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

GlaxoSmithKline plc – Annual report – 31 December 2019

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 is managed through robust internal policies and processes to ensure that we have alignment across our business and compliance with tax legislation. Our Audit & Risk Committee and the Board are responsible for approving our tax policies and risk management approach. We seek to maintain open, positive relationships with governments and tax authorities worldwide and we welcome constructive debate on taxation policy.

In 2019, the Group corporate tax charge was £953 million (2018 – £754 million) on profits before tax of £6,221 million (2018 – £4,800 million) representing an effective tax rate of 15.3% (2018 – 15.7%). We made cash tax payments of £1,512 million in the year (2018 – £1,326 million). In addition to the taxes we pay on our profits, we pay duties, levies, transactional and employment taxes.

Our Adjusted tax rate for 2019 was 16.0% (2018 – 19.0%). The rate has benefitted from the settlement of open tax positions in key territories. 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 of 15.3% (2018 – 15.7%) for 2019 was lower than the Adjusted tax rate as the Total tax charge includes the tax effect of fair value accounting movements on the Group’s put option liabilities to ViiV Healthcare and on hedges against shares in Hindustan Unilever Limited to be received on disposal of Horlicks and other Consumer Healthcare brands, and a re-assessment of estimates of uncertain tax positions following the settlement of a number of open issues with tax authorities.

In 2019, an ongoing public focus on the tax affairs of multinational companies has included a major project of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation 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 2019 has been driven by the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project and European Commission initiatives such as fiscal state aid investigations and the introduction of ‘Mandatory Disclosure’ rules. The outputs from the OECD BEPS projects 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 detailed tax implications of Brexit are dependent on the outcome of negotiations between the UK and EU, and are therefore currently unknown. We continue to work with the Government to ensure the UK retains a trading relationship with the EU that allows us to supply our products as swiftly as we do today to patients and consumers, with zero tariffs on goods, minimal customs procedures and no VAT cash flow cost on cross-border trade. The direct tax implications, in particular, are expected to be limited for GSK while the indirect tax implications may be more significant, including potential customs duty costs and additional transaction or administrative costs associated with managing import and export obligations on the movement of goods between the UK and the EU and between the UK/EU and the rest of the world. Our approach to Brexit is set out on page 48.

Our Tax Strategy is set out in detail within the Public Policy positions section of our website. Further details about our corporate tax charges for the year are set out on page 189.

Group financial review (extract 2)


The charge of £953 million represented an effective tax rate on Total results of 15.3% (2018 – 15.7%) and reflected the different tax effects of the various Adjusting items. Tax on Adjusted profit amounted to £1,318 million and represented an effective Adjusted tax rate of 16.0% (2018 – 19.0%), reflecting the impact of the settlement of a number of open issues with tax authorities.

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 us to litigation and regulatory action and could materially and adversely affect our financial results. In the current period of significant political uncertainty especially in the USA and UK, there can be significant changes at short notice. Failure to comply with any changes in the substance or application of the governing laws covering transfer pricing, dividends, tax credits, and intellectual property could materially and adversely affect our financial results.

Significant losses may arise from inconsistent application of treasury policies, transactional or settlement errors, or counterparty defaults.

The Group is required by the laws of various jurisdictions to disclose publicly its financial results and events that could materially affect the financial results of the Group. Regulators routinely review the financial statements of listed companies for compliance with new, revised or existing accounting and regulatory requirements. The Group believes that it complies with the appropriate regulatory requirements concerning our financial statements and 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 can lead to restatements of previously reported results and significant penalties.

