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Corporate Finance Manual

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Loan relationships: tax avoidance: unallowable purpose: application: Hansard report

Applying the unallowable purposes rule: Economic Secretary’s comments

(CTA09/S429-S430 were originally enacted as FA96/SCH9/PARA13.)

‘The Government are aware of concerns that have been raised by my hon. Friends and by others regarding the particular anti-avoidance provisions in paragraph 13. This paragraph was amended significantly in Standing Committee but, because of the concerns that my hon. Friends and others have raised, I take the opportunity to allay some of the fears that have been expressed about the anti-avoidance rules.

Paragraph 13 of the schedule disallows tax deductions to the extent that tax avoidance is the main motive behind a loan relationship. We have been told of concerns that this could be interpreted as preventing companies from getting tax relief for legitimate financing arrangements. I am happy to offer a reassurance that this is not the intention of the legislation. The paragraph denies tax deductions on loans that are for the purpose of activities outside the charge to corporation tax. Among other things, this will ensure that United Kingdom branches of overseas companies do not get tax relief for borrowings that are for overseas activities outside the United Kingdom tax net.

We have been asked whether financing - which, for example, is to acquire shares in companies, whether in the United Kingdom or overseas, or is to pay dividends - would be affected by the paragraph. In general terms, the answer is no, but the paragraph might bite if the financing were structured in an artificial way.

It has been suggested that structuring a company’s legitimate activities to attract a tax relief could bring financing within this paragraph - some have gone so far as to suggest that the paragraph might deny any tax deduction for borrowing costs. These suggestions are clearly a nonsense. A large part of what the new rules are about is ensuring that companies get tax relief for the cost of their borrowing.

One specific point has been put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester - that is, borrowing by a finance leasing company to acquire assets where this is more tax efficient than the lessee investing in the asset direct. Again, I am happy to offer a reassurance. Where a company is choosing between different ways of arranging its commercial affairs, it is acceptable for it to choose the course that gives a favourable tax outcome. Where paragraph 13 will come into play is where tax avoidance is the object, or one of the main objects, of the exercise.

Companies that enter into schemes with the primary aim of avoiding tax will inevitably be aware of that. The transactions we are aiming at are not ones which companies stumble into inadvertently. As one top tax adviser said recently, companies will know when they are into serious tax avoidance; apart from anything else, they are likely to be paying fat fees for clever tax advice and there will commonly be wads of documentation.

The last thing I want to do, however, is set out a list of so-called acceptable or unacceptable activities. Borrowing for commercial purposes can be structured in a highly artificial way in order to avoid tax. If we said that borrowing for certain types of activity would always be okay, tax advisers would quickly take advantage and devise artificial financial arrangements simply to avoid tax. Provided that companies are funding commercial activities or investments in a commercial way, they should have nothing to fear. If they opt for artificial, tax-driven arrangements, they may find themselves caught.

It is clear that a balance must be struck between meeting the concerns that have been raised and weakening the provision in those instances where it needs to apply, but I can assure my hon. Friends that we shall keep the matter under review.’ (Hansard 28 March 1996 Finance Bill Report Stage, Columns 1192-1193.)