Stock - Corporate Tax
The UAE tax laws are a new dynamic businesses need to contend with. Business owners should keep asking the right questions to the authorities, and that will benefit all. Image Credit: Shutterstock

India’s legendary lawyer Nani Palkhivala once used a graffito scrawled on Belfast walls to quip on the country’s tax laws: ‘If you are not confused, you are not well informed’.

Knowledge will eventually bring clarity. Taxation may be new in the UAE, but it is not a new concept. I wrote about ‘appealing fictions’ in last week’s column. Continuing on the same theme, we dispel some more tax myths.

Bonus to employees

Employers often pay additional bonus and/or commission to incentivise employees. A notion is being created that a company should not pay commission or bonus to its employees as these could be treated as employees’ individual business income.

It has already been clarified through various mediums that corporate tax will not apply to an individual’s salary, wages and other employment income, which is essentially remuneration for the natural person’s labour. Accordingly, if the commission/bonus income is a remuneration for the individual’s labour, such income should also be treated as an employment income.

Business owners should focus on ensuring this can be demonstrated before the tax authorities at the appropriate time. It is important that any payments to owners, directors and officers (including their relatives) - be it wages, commission or bonus for working as an employee - would be subject to ‘transfer pricing’ benchmarks.

Nature of tax laws

The fear of penalties is working as a catalyst in making business owners assume that they should get a validation whether their usual business transactions are permitted under corporate tax laws or not. Typical examples include:

  1. A company cannot undertake inter-company transaction that is not at ‘arm’s length’.
  2. A company cannot pay salary to its owners/directors above the arm’s length limit.
  3. A company cannot incur entertainment expenditure.

Tax laws are not regulatory in nature. In other words, tax laws neither permit nor prohibit any business transaction. Tax consequences would automatically apply based on the nature of the transactions. In the light of general anti-abuse rules, tax laws have been kept simple and permissive.

To illustrate, just because an inter-company transaction - or salaries paid to owners - is in excess of the arm's length benchmark, it will not automatically result in penalties. The tax laws essentially require that the taxable profits should be calculated after making appropriate adjustments to accounting profits, wherever required.

A proactive tax planning will assist in administrative and financial optimisation. However, considering tax laws as prohibitive could create inefficiencies in business operations and growth.

Corporate tax registration

We have highlighted the registration issue earlier as well. Except for certain specific taxpayers - such as qualifying public benefit entities or investment funds – no specific penalties or adverse consequences would apply if the corporate tax registration is not obtained before the start of the financial year.

The UAE Ministry of Finance has clarified that taxpayers are required to register before they file their first corporate tax return, that is 9 months from the end of the first tax period. While there are no specific penalties, it is recommended to obtain the tax registration at the earliest convenience.

Financial accounting vs tax accounting

In many countries other than UAE, a separate financial statement in accordance with the corresponding tax laws may be required. The reasons could be manifold; for instance, depreciation rates under tax laws may be different from those used for financial accounting.

Under UAE corporate tax rules, the accounting profits are the starting point to determine taxable profits. A robust financial accounting is a pre-requisite for efficient tax compliance. However, a separate tax accounting in itself may not be required.

Business owners should not treat their confusion as an evidence of complexity in taxation. Confusion is a sign that they are yet to ask the right questions - and hence yet to receive the right answers.