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

The Group’s effective tax rate reflects rates of tax in the jurisdictions in which the Group operates that are both higher and lower than the UK rate and considers regimes that encourage innovation and investment in science by providing tax incentives which, if changed, could affect the Group’s tax rate. In addition, the worldwide nature of our operations means that our intellectual property, R&D and manufacturing operations are centered in several key locations. A consequence of this is that our cross-border supply routes, necessary to ensure supplies of medicines into numerous end markets, can be complex and result in conflicting claims from tax authorities as to the profits to be taxed in individual countries. Tax legislation itself is also complex and differs across the countries in which we operate. As such, tax risk can also arise due to differences in the interpretation of such legislation. The tax charge included in our financial statements is our best estimate of tax liability pending audits by tax authorities.

We expect there to be continued focus on tax reform driven by initiatives of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development to address the taxation of the digital economy and European Commission initiatives including the use of fiscal state aid investigations. Together with domestic initiatives around the world, these may result in significant changes to established tax principles and an increase in tax authority disputes. These, regardless of their merit or outcomes, can be costly, divert management attention and may adversely impact our reputation and relationship with key stakeholders.

Mitigating activities
Financial results are reviewed and approved by regional management and then reviewed with the Financial Controller and the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). This allows our Financial Controller and our CFO to assess the evolution of the business over time, and to evaluate performance to plan. Significant judgments are reviewed and confirmed by senior management. Technical or organisational transformation and newly acquired activities 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 and 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. Additional risk mitigation has been introduced by amending the programme timelines of system upgrades to optimize delivery.

The Disclosure Committee, reporting to the Board, reviews the Group’s quarterly results and Annual Report and determines throughout the year, in consultation with its legal advisors, 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 on a regular basis 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 as detailed in the associated risk strategies and policies which have been adopted by the Board.

Counterparty exposure is subject to defined limits approved by the Board for both credit rating and individual counterparties. Oversight of Treasury’s role in managing counterparty risk in line with agreed policy is performed by a Corporate Compliance Officer, who operates independently of Treasury. Further details on mitigation of Treasury risks can be found on pages 227 to 229, Note 43 ‘Financial instruments and related disclosures’.

Tax risk is managed through robust internal policies, processes, training and compliance programmes to ensure we have alignment across our business and meet our tax obligations. We seek to maintain open, positive relationships with governments and tax authorities worldwide and we welcome constructive debate on taxation policy. We monitor government debate on tax policy in our key jurisdictions to deal proactively with any potential future changes in tax law. We engage advisors and legal counsel to confirm the implications for our business of tax legislation. Where appropriate, we are active in providing relevant business input to tax policy makers. Significant decisions are submitted for consideration to the Tax Governance Board which meets quarterly and comprises senior personnel from across GSK’s Finance division.

Our tax affairs are managed on a global basis through a coordinated team of tax professionals led by the Global Head of Tax who works closely with the business. Our tax professionals are suitably qualified for the roles they perform, and we support their training needs in order that they continue to be able to provide up to date technical advice. We submit tax returns according to statutory time limits and engage with tax authorities to seek to ensure our tax affairs are current, entering arrangements such as Continuous Audit Programmes and Advance Pricing Agreements where appropriate. These agreements provide long-term certainty for both tax authorities and for us over the tax treatment of our business. In exceptional cases where matters cannot be settled by agreement with tax authorities, we may have to resolve disputes through formal appeals or other proceedings.

3. Key accounting judgements and estimates (extract)
The tax charge for the year was £953 million (2018 – £754 million). At December 2019, current tax payable was £629 million (2018 – £965 million), non-current corporation tax payable was £189 million (2018 – £272 million) and current tax recoverable was £262 million (2018 – £229 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 2019, the Group had recognised provisions of £933 million in respect of uncertain tax positions (2018 – £1,082 million). Because of the nature of these uncertain positions, 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, assuming the relevant tax authority will review and have full knowledge of all the relevant information, 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 where the 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 2019 the Group had recognised provisions of £933 million in respect of such uncertain tax positions (2018 – £1,082 million). The decrease in recognised provisions during 2019 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 £198 million as at 31 December 2019 (2018 – £185 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 £19 billion (2018 – £18 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 £326 million (2018 – £231 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.