Approach to tax, principal risks, uncertain tax positions, Brexit, US tax reform, judgements and estimates

GlaxoSmithKline plc – Annual report – 31 December 2020

Industry: pharmaceuticals

Group financial review (extract 1)

Our approach to tax

We understand our responsibility to pay an appropriate amount of tax, and fully support efforts to ensure that companies are appropriately transparent about how their tax affairs are managed. Tax is an important element of the economic contribution we bring to the countries in which we operate. We do not engage in artificial tax arrangements – those without business or commercial substance. We do not seek to avoid tax by the use of ‘tax havens’ or transactions we would not fully disclose to a tax authority. We have a zero tolerance approach to tax evasion and the facilitation of tax evasion.

We have a substantial business and employment presence in many countries around the globe and we pay a significant amount of tax, including corporation and other business taxes, as well as tax associated with our employees. At the same time, we have a responsibility to our shareholders to be financially efficient and deliver a sustainable tax rate. As part of this approach we look to align our investment strategies to those countries where we already have substantial economic activity, and where government policies promote regimes which are attractive to business investment and R&D activity and are transparent in their intent and available to all relevant tax payers. Examples include the UK Patent Box and Research and Development Expenditure Credit.

Tax risk in all countries in which we operate is managed through robust internal policies, processes, training and compliance programmes. Our Board of Directors and the Audit & Risk Committee are responsible for approving our tax policies and risk management arrangements as part of our wider internal control framework. We seek to develop cooperative relationships with tax authorities, based on mutual respect, transparency and trust. Where appropriate, we also provide constructive business input on tax policy matters, advocating for reform that supports economic growth, job creation and the needs of our patients.

In 2020, the Group corporate tax charge was £580 million (2019 – £953 million) on profits before tax of £6,968 million (2019 – £6,221 million) representing an effective tax rate of 8.3% (2019 – 15.3%). We made cash tax payments of £1,655 million in the year (2019 – £1,512 million). In addition to the taxes we pay on our profits, we pay duties, levies, transactional and employment taxes.

Our Adjusted tax rate for 2020 was 16.0% (2019 – 16.0%). The rate has benefitted from the cancellation by the UK Government of a reduction in the UK corporation tax rate from 19% to 17% resulting in an increase in the value of balance sheet tax assets. Subject to any material changes in our product mix, or other material changes in tax regulations or laws in the countries in which we operate, the Group’s average effective Adjusted tax rate in the medium term is expected to be around 19%.

The Group’s Total tax rate for 2020 of 8.3% (2019 – 15.3%) was lower than the Adjusted tax rate mainly due to the tax effect of the disposal of Horlicks and other Consumer Healthcare brands to Unilever and the subsequent disposal of shares received in Hindustan Unilever.

In 2020, an ongoing public focus on the tax affairs of multinational companies has included a major project of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on ‘Addressing the Tax Challenges of the Digitalisation of the Economy’. GSK welcomes the OECD’s efforts to identify a long-term, sustainable and consensus-driven solution to the tax challenges resulting from digitalisation and has been active in providing relevant business input to assist in the successful delivery of the aims of the project. In order to create a long lasting, stable and certain business environment for both taxpayers and governments, a multilateral consensus-based approach, grounded in clearly defined and accepted principles, is critical and the incentive to innovate must not be diluted.

A continued focus on tax reform during 2020 was driven by the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project and EC initiatives, such as fiscal state aid investigations and the introduction of ‘Mandatory Disclosure’ rules. The outputs from the OECD BEPS project clarified the important principle that tax should be paid on profits throughout the supply chain, where the profit-making activity takes place. GSK is subject to taxation throughout its supply chain.

GSK supports the BEPS proposals, in particular the implementation of the OECD’s recommendations on ‘Country by Country Reporting’, including the exchange of this data between tax authorities. This data, validated against existing information held on taxpayers, will support their ability to ensure that multinational groups pay an appropriate amount of tax.

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020 and the Brexit transition period ended on 31 December 2020 with a Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) in place between the UK and EU. We are complying with new tax and customs requirements introduced at the new borders and under the trade terms in place between the UK and the EU. With the UK/EU TCA agreed in December 2020 and due to the complexity of its interaction with the UK continuity Free Trade Agreements, the full impact on taxes will only be fully quantifiable later in 2021. The direct tax implications are expected to be limited but the indirect tax implications may be more significant, including for example additional customs duty on those products not covered by the UK/EU TCA and other irrecoverable indirect tax costs. GSK was well prepared for the additional administrative complexity on tax arrangements for the new borders around the UK and Great Britain to ensure continuity of supply. Our wider approach to Brexit is set out on page 49.

Our Tax Strategy is set out in detail within the Public policies section of our website. Further details about our corporate tax charges for the year are set out on page 14.

Group financial review (extract 2)


The charge of £580 million represented an effective tax rate on Total results of 8.3% (2019 – 15.3%) and reflected the different tax effects of the various Adjusting items, including the disposal of Horlicks and other Consumer Healthcare brands to Unilever and subsequent disposal of shares received in Hindustan Unilever. Tax on Adjusted profit amounted to £1,295 million and represented an effective Adjusted tax rate of 16.0% (2019 – 16.0%).

