Amendments to section 254T of the Corporations Act




Дата канвертавання24.04.2016
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[Insert Client Name]

[Insert Client Position]

[Insert Company Name]

[Insert Company Address]

[Suburb State Post Code]

Dear [Insert Client Name]



Re: Dividends

Over the last few years there have been significant developments with respect to the law governing dividends under the Corporations Act 2001 (the “Corporations Act”). Consequently, these have resulted in a number of changes in relation to the Australian Taxation Office’s (“ATO”) interpretation of the taxation treatment of dividends.



Executive Summary

We provide an explanation of the following:



  • the amendments to section 254T of the Corporations Act that impact on when a company can pay a dividend

  • Taxation Ruling TR 2012/5 released by the ATO, which outlines their view on what will constitute a dividend for tax purposes and whether it can be franked.

Amendments to section 254T of the Corporations Act

Prior to the amendments, section 254T of the Corporations Act provided that a dividend may only be paid out of profits a company (the “profits test”). It was generally accepted that “profits” in this context meant retained or ascertained accounting profits of a permanent character. However, from 28 June 2010, the test became a three pronged test stating that a company must not pay a dividend unless1:



  1. the company’s assets exceed its liabilities immediately before the dividend declaration and the excess is sufficient for the dividend payment

  2. the dividend is fair and reasonable to members as a whole

  3. creditors are not materially prejudiced.

Amendment to section 44 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936

In response to the Corporations Act change, subsection 44(1A) was inserted into the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (“ITAA 1936”). This subsection ensures that a dividend paid out of an amount other than profits (e.g. unrealised capital profit reserves) is taken to be a dividend paid out of profits and would ordinarily be assessable income in the hands of a shareholder.2 This rule operates as a catch-all provision, and ensures that any company distributions that are paid in reliance on the “net assets” test in section 245T of the Corporations Act (and not out of profits) continue to be assessable in the hands of shareholders under section 44 of the ITAA 36.3

Following this, the ATO issued a discussion paper that raised some concerns over the ability of a company to frank a dividend that is not paid out of profits – e.g. where a company pays a dividend and does not have a positive retained profits balance at the end of the year. In such a situation, the question was raised as to whether the dividend could be said to be sourced directly or indirectly out of share capital and as a result be an unfrankable distribution.4

It was clear from the discussion paper that the ATO was of the view that if such a dividend was indirectly sourced out of share capital this would lead to an undesirable outcome of a shareholder being taxed on what is essentially a return of share capital without any franking credit relief.



Ruling TR 2012/5

The ruling includes the ATO’s view on what will be considered to be a dividend and how the Corporations Act amendment impacts on this. More relevantly, the ruling outlines the ATO’s views regarding what distributions would be classified as a “tax dividend” and in what circumstances a tax dividend would be unfrankable (e.g. sourced directly or indirectly from share capital).



  1. What constitutes a dividend?

The ruling states that the “better view” is that the amendments to section 254T of the Corporations Act impose three additional restrictive conditions in which a dividend can be paid. The ruling notes that “inherently a dividend can only be paid out of profits, having regard to the ordinary and legal meaning of the word.” However, it does also state that under taxation law the definition of the term dividend contained in the ITAA 1936 is broader than common law and Corporations Act meanings, and may include amounts that are not sourced from a company’s profits.5

  1. Dividend paid out of current trading profits - frankable

A company that pays a dividend to its shareholders in accordance with its constitution and the Corporations Act, that is paid out of current trading profits recognised in its accounts and available for distribution, is not prevented from franking the dividend merely because the company has unrecouped prior year accounting losses, or has lost part of its share capital.

The ruling indicates that great care must be taken when accounting for any current year profits in a company’s books, as any appropriation of those current year profits (to recoup prior year accounting losses) prior to the distribution would mean that any dividend paid that is attributable to those profits would arguably be unfrankable.



  1. Dividend paid out of an unrealised capital profit – sometimes frankable

A company that pays a dividend to its shareholders in accordance with its constitution and the Corporations Act, that is paid out of an unrealised capital profit of a permanent character recognised in its accounts and available for distribution, is not prevented from franking the dividend provided the company’s net assets exceed its share capital by at least the amount of the dividend.

The ruling highlights that where a company’s net assets figure is lower than its share capital, the ability to pay the dividend and its eligibility for franking will depend on the company’s circumstances. Specifically, one must consider the nature of the unrealised profit and any other profits and losses in the company’s accounts.



  1. Distribution that is an unauthorised reduction and return of share capital - unfrankable

The ruling emphasizes that a distribution (even if it is labeled as a dividend) paid by a company to its shareholders, that does not comply with the Corporations Act is in all likelihood an unauthorised reduction in and return of share capital. Such a distribution would prima facie be treated as capital proceeds for a CGT event e.g. CGT event G1. However, the ATO does concede that such a distribution could still in some circumstances be an assessable unfrankable dividend.

In summary, it appears that whilst the ATO accepts that a payment to shareholders from an amount other than profits is acceptable under the Corporations Act and will often be a dividend for tax purposes, their interpretation and application of the relevant provisions make it particularly unattractive to do so in some circumstances.

If you have further queries on any details contained within this letter or on any other matter, please do not hesitate to contact me on [insert telephone number].

Yours faithfully


[Insert Name and Title]

Encl.



1 On 12 December 2012 an Exposure Draft was released (for consultation) in relation to further refinements of section 254T; these changes if implemented are unlikely to materially impact on TR 2012/5.

2 Subsection 44(1A) of ITAA 1936 states: “For the purposes of this act, a dividend paid out of an amount other than profits is taken to be a dividend paid out of profits.”

3 Refer to TR 2012/5.

4 Refer to paragraph 202-45(e) of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997.

5 Refer to section 6(1) of the ITAA 1936 and TR 2012/5.


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