ATO eye on dividend stripping

The ATO has released details of “dividend access share” arrangements that it considers to be dividend stripping schemes under the tax law anti-avoidance provisions. These arrangements aim to allow ordinary shareholders of a private company and/or their associates to derive the economic benefit of significant profits accumulating in the private company in a substantially (if not entirely) tax-free form.

These arrangements involve a number of features, but principally include the company issuing a new class of shares to another entity (eg another company controlled by the original shareholders) for nominal consideration, and the company declaring and paying fully franked dividends on the new class of shares of an amount approximately equal to the accumulated profits in the company. The ATO says these arrangements generally result in a reduction or elimination of the taxation liabilities that would normally arise with the payment of dividends (that is, if those dividends were paid to the company’s ordinary shareholders).

The Commissioner is of the view that under such circumstances, he can exercise his power to cancel all or part of the tax benefit obtained from these schemes.

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