Issues related to taxation are described in Note 14 to the financial statements, ‘Taxation’. The Group continues to believe it has made adequate provision for the liabilities likely to arise from periods which are open and not yet agreed by tax authorities. The ultimate liability for such matters may vary from the amounts provided and is dependent upon the outcome of agreements with relevant tax authorities.

Principal risks and uncertainties (extract)

Financial controls and reporting

Risk definition

Failure to comply with current tax laws or incurring significant losses due to treasury activities; failure to report accurate financial information in compliance with accounting standards and applicable legislation.

Risk impact

Non-compliance with existing or new financial reporting and disclosure requirements, or changes to the recognition of income and expenses, could expose GSK to litigation and regulatory action and could materially and adversely affect our financial results. In the current global pandemic, there can be significant changes at short notice. Failure to comply with changes in the substance or application of the laws governing transfer pricing, dividends, tax credits and intellectual property could also materially and adversely affect our financial results.

Inconsistent application of treasury policies, transactional or settlement errors, or counterparty defaults could lead to significant losses.


We are required by the laws of various jurisdictions to publicly disclose our financial results and events that could materially affect the Group’s financial results. Regulators routinely review the financial statements of listed companies for compliance with new, revised or existing accounting and regulatory requirements. We believe that we comply with the appropriate regulatory requirements concerning our financial statements and the disclosure of material information, including any transactions relating to business restructuring such as acquisitions and divestitures. However, should we be subject to an investigation into potential non-compliance with accounting and disclosure requirements, this could lead to restatements of previously-reported results and significant penalties.

Our Treasury group deals daily in high value transactions, mostly foreign exchange and cash management transactions. These transactions involve market volatility and counterparty risk.

The Group’s effective tax rate reflects the locations of our activities and the value they generate, which determine the jurisdictions in which profits arise and the applicable tax rates. These may be higher or lower than the UK statutory rate and may reflect regimes that encourage innovation and investment in R&D by providing tax incentives which, if changed, could affect GSK’s tax rate. In addition, the worldwide nature of our operations means that our cross-border supply routes, necessary to ensure supplies of medicines into numerous countries, can result in conflicting claims from tax authorities as to the profits to be taxed in individual countries. This can lead to double taxation, with profits taxed in more than one country. The complexity of tax regulations also means that we may occasionally disagree with tax authorities on the technical interpretation of a particular area of tax law. The tax charge included in our financial statements is our best estimate of tax liability pending any audits by tax authorities.

We expect there to be a continued focus on tax reform, driven by initiatives of the OECD and the EC to address the tax challenges arising from digitalisation of the economy. Together with domestic initiatives around the world, these may result in significant changes to established tax principles and an increase in tax authority disputes. Regardless of their merit or outcomes, these may be costly, divert management attention and adversely impact our reputation and relationship with key stakeholders.

Mitigating activities

Financial results are reviewed and approved by regional management, before being reviewed by GSK’s Group Financial Controller and Chief Financial Officer (CFO). This allows our Financial Controller and CFO to assess the evolution of the business over time, and to evaluate its performance to plan. Significant judgements are reviewed and confirmed by senior management. Technical or organisational transformation, newly acquired activities and external risks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, are integrated into risk assessments and appropriate controls and reviews are applied.

We maintain a control environment designed to identify material errors in financial reporting and disclosure. The design and operating effectiveness of key financial reporting controls are regularly reviewed by management and tested by external third parties. A minimum standard control set is in place for all finance locations, irrespective of size, which is reviewed by management and monitored independently. This provides us with the assurance that controls over key financial reporting and disclosure processes have operated effectively. Our Global Finance Risk Management and Controls Centre of Excellence provides extra support during significant transformations, such as system deployment or management/structural reorganisations. We also add operational resources to ensure processes and controls are maintained during such changes. We have introduced additional risk mitigation by amending the programme timelines of system upgrades to optimise delivery.

The Disclosure Committee, reporting to the Board, reviews GSK’s quarterly results and annual report and, in consultation with its legal advisors, throughout the year determines whether it is necessary to disclose publicly information about the Group through stock exchange announcements. We keep up-to-date with the latest developments in financial reporting requirements by working with our external auditor and legal advisors.

The Treasury management group meets regularly to seek to ensure that liquidity, interest rate, counterparty, foreign currency transaction and foreign currency translation risks are all managed in line with the conservative approach detailed in the associated risk strategies and policies adopted by our Board.

Counterparty exposure is subject to defined limits approved by the Board for both credit rating and individual counterparties. A corporate compliance officer, operating independently of Treasury, oversees Treasury’s role in managing counterparty risk in line with agreed policy. Further details on mitigation of Treasury risks can be found on pages 214 to 217, Note 43 ‘Financial instruments and related disclosures’.

