Intangible assets: avoidance: introduction
Purpose of legislation in FA02/SCH29
These provisions represent part of the Government’s strategy to establish for the UK a modern business tax system that competes with the best in the world. In particular, the intention is that business should be encouraged to take advantage of new opportunities in the modern, knowledge-based economy by the provision of tax relief for the cost of intellectual property, goodwill and other intangible assets.
Tax deductions for sums written off fixed assets
To that end the legislation gives companies tax deductions for sums written off intangible assets in their accounts. This represents a significant departure from the approach generally adopted in our tax system for relieving capital expenditure, whereby deductions for the depreciation of assets are given at rates set out in statute. The approach of basing tax deductions on individual companies’ accounting entries reflects the diverse nature of intangible assets and the wide variation in their economic lives in different business contexts. A system of statutory rates of relief could not cope easily with this degree of variation.
Inevitably there will be cases where a company pays a very large sum for the goodwill (and perhaps other intangible assets) of a business and the venture goes badly wrong. In those circumstances, the company will be compelled to write off against profits much of the capitalised value of the goodwill acquired on an impairment review (see CIRD30550).
It is an inherent feature of the approach described above that relief should be available against income for potentially very large capital losses of this kind.
By the same token, however, the approach of giving tax deductions based on a company’s depreciation policies in respect of its intangible assets may create relatively novel opportunities to take advantage of that and other features of the legislation in unacceptable ways.
As always, Inspectors need to be on their guard against such behaviour. In the light of the novelty of the legislation and the particular benefits in this context of early legislative action to address weaknesses (see CIRD48020), Inspectors should share freely with the technical specialists in Business Tax (Technical) information about possible avoidance manoeuvres.
Lay-out of guidance
This section of the manual:
- outlines the defences inherent in the structure of the legislation against its exploitation (CIRD48020),
- lists the rules described elsewhere in the manual which may inhibit certain specific types of avoidance (CIRD48030),
- identifies more generally applicable rules intended to protect the Exchequer which are relevant to the legislation in Schedule 29 (CIRD48040),
- provides guidance on the anti-avoidance rule in Schedule 29 itself aimed at tax-driven arrangements (CIRD48105 onwards).