Expert in tax law and taxpayer defence

Geoff Clews is one of the few New Zealand lawyers who specialize in acting for clients facing serious tax problems, both civil and criminal. He has done so for more than 30 years. Geoff’s practice covers all aspects of tax controversy. He advises clients in the course of Inland Revenue investigations. He conducts the formal aspects of the statutory tax disputes process. He litigates tax and related issues, and defends criminal tax charges, before the Courts at trial and appellate levels. In all these matters Geoff applies focused and objective analysis of his client’s situation, an honest judgment of their position, strategic thinking and compelling advocacy.
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                     WINNER, CCH TAX AWARD, NEW ZEALAND LAW AWARDS, 2012



Highlighted services

Sometimes people cut corners with their taxes. Not everything gets returned as it should be. Claims are over stated or income is suppressed. These tax secrets fester away but you can do something about them if you act in time and with the right help. We deal with these issues all the time.
A tax investigation can be intrusive, frustrating and worrying. Tax investigation powers are intimidating but have to be exercised within limits. These procedures have to be managed carefully to avoid cost and increased tax risk. We manage tax investigations daily. 
The statutory tax disputes process  is complicated and involves strict time frames for the exchange of notices and “sudden death” deadlines. If you miss one of them, you can lose all your rights of dispute and if you omit something it will be difficult to raise it later. We know these procedures thoroughly.
A tax challenge is formal civil litigation in the Taxation Review Authority or the High Court. It requires a winning strategy, tactical sense and persuasive advocacy. We try to keep clients out of court but, if it is needed, we advocate for taxpayers against the IRD at all Court levels.
Tax crime is serious and involves the real risk of prison. If you have not disclosed your default to the IRD and it prosecutes you, an effective defence or mitigation is vital. We appear regularly to defend people who have been charged with tax offenses.
Tax debts can mount up very quickly if they are not managed. Penalties and interest can virtually double the size of a debt in 3 to 4 years. Settling payment terms with the IRD is not a normal commercial negotiation. We deal with this issue for clients all the time. 
Tax laws are particularly complicated because they have to cover every aspect of commercial life. Parliament is always changing them to meet new demands and to close loopholes. Many commercial transactions require a tax sign off and responsible taxpayers will seek advice before adopting a course that could have material tax outcomes. Sound tax advice can be insurance against some tax penalties.
Trusts have proliferated in New Zealand. Some are well managed and some are not. Trustees do not always understand their obligations and beneficiaries are sometimes wrongly locked out of trust property or disadvantaged by trustee decisions. The Courts can intervene to stop trust excesses or to assist trustees with directions.
The Department of Internal Affairs Charities Service vets, registers and oversees charities. Defining the purposes of an organisation in a way that qualifies as charitable can require professional advice. Adverse decisions as to charitable status may be appealed to the High Court which has marked out a more particular approach to the scope of charitable purposes. 
  • Cook Islands tax and trusts disputes
Geoff Clews holds permanent
admission to the Bar of the Cook Islands High Court. He is available to act as counsel in tax disputes and litigation with the Cook Islands Revenue Management Division, and litigation related to the Cook Islands International Trusts and Companies regimes.  

Professional reviews

quote.gif Geoff Clews...He's the guy you call after Inland Revenue bursts through your doors and seizes your computers, certain already after months of covert surveillance that you're fiddling your taxes... - Auckland's Best Lawyers, Metro Magazine, August 2008

quote.gif Geoffrey Clews of Old South British Chambers is in-demand for tax disputes, and noted by law firms for his activity in this practice area. Lately he has been involved in litigation around the meaning and extent of tax provisions between New Zealand and foreign jurisdictions, such as the double tax agreement with China. He is highly respected, with one source stating: "He is great to work with as he is approachable and well-versed at thinking outside the box to get the right legal answer." - Chambers Asia - Pacific 2019, New Zealand, the Tax Bar.

quote.gif Geoff, since a young age I have understood the benefit of retaining very capable people, especially when it comes to challenging issues that are quite consequential. Right from the beginning I knew you, like others before, were going to fulfill that same need. Too many people use middle level advisers, get average advice with no connection to the senior ranks of the other party and despite the lower charge out rate, end up paying more. - Client communication on successful completion of a long running case, May 2017.

To see other reviews, click here.

Chambers available

A large suite is available in Old South British Chambers, overlooking High Street. The occupant would share in all common areas including conference and meeting room, kitchen and reception areas. All suites in chambers share its secure server and wifi. This is character space with presence, comprising some 45 sq m, with high stud and ornate plaster ceilings. The space provides a collegial environment, and comes at reasonable rent, share of opex and rates. To get more information about this space in chambers click here.  


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Latest tax and trusts news

29 June 2018 - The legislation seeking to protect New Zealand’s tax base from erosion through abuse of the tax system is now law. The Taxation (Neutralising Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) Act 2018 (2018/16) received the Royal assent on 27 June 2018. The Act mainly comes into force on 1 July 2018.

29 March 2018 - The residential property bright-line test has been extended from two to five years with effect on properties acquired on or after 1 October 2018. Despite criticism that the five year test would impose tax on property sales having no connection with property speculation, the Government has implemented the change as a matter on which it had campaigned.   

15 February 2018 - A supplementary order paper has been introduced to extend the residential property bright-line test from two to five years. This now forms part of the tax bill that is before Parliament and due for report back from the Finance and expenditure Committee by June 2018. The bright-line regime makes residential property sale proceeds taxable income (subject to deductions on an orthodox basis) if the sale is contracted for within the bright-line period after acquisition. To see the Ministerial release, click here

24 October 2017 - The coalition agreement between Labour and New Zealand First signals increased penalties for corporate fraud and tax evasion.

4 September 2017 - Inland Revenue has released a standard for the use of electronic signatures on documents submitted to it. The signature must be a secured authority that complies with section 209 of the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017. To view the standard, click here.

3 August 2017 -
The Government has announced a suite of measures to combat BEPS by multinationals. These follow on from initiatives signaled earlier in the year. They address interest rates, avoidance of permanent establishment rules, economic substance rules and rules to counter mismatched treatment of structures. They also propose increased investigative powers for IR. The Government says that non-NZ income derived by a foreign trust with a NZ trustee will be taxed in NZ if it is not taxed elsewhere. This is a complete reversal of the present exclusion of such income from NZ tax. To see the release and link to the underlying papers, click here.
To read commentary see below.

To view past tax and trusts news, click here. 

Case notes

Tax and trusts law is constantly developing through Court and tribunal decisions. To read our latest case notes, click here.

To read about company directors being personally liable for company tax debts, click here.


Whither (or wither) New Zealand Foreign Trusts?

To read this recent commentary, click here.

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