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Starbucks to pay a "significant amount" of tax over the next two years regardless of profitability

Starbucks has committed to paying a "significant amount" of corporation tax in the UK over the next two years, regardless of whether its business makes a profit.10 Dec 2012

The global coffee chain, one of a number of companies whose tax affairs have been subject to press scrutiny in recent weeks, has also said that it will not claim tax deductions for royalties or payments related to intercompany charges in 2013 or 2014.

If the company is not able to generate "substantial profits" beyond this date, it has said that it will consider extending the arrangement "until we are paying corporation tax at a material rate", according to a statement from Kris Engskov, managing director of Starbucks UK.

The announcement coincided with the publication by the European Commission of a comprehensive set of measures to enable member states to effectively tackle tax evasion and avoidance.

Starbucks, along with Google and Amazon, was criticised by the House of Commons' Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for using artificial structures and "exploiting current tax legislation" to move profits "clearly generated from economic activity in the UK" offshore, usually to jurisdictions with more lenient tax regimes. While there have been no allegations that the companies have broken the law, the PAC report accuses them of "[exploiting] national and international tax structures to minimise corporation tax ... [with] the outcome that they do not pay their fair share". 

"We are still working through some of the calculations, but we believe we could pay or prepay somewhere in the range of £10 million in each of the next two years in addition to the variety of taxes we already pay," Engskov said of Starbucks' announcement. "I am confident these actions, when taken together, will position us as a company to make a larger contribution to the Exchequer and most importantly to the communities we serve while we make the moves necessary to achieve a sustainable level of profitability."

Tax expert Heather Self of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, questioned whether HMRC would be able to accept a "voluntary payment" from the company.

"It is odd for a company to volunteer to pay 'more than the right amount' of tax, and it will be interesting to see how HMRC reacts," she said.

She added that it was "good to see the EU taking a co-ordinated approach" to tax avoidance."Multinational problems need multinational solutions," she said. "It is interesting that they recommend a general anti-abuse rule (GAAR), on a basis which looks to be modelled on the UK's approach."

The UK is set to introduce a GAAR, to apply to the main direct taxes and national insurance, from 1 April 2013.

The UK is set to introduce a GAAR, to apply to the main direct taxes and national insurance, from 1 April 2013. The draft legislation is expected to be published on 11 December but some commentators have suggested that the start date may be delayed until royal assent to the Finance Bill 2013.

The GAAR proposed by the European commission would allow member states to ignore any artificial arrangement carried out for tax avoidance purposes, and instead tax companies on the basis of "actual economic substance". Member states will also be encouraged to identify so-called tax havens, using common criteria, and place them on national blacklists. The Commission has also specified measures to persuade tax havens to apply EU governance standards.

"Around one trillion euros is lost to tax evasion and avoidance every year in the EU," said Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner for Taxation. "Not only is this a scandalous loss of much-needed revenue, it is also a threat to fair taxation. While member states must toughen national measures against tax evasion, unilateral solutions alone won't work ... A strong and cohesive EU stance against tax evaders, and those that facilitate them, is therefore essential."

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