Capital or income
Usually, when a company distributes its profits to its shareholders they are liable to income tax on the payments they receive. However, a special rule
means that distributions made in the course of winding up a company are taxed as capital instead. This provides tax-saving opportunities.
Example. Owen and Jane are equal shareholders of Acom Ltd. Both are higher rate taxpayers. They decide to close the business and appoint a liquidator to
wind up the company. All distributions of profit left in Acom from this point are capital meaning that Owen and Jane can deduct any unused part of
their capital gains tax (CGT) annual exemption (£12,000 for 2019/20) and pay tax on the balance at a maximum of 20%. Assuming Acom has £98,000 to distribute
in total, Owen and Jane would each be liable to CGT on £49,000. If their CGT exemptions are available in full they would each have to pay tax of up
to £7,400 (£49,000 - £12,000) x 20%) but it would be less if they were entitled to entrepreneurs’ relief (ER).
By comparison, if Acom distributed its profits before starting the winding up process, Owen and Jane would each be liable to income tax of at least £15,925
(£49,000 x 32.5%). By comparison the CGT bill is less than half that, but there’s still room for further tax saving.
Winding up costs
Usually, the tax advantage of capital distributions is only available when you appoint a liquidator to wind up your company. The trouble is a liquidator’s
fees can be high and, depending on the value of your company, might significantly eat into or even outweigh the tax saving achieved.
Rather than paying a liquidator to wind up your company you could do it yourself informally by notifying Companies House of your intention. However, CGT
treatment will only apply if the amounts available to distribute are no more than £25,000 - any more than that and the whole of any distribution is
taxed as income.
Reduce the distributable amount
If your company’s net value is more than £25,000 you’ll need to reduce it before you can use the informal winding up tax break. That will require you to
make distributions from your company on which you’ll have to pay income tax. Despite this you can still save on tax and costs. You’ll need to crunch
the numbers to see if it’s worthwhile.
Example. Shaun is a higher rate taxpayer and the only shareholder of Bcom Ltd. It has distributable reserves of £35,000. Shaun could formally liquidate
Bcom so that what he receives, after paying the liquidator’s fees of, say, £3,000, is liable to CGT. This would leave him with £28,000 after tax. If
instead he paid a dividend of £10,000 and then applied to Companies House to dissolve the company, he would net £29,150. Not a massive tax saving but
Shaun also avoids the time and red tape that goes with a formal liquidation.
Reduce the value of your company to £25,000 by making distributions to shareholders and informally winding up the company. This will save the cost of a
liquidator’s fees. Plus, each shareholder can use their annual capital gains tax exemption to reduce the amount on which they pay tax on their share
of the final £25,000 distributed from the company.