Raymond Yeung Tax Consultant former Assessor of Inland Revenue Department 前稅局評稅主任楊輝洪

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Salaries Tax - Husband and wife 

For taxation, a husband and his wife are a couple of a “marriage”.  

According to section 2 of IRO, "marriage" means (a) any marriage recognized by the law of Hong Kong; or (b) any marriage, whether or not so recognized, entered into outside Hong Kong according to the law of the place where it was entered into and between persons having the capacity to do so, but shall not, in the case of a marriage which is both potentially and actually polygamous, include marriage between a man and any wife other than the principal wife, and "married"  shall be construed accordingly. Furthermore, a wife is defined as a married woman of a marriage within the meaning of the IRO.  

In short, the marriage must be a lawful marriage between a man and a woman. A marriage of the same sex (同性戀婚姻)is not acceptable for tax purpose. 

As far as taxation is concerned, husband and wife are treated as separate individuals. Each party is required to complete his / her tax return, to notify the IRD of his / her chargeability to tax and to pay his / her own tax. 

Under salaries tax, if the total net income of one spouse are less than his / her total allowances, there will be unused personal allowances under his / her own assessment. In that case, the couple can elect for joint assessment to have their incomes and personal allowances combined in one single assessment so as to reduce their overall tax liabilities. Press here for the amount of allowances.

Should the election not reduce the their total tax, the IRD will inform the taxpayers so and the election will not be effected. 

The election must be signed by both spouses in a tax return or in a form specified by Board of Inland Revenue. The time limit for the election adopts the time limit of the relevant tax return or within one month after a relevant salaries tax assessment becoming final and conclusive.  

The joint election can be withdrawn within one month of the issue of the joint assessment. But once withdrawn, no re-election will be accepted. However, if there are adjustments to either spouse's original assessments rendering the tax reduction of joint assessment no longer applicable, the election will be deemed invalid and revised assessments will be issued under separation taxation basis. 

Normally, only one joint-assessment will be issued to the spouse liable to tax. This is unlike Personal Assessment where the total tax will be apportioned between the spouses so that each spouse will get an assessment. If both spouses are required to pay tax before the joint assessment, they will have to nominate one to get the joint-assessment. 

For joint assessment in case of a newly-wed couple, the marriage will be deemed to start from the beginning of the year of assessment, that is 1 April. In other words, there will be no apportionment of a spouse's income between before and after the marriage. 

If a taxpayer's spouse does not have any taxable income, the taxpayer should claim Married Personal Allowances in his own tax return. In other words, election for joint assessment is not necessary.

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