Both owners are not required to pay any ABSD at the time of purchase
  • Owner 1 and Owner 2 decides to adopt a 99-1 share ownership structure with Owner 1 holding 99% share and Owner 2 holding 1% share
  • After some time, they initiated the decoupling process with Owner 1 buying over Owner 2’s share. 
  • This frees up Owner 2’s name to purchase a second property without ABSD. 

To read more about this refer to our dedicated article on 99-1 ABSD loophole, it discusses in detail the difference between what is illegal and what’s legal in decoupling. 

Ensuring your future plans and actions remain above board 

Now that we are on the same page on what IRAS has been penalising, let’s address concerns on how to ensure your future plans with regards to decoupling remain above board. 

To do that, we aggregated all articles published by Straits Times, Business Times and Government’s commentary regarding the IRAS 99 1 investigations. And specifically extracted commentary made by IRAS and the legal community. 

This would serve as an inference point on whether your plans or intent remains legal or if it could raise some red flag in the future. 

As always, do not take this as legal advice.

Quick intro – Decoupling Expertise

Quick introduction, before you decide to commit the next 5 mins reading this article.

We are decoupling expertise, a team of specialist realtors that specialise in helping Singapore property owners derive the best strategy to purchase their second investment property.

While decoupling property is often the go-to strategy that property owners adopt. We pride ourselves for helping our client explore and evaluate other alternatives that best suit individual circumstances and objectives. 

Drop us a text to explore the best strategy to acquire your 2nd property.

Summary of news article and official citation with regards to IRAS 99 1 investigation

DateSourceArticleIRAS Stance – Extracted from news reporting
May 23, 2024Business TimeSome home buyers facing ‘99-to-1’ ABSD probes blaming it on advice from real estate agentsIn Iras’ view, the single purchase has been split up into two or more steps to reduce the tax payable.

A tax avoidance arrangement normally involves an arrangement that is “artificial, contrived or has little or no commercial substance” and is designed to obtain a tax advantage that is not intended by the government, Iras said.
May 8, 2023Straits TimeWhy ‘99-to-1’ property deals to avoid ABSD have zero chance of successAssociate Professor Stephen Phua of the National University of Singapore’s law faculty says all transactions after the ABSD was introduced in 2011 can be looked at because there is no time bar to such audits.

The only way to escape the anti-avoidance rule is to convince Iras that one of the purposes of the arrangement was not tax avoidance and that there were rational reasons for doing so, the professor adds.

Buyers should not be surprised that they can be audited a few years after completing the transactions because this is stated in the ABSD declaration they have to sign.

Buyers and their lawyers are told that they must keep this document “for at least five years from the date of purchase of the property as Iras may request it for audit purposes”.

Prof Phua says selling your properties at this stage will most certainly not absolve the parties of their liabilities.
May 7, 2023Straits TimeBuyers in ‘99-to-1’ property deals can voluntarily pay ABSD; Iras will look at cases more favourably“It has therefore initiated audits of such transactions to better understand the circumstances of each case and ensure that buyers fulfil their rightful stamp duty obligations. Whether or not the ‘99-to-1’ arrangement involves tax avoidance depends on the facts and circumstances surrounding the specific case.”

Mr Chee noted that there is no statutory time limit for stamp duty audits. This means the ongoing investigation could target all cases involving such deals since 2011, when the ABSD was introduced.
April 21, 2023Straits TimeIras to reward whistle-blowers on private property deals exploiting ‘99-to-1’ loopholeIn April 2023, The Straits Times reported that Iras had offered a reward of up to $100,000 to whistle-blowers who call out private property buyers who use the “99-to-1” or similar arrangements to evade or reduce the ABSD on their purchase.

A reward based on 15 percent of the tax recovered for each case – capped at $100,000 – would be given to informants if the information and/or documents provided led to tax recovery, the tax regulator had told ST.

