Government to consider rollback of tax on EPF withdrawals

PTI3_1_2016_000113B President Pranab Mukherjee and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at the 40th Civil Accounts Day function in New Delhi on March 1 | PTI

Under all-round attack, the government on Tuesday promised to consider demands for a rollback of the proposal to tax 60% of withdrawals from provident fund and a ceiling on employers contribution but made it clear that PPF will continue to be exempt from tax.

Revenue secretary Hashmukh Adhia went a step further to say that only 60% of interest on contributions made after April 1 will be taxed and that the principal amount of contribution will remain untouched at the time of withdrawal.

However, a government press note issued on Tuesday made no mention about taxing only the interest.

It claimed that the new tax proposal was aimed at taxing only the high salaried individuals totalling about 70 lakh people out of the 3.7 crore employee provident fund (EPF) members. About 3 crore individuals come under the statutory wage limit of Rs 15,000 per month so will not be affected by the proposed changes.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his budget for 2016-17 on Monday had proposed that 60% of the withdrawal on contribution to employee PF made after April 1 this year will be subject to tax.

This would apply to superannuation funds and recognised provident funds including EPF. He also proposed a monetary limit for contribution of employer in recognised PF and superannuation fund at Rs 1.5 lakh per annum for taking tax benefit.

The proposal came under immediate attack from various employees unions including RSS-backed BMS, and political parties who termed it as “an attack on the working class and a clear case of double taxation.”

The Finance Ministry issued a press note containing a clarification about the proposed changes in the tax treatment of recognised PFs and recognised pension schemes noting that there seems to be some amount of lack of understanding about the changes made in the budget on the issue.

“We have received representations on Tuesday from various sections suggesting that if the amount of 60% of corpus is not invested in the annuity products, the tax should be levied only on accumulated returns on the corpus and not on the contributed amount.

“We have also received representations asking for not having any monetary limit on the employer contribution under EPF, because such a limit is not there in NPS. The finance minister would be considering all these suggestions and taking a view on it in due course,” the press note said.

All contributions and interest accrued to EPF before April 1, 2016, will not attract any tax on withdrawal.

The press note said the purpose of this reform of making the change in tax regime is to encourage more number of private sector employees to go for pension security after retirement instead of withdrawing the entire money from the Provident Fund Account.

Towards this objective, the Government announced that 40% of the total corpus withdrawn at the time of retirement will be tax exempt both under recognised Provident Fund and NPS.

“It is expected that the employees of private companies will place the remaining 60% of the corpus in annuity, out of which they can get regular pension. When this 60% of the remaining corpus is invested in Annuity, no tax is chargeable. So what it means is that the entire corpus will be tax free, if invested in annuity,” it said.

The government in the budget also made another change to say that when the person investing in annuity dies and when the original corpus goes in the hands of his heirs, then again there will be no tax.

The idea behind this mechanism, it said, was to encourage people to invest in pension products rather than withdraw and use the entire corpus after retirement.

“However, in EPFO, there are about 60 lakh contributing members who have accepted EPF voluntarily and they are highly - paid employees of private sector companies. For this category of people, amount at present can be withdrawn without any tax liability. We are changing this,” the press note said.

Such employee can withdraw without tax liability provided they contributes 60% in annuity product so that pension security can be created for him according to his earning level. However, if he chooses not to put any amount in annuity product the tax would not be charged on 40% only.

“There is no change in the existing tax treatment of Public Provident Fund (PPF),” it said. Currently there are no monetary ceilings on the employer contribution under EPF with only ceiling being that it would be 12% of the salary of the employee member. Similarly, there is no monetary ceiling on the employer contribution under NPS, except that it would be 10% of salary.

The Finance Bill 2016 provides that there would be monetary ceiling of Rs 1.5 lakh on employer contribution considered with the ceiling of the 12% rate of employer contribution, whichever is less.

In an interview to PTI, Adhia said said withdrawal of principal amount contributed to EPF after April 1 would remain exempt from any tax and its only the interest on contributions made after April 1, 2016 which will be taxed.

“The purpose (of the budget proposal) is not to mobilise revenue. We want people to move towards a pension society. So we have given another incentive wherein the investment in annuity product will be tax exempt. Annuity product was always taxable. But here, even after death of a person when the money is transferred to legal heir, we have made it tax exempt,” he said.

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