The Corporate Interest Restriction is one of two strands of the Governments modernisation of the UK tax system; with the other strand being the reform of corporation tax losses. My blog of 25 June made reference to the impact of the Corporate Interest Restriction (CIR) Regulations. Although it was mentioned in the context of both inward investment and property investment it is not restricted to those two arenas.
For many years the UK has been at the forefront of the Organisation for Economic Corporation and Development’s best practice, including measures against Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS). One of the strands of BEPS is prevention of excessive tax deductions for financing costs. Typically the financing would be intra-group with the lender being in a tax advantaged jurisdiction and therefore high levels of intra-group debt or higher interest rates would save the group tax.
CIR for groups with UK interest deduction over £2m
CIR came into force on 1 April 2017 and only has a fiscal consequence for groups whose UK interest deduction is more than £2m. £2m was taken by the UK Government as being a sum which excluded the vast majority of organisations from the legislation. If UK interest is more than £2m then there are formulaic calculations to determine the tax relief which can be claimed. Tax relief can be claimed on sums as great as 30% of EBITDA (as adjusted for tax). The Government acknowledges that this ceiling can be particularly restrictive for certain groups and therefore it is possible to apply a different ratio; one which is more dependent on external financing and UK profitability. However, this alternative strategy needs management and therefore the relevant election should not be made before medium term profit forecasts are developed.
When the interest restriction applies a group company should be appointed to notify HMRC of the group’s interest restriction and how the group wishes for that restriction to be allocated amongst the group companies. In the absence of the election HMRC can allocate the restriction pro-rata between the companies and HMRC’s allocation may not be appropriate for the group’s tax profile.
Corporation Tax Loss Relief
CIR was not the only new matter introduced on 1 April 2017. There was a revision to the fundamentals of corporation tax loss relief which became effective from the same date. Prior to 1 April 2017 unrelieved trading losses could only be carried forward and offset against future profits of the same trade. Other types of losses had their own specific restrictions.
From Spring 2017 there was a relaxation of the use of carried forward losses in a way to generate greater flexibility. However, conversely there was a restriction on the amount of the brought forward loss which could be offset in any one year. The relaxation applies to all corporates with the restriction only applying to larger, more profitable, companies. This mismatch is designed to assist the SME sector.
The relaxation allows losses to be carried forward against total profits of the same company and therefore makes them more flexible. Additionally losses can now be carried forward against subsequent profits of certain group companies, and not just the future profits of the loss making company. Before accessing this flexibility there are certain conditions to be met and those conditions cannot be assumed to be satisfied. They need to be checked.
The restriction occurs if losses exceed £5m. Prior to April 2017 brought forward losses could be offset against subsequent income without a ceiling. From 1 April 2017 the first £5m of brought forward losses can be used without restriction. However if profits of the later period are greater than £5m then only 50% of the profit above £5m can be offset by losses brought forward.
Although the Government feel that setting a restriction above £5m will remove all SMEs from the legislation I do not believe this is the case. It is common for our property development clients to have phenomenal years as sites come up for sale. If there are brought forward losses (e.g. due to the cost of financing in the period of building) then our clients cannot guarantee that all the losses are available for offset against subsequent profits. We are having regular discussions with property clients about sales forecasts and the extent that sales may occur over a number of years. Although a spread of sales is more common for residential development it may also apply to commercial sites.
1 April 2017 was a watershed for corporation tax in the UK with the introduction of both CIR and the group loss relief rules. Undoubtedly there are groups who will benefit greatly from the new rules and also groups which will experience restrictions.