GSK manages tax risk through robust internal policies, processes, training and compliance programmes. We seek to maintain open and constructive relationships with tax authorities worldwide. We monitor government debate on tax policy in our key jurisdictions so that we can understand and share an informed point of view regarding any potential future changes in tax law. Where relevant, we provide pragmatic and constructive business input to tax policy makers, either directly or through industry trade bodies. This includes advocating reform to support economic growth and job creation, as well as the needs of our patients and other key stakeholders. We submit significant tax decisions to our Tax Governance Board which meets quarterly and is made up of senior GSK Finance employees.

Our tax affairs are managed on a global basis by a team of tax professionals, led by the Global Head of Tax, who work closely with the business on a day-to-day basis. The Global Tax team is suitably qualified for the roles they perform, and we support their training needs so they can provide up to date technical advice in line with their responsibilities.

We submit tax returns according to statutory time limits and engage proactively with tax authorities to seek to ensure our tax affairs are current, entering into continuous audit programmes and advance pricing agreements where appropriate. These arrangements provide long-term certainty for both tax authorities and GSK over the tax treatment of our business, based on full disclosure of all relevant facts. We seek to resolve any differences of interpretation in tax legislation with tax authorities in a cooperative manner. In exceptional cases, we may have to resolve disputes through formal proceedings.

3. Key accounting judgements and estimates (extract)


The tax charge for the year was £580 million (2019 – £953 million). At December 2020, current tax payable was £545 million (2019 – £629 million), non-current corporation tax payable was £176 million (2019 – £189 million) and current tax recoverable was £671 million (2019 – £262 million).


The Group has open tax issues with a number of revenue authorities. Management makes a judgement of whether there is sufficient information to be able to make a reliable estimate of the outcome of the dispute. If insufficient information is available, no provision is made.

If sufficient information is available, in estimating a potential tax liability GSK applies a risk-based approach which takes into account, as appropriate, the probability that the Group would be able to obtain compensatory adjustments under international tax treaties. These estimates take into account the specific circumstances of each dispute and relevant external advice, are inherently judgemental and could change substantially over time as each dispute progresses and new facts emerge.

At 31 December 2020, the Group had recognised provisions of £856 million in respect of uncertain tax positions (2019 – £933 million). Due to the number of uncertain tax positions held and the number of jurisdictions to which these relate, it is not practicable to give meaningful sensitivity estimates.

Factors affecting the tax charge in future years are set out in Note 14, ‘Taxation’. GSK continues to believe that it has made adequate provision for the liabilities likely to arise from open assessments. Where open issues exist, the ultimate liability for such matters may vary from the amounts provided and is dependent upon the outcome of negotiations with the relevant tax authorities or, if necessary, litigation proceedings.

14. Taxation (extract)

Issues relating to taxation

The integrated nature of the Group’s worldwide operations involves significant investment in research and strategic manufacture at a limited number of locations, with consequential cross-border supply routes into numerous end-markets. In line with current OECD guidelines we base our transfer pricing policy on the ‘arm’s length’ principle. However, different tax authorities may seek to attribute further profit to activities being undertaken in their jurisdiction potentially resulting in double taxation. The Group also has open items in several jurisdictions concerning such matters as the deductibility of particular expenses and the tax treatment of certain business transactions. GSK applies a risk based approach to determine the transactions most likely to be subject to challenge and the probability that the Group would be able to obtain compensatory adjustments under international tax treaties.

The calculation of the Group’s total tax charge therefore necessarily involves a degree of estimation and judgement in respect of certain items whose tax treatment cannot be finally determined until resolution has been reached with the relevant tax authority or, as appropriate, through a formal legal process. At 31 December 2020 the Group had recognised provisions of £856 million in respect of such uncertain tax positions (2019 – £933 million). The decrease in recognised provisions during 2020 was driven by the reassessment of estimates and the utilisation of provisions for uncertain tax positions following the settlement of a number of open issues with tax authorities in various jurisdictions. Whilst the ultimate liability for such matters may vary from the amounts provided and is dependent upon the outcome of agreements with the relevant tax authorities, or litigation where appropriate, the Group continues to believe that it has made appropriate provision for periods which are open and not yet agreed by the tax authorities.

A provision for deferred tax liabilities of £150 million as at 31 December 2020 (2019 – £198 million) has been made in respect of taxation that would be payable on the remittance of profits by certain overseas subsidiaries. Whilst the aggregate amount of unremitted profits at the balance sheet date was approximately £17 billion (2019 – £19 billion), the majority of these unremitted profits would not be subject to tax (including withholding tax) on repatriation, as UK legislation relating to company distributions provides for exemption from tax for most overseas profits, subject to certain exceptions. Deferred tax is not provided on temporary differences of £974 million (2019 – £326 million) arising on unremitted profits as management has the ability to control any future reversal and does not consider such a reversal to be probable.

Continued focus on tax reform is expected in 2021 and future years driven by the OECD’s project to address the tax challenges arising from the digitalisation of the economy. This may result in significant changes to established tax principles and an increase in tax authority disputes. In turn, this could adversely affect GSK’s effective tax rate or could result in higher cash tax liabilities.