Part 10 - Religious institutions and services
Issue 1: What is a religious service?
Non-interpretative – straight application of the law
A supply of a religious service is GST-free if it is a supply of a service that:
- is supplied by a Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) registered religious institution, and
- is integral to the practice of that religion.
The courts have determined that, for a body to be regarded as a religious institution:
- its objects and activities must reflect its character as a body instituted for the promotion of some religious object, and
- the beliefs and practices of the members of that body must constitute a religion.
The two most important factors for determining whether a particular set of beliefs and practices constitute a religion are:
- belief in a supernatural being, thing or principle, and
- acceptance of canons of conduct which give effect to that belief, but which do not offend against the ordinary laws.
Religious institution is not confined to the major religions.
Some examples of a religious service would include, worship, Sunday School, a wedding, funeral or baptism service, religious retreats, bible study groups etc.
The Vos report considered this issue and stated that 'where the services were purely religious and there is no commercial equivalent then it was appropriate for this to be GST-free'.
The following are examples of services that have a commercial equivalent and thus are not GST-free, provision of administrative and financial services, engagement of a minister of religion, the civil or secular elements of religious services etc. Civil or secular elements of a service would include, flowers, music, reimbursement of travel expenses, accommodation and food at a religious retreat, library loan or hire and items for private use in devotion.
Donations and offerings would not be subject to GST as the donation or offering is not payment in return for the supply of a good or a service.