The ATO’s register of private binding rulings is available for free public search by reference number, topic or date. The rulings are edited for anonymity and privacy before publication.
Private rulings are a goldmine for real taxpayer issues which have been researched and commented upon by the Tax Office. However it must be recognised that a number of the records potentially are “clearly wrong or out of date”
Where is the private rulings register?
Update 12 Dec 2017
Edited versions of private advice are being moved to the Legal database under the category labelled “Edited private advice”.
This is in response to various negative feedback on utility of the rulings register as it has been.
The new system gets a thumbs up from here!
The Legal database itself has also been upgraded in functionality, with search experiences now vastly improved.
Keyword search using legal database search box now appears to be functioning more smoothly than before, and is fast.
Searching for content keywords, section numbers or PBR number works equally well.
The Advanced search box enables limited logical search statements for even greater precision.
With the move the Tax Office has taken the opportunity to tidy up older material to enhance relevancy of search results.
- rulings more than four years old are to be placed in a searchable archive; and
- rulings more than 10 years old are to be deleted
Historical Register Still Available For ‘Limited Time’
The register includes written binding rulings for applications generally since 1 April 2001, for GST matters since 1 July 2001.
Some limitations of a PBR
The limitations of PBRs for research purposes are extensively set out in the register’s landing page. A heading on search results from the Legal Database contains similar limitations.
The Tax Office’s fulsome disclaimer makes it very clear that PBRs published in the register are non-binding, offer no protection, and cannot be relied upon as a precedent or for establishing a Reasonably Arguable Position.
Important considerations include:
- PBRs are not law, just the Tax Office’s opinion, at a point in time, of the operation of the law in a specific fact situation
- PBRs are not updated in response to changes in the law, or to decided cases which may have a bearing
- When a PBR has been later amended, the published details of the original PBR are not amended
- PBRs are are not public, or intended to be relied upon by anyone other than the taxpayer requesting the ruling.
- PBRs can be withdrawn if the ATO changes its view of a matter (e.g. after the taxpayer has taken action in reliance)
- If correct PBR advice is provided on the basis of erroneous facts set out by the Commissioner, it cannot be challenged simply on that basis
- Descriptions of facts in a published PBR are often scant, and in any event have been edited for reasons of privacy or confidentiality
Getting a private ruling from the Tax Office
Despite the limitations, there are good reasons for requesting a private ruling, with a view to reducing tax risk surrounding transactions which might attract ATO attention after the fact.
The Tax Office provides a general private ruling application form (Nat 74957) for use by agents and non-agents.
For private ruling application forms concerning specific subject matters see Applying for a private ruling
For the Tax Office’s private ruling reference guide see here.
- ATO private binding rulings – trash or treasure? Definitely treasure! – Wolters Kluver blog article
- Review of private advice, discussion paper and findings – ATO
- ATO’s published register of private binding rulings – IGT
This page was last modified 2018-01-17