The U.K. government is still reviewing policy issues for imposing a new tax on the
revenue of digital companies like Facebook Inc. and Google Inc., despite claims it
had backtracked on original plans.
“We are actively exploring ways of softening the edges of a revenue-based tax,” Tim
Power, deputy director of the U.K. Treasury’s corporate tax team, said at a June 22
International Fiscal Association event in London. These considerations include “thinking
about how we might incorporate measures of profitability within the tax, or taking
into account the recipient’s circumstances,” he added.
Internet-based companies’ lack of physical presence, together with how they often
derive huge profits from user-generated value, have created issues for tax authorities across the globe.
Power’s comments come after the U.K. government backed away from its proposal to introduce
an interim, revenue-based tax on internet companies at a recent meeting between European
Union finance ministers, Bloomberg News reported April 28, citing officials familiar
with the discussions.
Fewer than six months before that meeting, the U.K. had said it was ready to take individual action on interim measures for these businesses in the absence
of a global consensus for long-term reform. In a March 2018 paper, the U.K. Treasury then provided further detail on how it may tax internet-based
companies’ revenue, echoing efforts already made by countries including Italy and
Some countries “feel compelled to go down this route if their concerns aren’t addressed”
through OECD-led tax policy reforms, Power said at IFA’s joint-meeting with the U.K.
Treasury and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the country’s tax agency. For them,
the interim measures are “a way of incentivising other countries and businesses to
come to the table.”
Globally, lawmakers are currently split on how to tax online companies like Alphabet
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is aiming to find worldwide
consensus on the issue in 2020. Ahead of that date, however, the European Commission
proposed in March a 3 percent sales tax on social media and search engine companies, and online
platforms like eBay Inc.
A commission memo said the measure would protect the EU’s competitiveness, raising as much 5 billion
euros ($5.8 billion) a year. It added that the levy would remain in place until member
states achieve more wide-reaching action to reform how countries allocate and tax
digital companies’ profits. The levy applies to businesses with annual EU revenue
of more than 50 million euros.
Policymakers are opting for revenue-based levies on digital companies as sales are
easier for tax authorities to pinpoint as user-generated value in their jurisdiction
in comparison to profits.
Since March, though, some member states have pushed back against the commission’s
Smaller countries, such as Luxembourg and Ireland, have argued that the bloc risks
putting itself at a competitive disadvantage unless a global deal is reached on the
taxation of the digital economy. The opposition is significant as the commission needs
member states’ unanimous approval on tax issues.
Autumn Budget 2017
The U.K. Treasury originally flagged the option of introducing a revenue-based tax
for digital companies in a November 2017 policy paper, published with its Autumn Budget for that year. At the U.K.’s Spring Statement in
March 2018, the U.K. Treasury then issued an updated policy paper.
The world’s four largest accounting firms have warned the U.K. Treasury against the move, which stems from a desire to make internet-based
companies pay a “fair” share of corporate tax.
In its policy papers, however, the Treasury has stressed it would try to minimize
negative side-effects. Options include double tax relief, a threshold for when the
revenue levy would apply, and mitigating provisions for loss-making and early-stage
businesses, the Treasury said in November.
The “preferred and most sustainable solution to this challenge is reform of the international
corporate tax framework to reflect the value of user participation,” the Treasury
said its March 2018 paper. However, “in the absence of such reform, there is a need
to consider interim measures such as revenue-based taxes.”
With assistance from Viktoria Dendrinou and Piotr Skolimowski (Bloomberg)