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ECJ ruling to add huge VAT bill on banks and insurers

AN ECJ ruling looks set to slap an additional tax burden running into hundreds of millions of pounds on banks, insurers and other financial services firms across Europe, according to two of the Big Four accountancy firms.

Today’s judgment concerned Skandia America Corporation and the Swedish Tax Authority. Other EU tax authorities will now consider how they will implement the rules.

Stephen Morse, tax partner at PwC, said: “The case significantly expands the VAT net for financial services firms. Banks and insurers are likely to be affected most. It’s standard for head office costs to be shared between a group’s subsidiaries. Any internal costs between a firm’s branches will now face VAT, rather than just the external costs. Many financial services firms will see their VAT bills soar.

“It’s surprising the ECJ decided any supply between a firm’s headquarters and its branches is liable to VAT, rather than focusing on specific scenarios. We need to see how different countries will interpret the ruling, and until then there will be considerable uncertainty for the financial services sector. Banks and insurers need to consider how they could be affected.”

Richard Iferenta, head of financial services, indirect tax at KPMG, said: “It’s clear that if the UK takes the most restrictive interpretation of the judgement any transactions with a branch that is in a VAT group will be impacted. Furthermore with the UK’s position as a global financial services centre and the consequential level of inward investment into the UK by foreign financial services business that flows from that, the financial impact of the judgement may be felt hardest in the UK”.

He added, “What is surprising here is that the final judgment issued by the Court runs somewhat contrary to the earlier ‘Opinion’ issued by the Advocate General in this case when typically the Opinion is indicative of the likely final decision. The UK government had argued strongly that the UK’s position on this issue, which included targeted anti-avoidance rules to prevent any abuse, was consistent with EU law and that there was no need to change the status quo. The Advocate General appeared to largely agree with this in their earlier opinion so this change of stance by the full court was unexpected.”

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