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Share buy-backs are a useful and potentially tax efficient method to restructure the shareholdings of a private company. However, it is all too easy to get the procedure wrong meaning the transaction could be void or adverse tax consequences arise.
The two most common situations we encounter where a share buy-back is used are the retirement of a director and the removal of a dissident shareholder. The other shareholders may not be able to afford to acquire the leaving member’s shares, and so the only practical alternative is for the company to undertake a share buy-back.
Companies Act 2006
Under the Companies Act 2006 (“CA 2006”) there are three routes for a company purchase of own shares:
Purchase of own shares out of distributable profits
A purchase of own shares out of distributable profits is the most commonly used method and the procedure is as follows:
Where the share buy-back is for the purpose of an employee share scheme there are some minor differences to the procedure outlined above, notably that deferred payments are allowed.
One of the most common issues we encounter with share buy-backs is the payment of the consideration. Often the company may not have sufficient funds to pay in full for the shares of the exiting shareholder. As noted above, deferred payments are generally not permitted and so there are two other options that can be considered:
The potential problem with both options is that they may mean the share repurchase fails to qualify for capital gains tax treatment because the seller either remains connected with the company or has not achieved a sufficient reduction in their interest in the company.
There is an assumption that a company purchase of own shares automatically entitles the selling shareholder to benefit from capital treatment, which means any gain could be taxed at just 10% if the individual is entitled to Entrepreneur’s Relief. However, the default position is that amounts received by sellers will be taxed like a dividend unless specific conditions are met.
In most circumstances, in order to secure capital treatment for the share repurchase the following conditions apply:
Alternatively, where the proceeds from the share repurchase are used by the seller to discharge an Inheritance Tax liability capital treatment may apply subject to compliance with a separate, more limited set of conditions.
Substantial reduction test
For the purpose of the tax assessment, the “substantial reduction” condition is met if the seller’s interest in the company after the share buy-back is less than 75% of the seller’s interest before the repurchase. Interest is defined by reference to ownership of the issued share capital and entitlement to profits. The shareholdings of associates needs to be included in this test, who include spouses, civil partners, children under 18, connected companies, and persons who act under the directions of the seller.
The seller will be treated as still connected with the company after the share repurchase if they:
In addition, a former shareholder will usually be treated as still being connected with the company if they remain as a director, employee, or consultant to the company.
Trade benefit test
Demonstrating that the share repurchase is for the benefit of the trade (rather than the benefit of the exiting shareholder) can be tricky. The main commercial reasons that HM Revenue & Customs (“HMRC”) usually accept are:
A company can make a clearance application to HMRC in advance of the share buy-back to confirm that capital treatment would apply.
It is important that the price paid for the shares represents market value. If the consideration paid exceeds market value HMRC may treat any excess either as a distribution or employment income, which will be taxed accordingly. If the consideration is less than market value, HMRC may substitute market value resulting in a higher taxable gain than might have been expected. In the event of any uncertainty as to the shave valuation an expert opinion should be obtained.
For further information about share buy-backs and valuations please contact:
Simon Chapman E: firstname.lastname@example.org
T: 07831 255302