Moore Stephens: O&G tax cuts welcome, but are they enough?

International accountant and shipping adviser Moore Stephens has welcomed further specific assistance to the offshore oil and gas sector contained in the UK Budget 2015.

Moore Stephens tax partner Sue Bill says: “The measures announced in the UK Budget 2015, following those already introduced in the Autumn 2014 Statement, are good news for the offshore oil & gas sector operating in the UK or UK Continental Shelf.

“In its Autumn 2014 Statement, the government confirmed that it would introduce an immediate 2 percent reduction in the rate of the Supplementary Charge, from 32% to 30%, with effect from 1 January 2015. This will now be further reduced to 20%.

“A new Investment Allowance has been announced to stimulate investment at all stages of the industry life- cycle, simplifying the existing system of offshore field allowances, and providing investors with greater certainty. The government also announced that it will reduce Petroleum Revenue Tax from 50% to 35%, and will provide £20m of funding for a programme of seismic surveys on the UK Continental Shelf.

“The Budget also announced that the notification requirement under draft legislation in the Finance Bill 2015 aimed at minimising aggressive tax planning by multinational enterprises is to be narrowed. This is welcome news. There are, in addition, some changes to the detailed rules. The Budget also included an announcement that there will be amendments to the rules for companies subject to the oil and gas regime.”

As announced in the Autumn Statement, the government will extend the ring-fence expenditure supplement from six to ten accounting periods for all ring-fence oil and gas losses and qualifying pre-commencement expenditure incurred on or before 5 December 2013. An allowance was also introduced in the Autumn Statement to support the development of high-pressure, high-temperature projects. From 3 December 2014, an amount of profits equal to 62.5% of the qualifying capital expenditure a company incurs will be exempt from the Supplementary Charge.

The Budget also introduced changes to legislation announced last year which is of interest to the shipping and offshore maritime sector. The Finance Bill 2015 contains a new exemption from withholding tax on interest on qualifying private placements (a type of unlisted debt) to help the provision of new finance for businesses and infrastructure projects, which may mean that it is easier for companies to raise finance without incurring withholding tax liabilities of up to 20% on interest payments, or dealing with the administration involved in claiming treaty relief. Following consultation, it appears that the requirement that the security must have a minimum term of three years will now be removed.

Changes will also be made to the exemption from UK capital gains tax for tangible movable chattels which are wasting assets and which have never qualified for capital allowances. In future, the exemption will not apply if the asset has not been used in the owner’s business. This could mean that the exemption is no longer available where a company sells a vessel on delivery without using it for trading purposes.

Sue Bill concludes: “The measures just announced, together with those unveiled last year, underline the extent to which the UK government understands the strategic importance of the offshore oil and gas sector to the UK economy. They are good news for the offshore maritime sector, although it remains to be seen whether, in the light of the recent dramatic fall in oil prices, they will be sufficient to provide the industry with the boost it needs at a difficult time.”