Recently, there has been an increased level of sophistication on the part of Inland Revenue (IRD) when reviewing company windups. Important points to bear in mind when winding up a company are outlined below.
Before applying to the Companies Office for removal from the companies register, a company should have discharged its liabilities to all creditors and distributed its surplus assets to its shareholders. The distribution of the company’s surplus assets should be recorded by way of the directors’ resolution. The amounts distributed to shareholders on liquidation are taxed depending on the nature of a distribution, as follows:
- Available subscribed capital (ASC) – represents a company’s paid up share capital and can be distributed tax free to shareholders on liquidation.
- Capital gain amounts – are generally able to be distributed tax-free on liquidation of a company.
- Remaining funds – to the extent that the distribution exceeds ASC and capital gain amounts, the balance will comprise a taxable dividend. This is typically a company’s retained earnings.
In order for capital gains to be distributed tax-free, the process to windup the company must have commenced. Ideally, commencement of a liquidation is evidenced by a shareholders’ resolution signalling the intention to commence winding up the company. The IRD accept that in some circumstances, a less formal step may be sufficient to commence the liquidation, provided the step is overt and carried out with the aim of achieving removal from the register.
We have seen an increasing number of cases where IRD has specifically requested documentation to evidence when the liquidation process was commenced. Therefore it is important to ensure the commencement resolution is drafted and dated correctly, or alternatively, a less formal course of action (if applicable) is supplemented by supporting documentation.
The Income Tax Act also prescribes a specific formula that is to be used to calculate the capital gain amount. This will not necessarily equate to the capital gains recorded on the company’s balance sheet. Through its review process IRD are asking for a copy of taxpayers’ capital gain calculations.
During the removal process approval must be obtained from IRD to remove a company from the register. The request to IRD should be made in writing after the liquidation process has commenced and once all tax compliance obligations have been met, e.g. final GST and income tax returns have been filed. If the final distribution is subject to resident withholding tax, this will also need to be filed and paid before IRD approval is given. The IRD have a list of information that must be provided as part of this request, which is available on their website.
If approval is obtained, IRD will issue a letter stating they have no objections to the company being removed from the register. However, this approval provides no defence if a subsequent review, as described above, identifies mistakes when the various elements of the distribution were calculated.
Care must be taken. If IRD take the view that a capital gain was distributed prior to ‘commencement’, the costs could be significant.