Clause 33 - Change in company ownership: shell companies

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 4 June 2013.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Crausby David Crausby Labour, Bolton North East

With this it will be convenient to discuss that schedule 13 be the Thirteenth schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Clause 33 is the third measure in this chapter dealing with loopholes in the loss-relief rules, and I am sure the Minister will describe it in more detail. It is designed to counter loss buying with regard to shell or dormant companies, and it is the third part of the jigsaw of welcome tax avoidance loophole-closing measures.

I want to take this opportunity to ask the Minister for further clarity, either now or in writing when the information is available. In our debate on the previous two clauses, I asked how many companies had been using the loopholes and for how long, and he replied that the number of cases relevant to clause 32 was not readily available. In addition, we do not know when the loophole was first identified and how much revenue has been lost. Through our scrutiny, we seek to find out how the Government have calculated the amount of protected revenue or increased revenue to the Exchequer that will result from the closure of the loophole, and whether that calculation can be relied on. The Opposition support the measures, but it would be useful for the Committee to have further detail on how the figures have been calculated and the number of companies that may be affected.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

Loss relief legislation in part 14 of the Corporation Tax Act 2010 contains rules to counter profitable companies buying losses from unconnected companies. The rules apply to changes in the ownership of companies carrying on a trade, property business or investment business and do not cover shell companies, by which is meant companies that do not carry on a trade, property business or investment business. Corporate groups exploit the loophole by stripping a company of all its activity, making it a shell company but leaving behind certain non-trading losses. The shell company can then be sold to a new group, and those losses accessed, without the rules preventing loss buying being triggered.

Clause 33 and schedule 13 address that loophole by introducing a new chapter, which applies to a shell company that undergoes a change in ownership, to part 14 of the 2010 Act. Where the new chapter applies, it restricts relief for non-trading losses in the period before the change in ownership. The new chapter will have effect on any change in shell company ownership that occurs on or after 20 March 2013, which was the date of the announcement of the change in the Budget.

On the basis for the accuracy of the costing, the figures have been based on actual instances. They have been approved by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, which has been provided with information by HMRC.

It is difficult to give too much information on all the specifics, but I will, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North has requested, try to provide her with as much information as I can on the instances that led to this action being taken. There is a concern, as I have mentioned, that as many companies have incurred considerable losses over the past six or seven years or so, the opportunity to exploit some of those losses in a way that Parliament did not intend is greater than at other points in the economic cycle. We therefore have to be particularly vigilant to ensure that that does not happen. That has driven the action we are taking in clauses 29, 32 and 33 and schedule 13. I will write to the hon. Lady  and the Committee providing such detail as I can, but it is not always possible to provide exact estimates, such as of the revenue already lost, which would be difficult to obtain.

With those comments, I hope that clause 33 and schedule 13 can stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 33 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 13 agreed to.