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U.K. Implements 25% “Google Tax” on Diverted Profits

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The U.K. has implemented the controversial diverted profits tax on the profits of multinational companies that are “artificially diverted” from activity within the country. This 25% levy became effective on profits arising on or after April 1, 2015. At this point, it is unclear whether the outcome of the Parliamentary election on May 7 will impact the enforcement of the diverted profits tax, which was enacted without thorough examination by Parliament.

U.K. officials claim multinational corporations are manipulating the tax system and have imposed the 25% levy to prevent companies from avoiding a taxable presence in the U.K. This corporate diversions tax is aimed at entities that transfer profits to lower tax jurisdictions, away from the U.K. The diverted profits tax is being called the “Google tax” because it addresses the practices of well-known international entities such as Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc., and Starbucks Corp. that have used the U.K.’s permanent establishment and economic substance rules to craft tax advantages within the bounds of the law. Legislators have held hearings within the last year on how these three companies in particular have been able to generate billions of dollars in revenue in the U.K. but report little or no taxable profits.

The U.K. tax authority, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (“H.M.R.C.”), introduced a draft of the diverted profits tax last fall and quickly implemented the legislation ahead of the May 7 election. There is great concern about the legislation’s complexity and that its hasty enactment will only result in future revisions, which will further complicate the matter. On the whole, the government is targeting transactions that it does not favor even though they are legal, and the tax itself is being criticized for undermining the Base Erosion and Profit Shifting project executed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.