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Director's loans
istock_directorsloans_Worawee Meepian

Don’t circulate the directors’ loans


HMRC has issued new guidance for directors who try to avoid the corporation tax charge on overdrawn loan accounts, by moving the loan, or repaying it with shares or assets.

22nd Oct 2021
Tax Writer Taxwriter Ltd
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Common problem

Directors are often tempted to take funds from their own companies as loans. This can be tax efficient on a temporary basis, as the individual can have the use of funds for up to 21 months, without the company having to pay corporation tax on that money.

However, if the director’s loan account (DLA) is still overdrawn by the corporation tax payment date, a corporation tax charge is likely to arise under the loans to participators provisions (CTA 2010 ss. 455 – s 465). This charge is currently payable at 32.5% of the loan outstanding, and is paid alongside the main corporation tax liability for the year.

The s. 455 charge can be reclaimed on the corporation tax payment date that falls after the end of the accounting year in which overdrawn DLA is cleared.

Are all loans caught?

A loan to a director will not necessarily be caught by the loans to participator rules, but its best to start from the assumption that it is caught, and then check whether the exemptions in CTA 2010, s. 456 or s. 461 apply. 

For example, the s. 455 charge does not apply if the company is not a ‘close’ company (see CTM 60105), but you also need to look at the group relationships if some of the companies in the group are ‘close’ and others are not.

A loan to a director can only be exempt from s. 455 charge (and related charges) if the director meets three conditions (CTA 2010, s 456):

  • Works full time for the company or an associated company.
  • Does not have a material interest in the company or in any associated companies.
  • The loan, and all other loans that director has from the company, do not exceed £15,000.

Circular loans

To avoid the s. 455 charge the director may pay off the loan just before the charge becomes due, but if those funds come from another company in the group the first loan will not be treated as being repaid.   

Example 1

Sam owns all the shares in Alpha Ltd which in turn owns all of Beta Ltd. Sam has an overdrawn DLA with Alpha of £1m. Just before the section 455 charge bites, Sam borrows £1m from Beta and clears his loan from Alpha.

In a one year’s time, to avoid the section 455 charge due to be paid by Beta Ltd on his overdrawn DLA, Sam borrows a similar amount from Alpha, pays-off the Beta loan and so the debt circles round and round the group.  

HMRC is clear that this circulation of the debt doesn’t avoid the s. 455 charge, as the substitution of a fresh debtor, for the original debtor, does not constitute repayment (CTM 61602), based on the case: Collins v Addies [1992] 65 TC 190 CA.

In this example the section 455 charge is payable by Alpha Ltd as the debt has not been repaid. If the debt has grown while held by Beta Ltd, then Beta will be due to pay the section 455 charge on the additional amount.      

Asset transfer

An alternative way to clear the DLA is for the director to transfer a personally owned asset to the company, but as this will be a connected party disposal the asset must be transferred at open market value.

Example 2 

Jo is the only shareholder of Gamma Ltd, and has an overdrawn DLA of £2m. Jo also owns shares in Delta Ltd which she claims are worth £2.5m. Jo transfers her Delta shares to Gamma and this transfer clears the overdrawn DLA.

However, HMRC discovers that the Delta shares are only worth £250,000. This means the overdrawn DLA was only reduced to £1.75m on the transfer of the Delta shares to Gamma, and a s. 455 charge is due (see CTM 61604).

Not completely tax free

Even if there is no s. 455 charge, there may be a benefit in kind income tax charge (ITEPA 2003 pt 3 chp 7), and an employer’s class 1A NIC charge payable on the benefit of receiving an interest-free, or low-interest loan (see EIM26102).

This benefit in kind charge is completely separate to the CTA 2010 s. 455 charge, but both can apply to the same loan.

The benefit in kind charge applies for each tax year in which the employee (directors will be employees for this purpose) holds a loan or loans from the employer of £10,000 or more. Income tax and class 1A NIC is payable on an amount of interest calculated at the official rate (currently 2%) on the loan, less any interest actually paid by the employee in respect of the loan.

Replies (3)

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By Paul Crowley
22nd Oct 2021 14:43

Overdrawn loans really are inappropriate in most cases for a trading company
For the small company it is giving up the benefit of limited liability

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
By Hugo Fair
22nd Oct 2021 15:12

Quite agree ... it's 'cake and eat it' time.
Usually indicative of a shareholder/director who is unable to distinguish between individual and corporate entities (or, as a result, their distinct liabilities).
Never a good look - and nearly always a red flag for other issues lurking.

Thanks (2)
By cfield
25th Oct 2021 19:59

Not quite as big a red flag as you think. They can be useful when a director has high short-term cash needs but still wants a tax-efficient income below £50k or £100k. The important thing is for the director to know and accept that a) there are tax implications, and b) the loan has to be paid back one day.

Generally, it is best to avoid loan accounts going more than £10k overdrawn, and if they do, not for more than one complete PAYE month. Under normal averaging, that should avoid a taxable benefit. If there is a BIK, then you need to get your skates on and work out how much interest is payable to avoid a P11D by 19/7, and make sure the director actually pays it by then too (unless the loan a/c is back in credit in which case it can be "paid" by simply debiting it).

The s455 rules are also quite generous in a) allowing a refund once the loan is re-paid, b) giving the director 9 months to repay the year end balance, and c) allowing salary and dividends to qualify as repayments without needing to watch the 30 day cash-matching rules. The latter can be a right minefield.

Overdrawn loan accounts can be a problem when they become structural, or when the director is not informed of (or understands) the situation. Many of them don't even know what a loan account is and think of the company bank account as part of their own savings. If you've got one who keeps paying private bills from the company account, or thinks everything is a business expense, you've got a real job on your hands.

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