IRAS publishes e-tax guides frequently to explain the tax principles relevant to the specific industry, areas or legislation and assists taxpayer in understanding how for example Goods and Services Tax (‘GST’) should be charged or treated on specific industry or circumstances. Taxpayers are encouraged to follow the currency of the e-tax guides and any deviations of the e-tax guides from the specific Tax Act (ie GST Act) would usually be treated as administrative concessions by the Comptroller. 

The failure to comply with the guides published by the IRAS could potentially lead to costly compliance efforts by the taxpayers and onus is on the taxpayers to explain and prove to the satisfaction of the Comptroller any deviations. It is therefore in the best interest of the taxpayer for avoidance of grief and sanity to comply with applicable e-tax guides and seek the Comptroller’s approval early if an arrangement or scenario deviates from the relevant guide.

On 29 June 2021, the GST Board of Review (Board) issued a decision in the case of GDY v Comptroller of Goods and Services Tax [2021] SGGST 1 for which the taxpayer won in its appeal against the Comptroller for relying on specific directions issued by IRAS on early audits which deviates from the e-Tax Guide GST: Guide on Exports (ETG). This case relates to an appeal by GDY against the decision of the Comptroller of GST (Comptroller) to disallow the zero-rating of certain taxable supplies of goods purportedly exported to Malaysia on the basis that GDY did not maintain certain documents in accordance with ETG issued by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore’s (IRAS).

The Appeal Board held the view that e-Tax guides as its names implied, it is a recommended guide and NOT statutorily imposed conditions as its intention.

Interestingly, this is consistent with the standard disclaimers that IRAS has specifically included in all its e-tax guides stating that IRAS shall not be responsible or held accountable in any way for any damage, loss or expense whatsoever, arising directly or indirectly from any inaccuracy or incompleteness in the Contents of e-Tax Guide, or errors or omissions in the transmission of the Contents. It is meant to be a general understanding of taxpayers’ tax obligations and IRAS reserves the right to vary its position accordingly.

However, this case illustrates the importance for taxpayers to put in place a robust tax governance process to ensure compliance to current e-tax guides and perform regular reviews of its current GST treatment to mitigate any potential tax compliance risks.