Category Archives: Action 4

Submission to UK Treasury Consultation on Deduction of Interest Expense

The BEPS Monitoring Group has made a submission to the UK Treasury in its consultation on limiting the deductibility of interest expense.

Summary

An effective scheme for limitation of interest deductions could be a major step in stemming BEPS behaviour by multinational enterprises (MNEs). A common technique for such global corporate groups to reduce tax liability in countries, including the UK, is the use of intra-group structured financing arrangements to attribute excess debt to operating affiliates and hence shift earnings out of countries where they have real activities while reporting profits for their cash-box affiliates in jurisdictions where they are lightly taxed.

An effective solution would be to introduce a limit on such interest deductions based on the consolidated net interest expense of the whole multinational corporate group to third parties, apportioned to each group member according to its earnings before tax, interest, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA). This would treat MNEs in line with the business reality that they are integrated and centrally-directed corporate groups, and help ensure that they are taxed fairly in each country. MNEs, like other companies, should be allowed to deduct their actual interest expense to third parties, no more and no less.

Such a group ratio rule (GRR) was proposed by the BEPS project, which we supported. However, the final report weakened the proposal by recommending the use of a fixed cap in conjunction with an optional GRR, allowing countries to fix their cap in a ‘corridor’ between 10% and 30% of EBITDA. In our view, if the system is to be effective it is essential to fix the cap at the lowest limit of 10%. Evidence put forward by business groups themselves shows that there are wide variations in the debt ratio between economic sectors and even different firms, so relying on a fixed cap is inappropriate. Since 80% had a group ratio below 30% and a majority was even below 10%, it is clear that fixing the cap higher than 10% would allow continued earnings stripping and tax avoidance by MNEs.

 

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Summary of BMG Comments on BEPS Action Plan Proposals

This Summary is based on BMG submissions prepared by various of our members up to March 2015.

Overall, we consider that some of the OECD proposals could provide a more effective basis for MNE taxation, especially those which have moved towards treating them on a more realistic basis as unitary firms. Others will increase complexity and rely on detailed and intrusive audits and subjective judgments, and hence be difficult to administer especially by developing countries, exacerbating the likelihood of conflicts.

Limitation of Interest Deductions

We have now published our submission in response to the consultation on BEPS Action Point 4 Interest Deductions.

Summary

We warmly welcome the proposals in this report, which could greatly reduce the opportunities for tax avoidance by multinationals using internal financial structures to reduce their taxes artificially by inflated deductions of interest from taxable profits. We support its main proposal, that countries should introduce a limit on such interest deductions based on the consolidated net interest expense of the whole multinational corporate group to third parties, apportioned to each group member according to its earnings before tax, interest, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA). However, we also make some comments and suggestions.

Firstly, more attention should be paid to the problem of divergence between the standards for financial accounting and those for taxation. Since consolidated financial statements will at least initially be used, we suggest that companies should be required to identify and adjust for any material differences caused by inconsistent financial accounting rules and differing accounting and tax treatments of significant items, at both the group and entity levels. Any allocation of net interest expense based on group accounting must be based on data drawn from the consolidation process where (i) all intra-group transactions have already been eliminated from consideration and (ii) the accounts of subsidiary entities have, if necessary, been restated from the local accounting standards to those of the group financial statements. In the longer term, we strongly urge the OECD to work on the development of an international standard for tax accounting for such purposes, which could build on the work already done in the EU’s Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base.

Secondly, it should be recognised that the adoption of any allocation rule entails a move away from the separate entity principle, but in this case only in relation to charging for costs. As we noted in our response to the report under AP10 on Low Value Added Services, which also proposed an apportionment method, many tax authorities, especially in developing countries, may be reluctant to accept an apportionment method for joint costs, as they can be used to reduce taxable profits in source countries. We nevertheless support an apportionment approach in general, since it is in line with business reality, and results in rules which are much easier to administer. In the case of interest, we support a cost apportionment since (i) allocation based on earnings reflects economic activity and hence to some extent benefit; and (ii) evidence shows that this method would restrict interest deductions to a level which will normally be well below that resulting from the interest cap or thin capitalisation rules that countries currently apply.

However, as we have argued in several submissions, we would generally favour a move to more comprehensive profit apportionment solutions. Hence, we strongly encourage the systematisation and expanded use of the profit split method, which fairly and easily apportions both costs and revenues. This would be the most effective way to achieve the aims of the BEPS project as laid down by the G20 leaders, to ensure that multinationals are taxed ‘where economic activities take place and value is created’.