In April 2023, then Senior Minister of State for Finance Chee Hong Tat told Parliament that about 0.5 per cent of private residential properties transacted in the period from 2018 to 2021 involved “99-to-1”, or similar, purchase arrangements, where the owners sold a partial interest in the home to another buyer within a short period.
April 6, 2023Straits TimeIras probes home buyers who used ‘99-to-1’ loophole to avoid paying ABSDThe Straits Times has learnt that letters are being sent to some first-time buyers of private real estate asking them to explain why they sold just 1 per cent of the same property to a relative barely a week after exercising the purchase option.
DateSourceArticleLawyer’s commentary – Extracted from news reporting
May 23, 2024Business TimeSome home buyers facing ‘99-to-1’ ABSD probes blaming it on advice from real estate agentsLawyers said that holding property in a “99-to-1” arrangement would not always constitute tax avoidance.
For instance, if two siblings decide to buy a property together, but one of them can only afford to pay a small portion of the purchase price, they may decide to make this clear in the shareholding, said Mabel Tan, a senior partner at law firm Joseph Tan Jude Benny.

Norman Ho, a senior partner in corporate real estate at Rajah & Tann, said that in some genuine cases, owners may decide to jointly hold the property in different proportions, say 99-to-1, for the purpose of estate planning, risk allocation or with the intention to purchase another property.


Structuring holdings in a 99-to-1 method allows the 1 percent stakeholder to exit the deal by selling the 1 per cent stake to the co-owner, so that the individual is no longer a property owner when they buy another property.

Tan said: “One situation involves planning for the future just in case an owner wishes to buy another property; the other is very clearly to avoid paying ABSD.”

Key learnings from news extract of IRAS 99 1 investigation 

To summarise the notable pointers from the news extracts.

Genuine commercial interest backing arrangement

To ensure legitimacy in your plans and whichever ownership structure you choose to adopt. It is important to ensure that there is a bona fide, aka genuine commercial intent backing the arrangement.

Referencing Section 33A of the stamp duties act that is often quoted by IRAS.

Section 33A stamp duties act

Examples of commercial reasons include, refer to extract from legal commentary above.

Structuring 99-1 share split to reflect actual financial contribution by shareholder, for future estate planning purposes.

No contrived acts taken purely for purpose or tax avoidance.

Examples of such actions include buying a property and purchasing a 1% sale within a short time frame for no valid commercial reason.

No time bar limitation for investigation and selling off property does not help

Another point to note is that it is important to archive all documentary trails of your property transactions.

As IRAS can investigate retrospectively, regardless of whether you have disposed of property.

Whistle-blowers to report cases 

Who you share and what you share about your property transactions matters. IRAS would tap on Whistle-blowers to notify them of cases.

Hence it is important to ensure that you put across the right information, that paints the right picture if you ever choose to share your property investing successes with your friends or colleagues.

Checklist – Applying the learnings to review your plans

1.Do you have a genuine commercial reason back your actions

For both structuring of 99-1 share split, decoupling or selling of shares between spouses, review to see if there is a commercial reason backing the actions.

Examples of commercial intents for share ownership structuring 

  • Proper reflection of financial contribution for each owner, under a co investing arrangement
  • To allow for future plans of part sale of shareholding by co-owners 

Examples of commercial intents for decoupling or part sale of share

  • Selling of share of ownership to release capital for other businesses or investment 
  • Selling of share of ownership in a investment property to unlock capital to purchase property for own stay

2.Remember to archive documentary trails of your property transaction

In view of any future investigation by IRAS, if you seek to be well prepared to validate your case. It is important to keep an organised and well documented trail of information, substantiating the case for your transactions.

Drop us a text to clarify your doubts and concerns

Feel free to drop us a text to clarify any further concerns you got with regards to decoupling and structure for 99-1 tenancy in common. 

Other risk, pitfalls or legal topics for Decoupling 

Author

  • Jue Wen

    Jue Wen is the content marketing lead. This means he spend his waking hours researching and writing all things real estate. He believes life is a hustle and there is no joy in grinding away daily in our little rat races. He believes making wise moves in real estate investment can be a game changer. Aside from writing all things real estate, you can find him in your nearest bouldering gym.

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Jue Wen

Author

Jue Wen is the property analyst and content marketing lead at decoupling expertise.
He specialises in helping clients overcome the complexities involved in owning their second private property in Singapore.
He had over 10 years of experience in real estate investing and have written over 40 detail guides on decoupling and minimising ABSD. He is a licensed real estate consultant and holds a Bachelor degree in Business Management from the Nanyang Technological University.

Kenji

Co-Author

Kenji is the Group Division Director of ERA Realty Network.
He have got over 20 years of experience in real estate and have successfully helped over 50 couples purchased their second property. He specialises in helping client achieve the best approach towards acquiring their ideal investment properties while minimising ABSD.