BIM38250 - Wholly & exclusively: companies: helping a subsidiary
For whose trade purpose?
Expenditure incurred by a company wholly and exclusively for the purposes of its trade is allowable notwithstanding that a benefit may accrue to a third party (including a fellow group member or associated company). The purpose is essentially a question of fact. The evidence of the directors as to purpose will be important but you should bear in mind Walton J’s remarks in the Tankard Carpet case mentioned at BIM37065. Where the directors are common to both companies it takes a superhuman effort of mind to distinguish the purposes of one company from those of the other. Commissioners should be slow to accept that such an act was done solely for the benefit of one company’s trade. They should do so only where there are wholly separate findings of primary fact not depending on the say-so of the directors concerned.
In the case of Robinson v Scott Bader Co. Ltd  54TC757 - see also BIM37065 - the company manufactured and marketed chemical intermediates and synthetic resins for the making of fibreglass. The company provided its synthetics as raw materials for its subsidiary company, associated companies, licensees and other customers for their manufacturing trades. The company had one wholly owned subsidiary company incorporated in England, two partly-owned associated companies in Sweden and Germany, and a wholly-owned subsidiary incorporated in France, known as Scott Bader Societe Anonyme (SBS).
Originally the company held only a 50% interest in SBS but in 1975 having reviewed its operations in Europe and the profitability of SBS, the company decided to go ahead with SBS and acquired the other 50% interest. Following the departure of the former managing director, the company seconded one of its own employees, Mr Fearon, to act as manager of SBS and provide it with necessary technical and marketing expertise. The company paid Fearon’s salary, expenses and social costs while he was on secondment in France.
The company on appeal to the General Commissioners claimed the sum paid to Fearon as a deduction in computing the profits of its trade on the basis that its business and trading were international in concept and execution through (amongst other things) SBS. The Commissioners, allowing the appeal, decided that the company and SBS contributed to and were dependent upon an ‘international unitary business’, the nature of which included marketing and the extension of markets, and thus the deduction was allowable.
In the High Court the Crown contended that the expense was not exclusively incurred for the purposes of the company’s trade but to protect its investment in SBS for the benefit of the trade of SBS. The Crown also contended that the deduction was disallowed by what is not ICTA88/S74 (1)(e) and/or (f), and/or was a capital sum.
The High Court, dismissing the Crown’s appeal, held that where a parent company affords financial or other assistance, of whatever nature, to a subsidiary company, there are three possible situations:
- it is providing such assistance solely in the interests of the subsidiary;
- it is providing such assistance partly in the interests of the subsidiary and partly in its own interests; and
- it is providing such assistance solely in its own interests (see Odhams Press Ltd. v Cook  23TC233, at pages 257-8, per Lord Maugham; and Marshall Richards Machine Co. Ltd. v Jewitt  36TC511 (see BIM37790), at page 525, per Upjohn J).
In situations (1) and (2) the relevant expenditure is not deductible; but in (3) deduction is permissible and (applying Bentleys, Stokes & Lowless v Beeson  33TC491 - see BIM37400) notwithstanding the fact that the subsidiary receives a benefit. The relevant question is ‘what was the object of the person making the disbursement in making it?’ not ‘what was the effect of the disbursement when made?’
The Commissioners had found that the position of SBS:
‘vis-a-vis the Respondent was unique, the rescue operation being undertaken to further the Respondent’s business in France and in Europe’
and that finding could not be upset. Payment of Fearon’s wages did not come within either what is now ICTA88/S74 (1)(e) or (f) nor could it be regarded as a capital sum.
In the High Court Walton J explained that the expenditure could come within one of three possible categories, saying at page 765C:
It appears to me to be recognised in all the authorities that where a parent company affords financial or other assistance, of whatever nature, to a subsidiary company, there are three possible situations:
The clear taxation implication is that in cases (i) and (ii) the parent company cannot deduct the expenditure in question from its profits, whereas in case (iii) it can. However, one must be very clear about this: even if the expenditure is incurred by the parent company solely in its own interests, it will of necessity still to some extent benefit the subsidiary company. That is virtually inevitable. How, then is the distinction between cases (ii) and (iii) to be made, since the wholly objective situation (unless for some wholly exceptional reason in either case the projected benefit to the subsidiary company is not realised) is basically the same; that is to say, benefit to each? The answer, in my judgment, is to be found in the well-known judgment of Romer L.J. in Bentleys, Stokes & Lowless v Beeson [33TC491, at pages 503-5; see BIM37400].
The Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the Crown’s appeal. The decision in Edwards v Bairstow & Harrison 36TC207 applied - see BIM37045. Furthermore, it was quite impossible to say that the payment could be regarded as a capital sum within what is now ICTA88/S74 (1)(f).
Waller LJ in the Court of Appeal explained that ’purpose’ in what is now ICTA88/S74 (1)(a), contains an ingredient of ’intention’ - see BIM37065. It is very difficult, but perhaps not impossible, to determine this without some element of subjectivity. In many cases the test will be wholly subjective. In considering the purposes of a company there may be room for some objectivity, but it will normally be to assist in making the subjective decision.
Waller LJ went on to explain that the fact that the French subsidiary benefited from the expenditure did not matter if the company’s purpose in sending Fearon to France was wholly and exclusively for the purposes of its own trade, saying at page 772E:
The inevitable result of sending Mr. Fearon, at the taxpayer’s expense, to France would be to improve the running of the French company and no doubt this would improve that company’s financial position. But it does not follow that that was the real purpose of making the payments. It was one of the results, albeit it may well be an inevitable result. It was vis-a-vis the company in much the same position as the provision of lunch by the solicitor in the case referred to above (Bentleys, Stokes & Lowless).