UK vs BlackRock, July 2022, Upper Tribunal, Case No [2022] UKUT 00199 (TCC)

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In 2009 the BlackRock Group acquired Barclays Global Investors for a total sum of $13,5bn. The price was paid in part by shares ($6.9bn) and in part by cash ($6.6bn). The cash payment was paid by BlackRock Holdco 5 LLC – a US Delaware Company tax resident in the UK – but funded by the parent company by issuing $4bn loan notes to the LLC.

In the years following the acquisition Blackrock Holdco 5 LLC claimed tax deductions in the UK for interest payments on the intra-group loans.

Following an audit in the UK the tax authorities disallowed the interest deductions. The tax authorities held that the transaction would not have happened between independent parties. They also found that the loans were entered into for an unallowable tax avoidance purpose.

A UK taxpayer can be denied a deduction for interest where a loan has an unallowable purpose i.e, where a tax advantage is the company’s main purpose for entering into the loan relationship (section 441 of the Corporation Tax Act 2009). If there is such an unallowable purpose, the company may not bring into account for that period ….so much of any debit in respect of that relationship as is attributable to the unallowable purpose.

An appeal was filed by the BlackRock Group.

In November 2020 the First Tier Tribunal found that an independent lender acting at arm’s length would have made loans to LLC5 in the same amount and on the same terms as to interest as were actually made by LLC4 (the “Transfer Pricing Issue”). The FTT further found that the Loans had both a commercial purpose and a tax advantage purpose but that it would be just and reasonable to apportion all the debits to the commercial purpose and so they were fully deductible by LLC5 (the “Unallowable Purpose Issue”).

An appeal was then filed with the Upper Tribunal by the tax authorities.

Judgement of the Upper Tribunal

The Upper Tribunal found that the First Tier Tribunal had erred in law and therefore allowed HMRC’s appeal on both the transfer pricing issue and the unallowable purpose issue. The First Tier Tribunal’s Decision was set aside and the tax authorities amendments to LLC5’s tax returns were confirmed.

Transfer Pricing
“The actual provision of the loans from LLC4 to LLC5 differed from any arm’s length provision in that the loans would not have been made as between independent enterprises. The actual provision conferred a potential advantage in relation to United Kingdom taxation. The profits and losses of LLC5, including the allowing of debits for the interest and other expenses payable on the Loans, are to be calculated for tax purposes as if the arm’s length provision had been made or imposed instead of the actual provision. In this case, no arm’s length loan for $4 billion would have been made in the form that LLC4 made to LLC5 and hence HMRC’s amendments to the relevant returns should be upheld and confirmed.”

Unallowable Purpose
“The FTT did not err in finding that LLC5 had both a commercial purpose and an unallowable tax advantage main purpose in entering into the Loans. However, it was wrong to decide that the just and reasonable apportionment was solely to the commercial purpose. But for the tax advantage purpose there would have been no commercial purpose to the Loans and all the relevant facts and circumstances lead inexorably to the conclusion that the loan relationship debits should be wholly attributed to the unallowable tax purpose and so disallowed.”
 

HMRC_v_Blackrock_Holdco_LLC5_UT-2021-000022_-_final_decision_

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