Income tax, risks, uncertain tax positions, transfer tax, contingencies quantified and provisions made, judgements and estimates

AstraZeneca PLC – Annual report – 31 December 2020

Industry: pharmaceuticals

Risk (extract)

Audit Committee Report (extract)

Significant financial reporting issues considered by the Committee in 2020

Estimates and judgements

The preparation of the Financial Statements in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles requires management to make estimates and judgements that affect the reported amounts of assets and liabilities at the date of the Financial Statements and the reported amounts of revenues and expenses during the reporting period. Actual results could differ from those estimates.

The accounting policy descriptions set out the areas where judgements and estimates need exercising, the most significant of which include the following Key Judgements KJ and Significant Estimates SE :

  • revenue recognition – see Revenue Accounting Policy on page 181 KJ and Note 1 on page 187 SE
  • expensing of internal development expenses – see Research and Development Policy on page 182 KJ
  • impairment reviews of Intangible assets – see Note 10 on page 199 SE
  • useful economic life of Intangible assets – see Research and Development Policy on page 182 KJ and Note 10 on page 200 SE
  • business combinations and Goodwill (and Contingent consideration arising from business combinations) – see Business Combinations and Goodwill Policy on page 184 KJ , Note 10 on page 200 KJ , and Note 20 on page 208 SE
  • litigation liabilities – see Litigation and Environmental Liabilities within Note 29 on page 229 KJ
  • operating segments – see Note 6 on page 193 KJ
  • employee benefits – see Note 22 on page 216 SE
  •  taxation – see Taxation Policy on page 183 KJ and Note 29 on page 232. KJ SE

Taxation

The current tax payable is based on taxable profit for the year. Taxable profit differs from reported profit because taxable profit excludes items that are either never taxable or tax deductible or items that are taxable or tax deductible in a different period. The Group’s current tax assets and liabilities are calculated using tax rates that have been enacted or substantively enacted by the reporting date.

KJ Deferred tax is provided using the balance sheet liability method, providing for temporary differences between the carrying amounts of assets and liabilities for financial reporting purposes and the amounts used for taxation purposes. Deferred tax assets are recognised to the extent that it is probable that future taxable profit will be available against which the asset can be utilised. This requires judgements to be made in respect of the availability of future taxable income.

No deferred tax asset or liability is recognised in respect of temporary differences associated with investments in subsidiaries and branches where the Group is able to control the timing of reversal of the temporary differences and it is probable that the temporary differences will not reverse in the foreseeable future.

The Group’s Deferred tax assets and liabilities are calculated using tax rates that are expected to apply in the period when the liability is settled or the asset realised based on tax rates that have been enacted or substantively enacted by the reporting date.

Accruals for tax contingencies require management to make judgements of potential exposures in relation to tax audit issues. Tax benefits are not recognised unless the tax positions will probably be accepted by the tax authorities. This is based upon management’s interpretation of applicable laws and regulations and the expectation of how the tax authority will resolve the matter. Once considered probable of not being accepted, management reviews each material tax benefit and reflects the effect of the uncertainty in determining the related taxable result.

Accruals for tax contingencies are measured using either the most likely amount or the expected value amount depending on which method the entity expects to better predict the resolution of the uncertainty.

Further details of the estimates and assumptions made in determining our recorded liability for transfer pricing contingencies and other tax contingencies are included in Note 29 to the Financial Statements from page 232.

29 Commitments and contingent liabilities (extract)

Tax

SE AstraZeneca considers whether it is probable that a taxation authority will accept an uncertain tax treatment. If it is concluded that it is not probable that the taxation authority will accept an uncertain tax treatment, where tax exposures can be quantified, an accrual is made based on either the most likely amount method or the expected value method depending on which method management expects to better predict the resolution of the uncertainty. Accruals can be built up over a long period of time but the ultimate resolution of tax exposures usually occurs at a point in time, and given the inherent uncertainties in assessing the outcomes of these exposures (which sometimes can be binary in nature), we could, in future periods, experience adjustments to these accruals that have a material positive or negative effect on our results in any particular period. Details of the movements in relation to material tax exposures are discussed below.

KJ AstraZeneca faces a number of audits and reviews in jurisdictions around the world and, in some cases, is in dispute with the tax authorities. The issues under discussion are often complex and can require many years to resolve. Accruals for tax contingencies require management to make key judgements with respect to the ultimate outcome of current and potential future tax audits, and actual results could vary from these estimates.

Transfer pricing and other international tax contingencies

The total net accrual included in the Group Financial Statements to cover the worldwide exposure to transfer pricing audits is $287m (2019: $140m; 2018: $212m), an increase of $147m compared with 2019 mainly as a result of additional provisions for tax contingencies partially offset by reductions following the conclusion of tax authority review. These positions can be complex and judgemental.

Therefore in determining the accrual, management has assessed their expectation of the ultimate resolution of the uncertainty, including settlement or litigation.

Management continues to believe that AstraZeneca’s positions on all its transfer pricing and other international tax audits and disputes are robust, and that AstraZeneca is appropriately provided, including consideration of whether corresponding relief will be available under Mutual Agreement procedures or unilaterally.

The European Commission (EC) issued its decision on the state aid review of UK Controlled Foreign Company Group Financing Exemption. The EC concluded that part of the UK measures was unlawful and have instructed recovery of the state aid. The UK Government and the Group have appealed the decision. Despite the nature of the complexities of the ruling in relation to the Group’s position, the complex tax legislation and taking into account the ongoing appeal, the Group does not expect any additional liability would be material.

For transfer pricing and other international tax matters where AstraZeneca and the tax authorities are in dispute, and the state aid matter, AstraZeneca estimates the potential for reasonably possible additional liabilities above and beyond the amount provided to be up to $251m (2019: $76m; 2018: $357m) including associated interest. Management believes that it is unlikely that these additional liabilities will arise. It is possible that some of these contingencies may change in the future to reflect progress in tax authority reviews, to the extent that any tax authority challenge is concluded, or matters lapse including following expiry of the relevant statutes of limitation resulting in a reduction in the tax charge in future periods.

Other tax contingencies

Included in the tax accrual is $727m (2019: $887m; 2018: $730m) relating to a number of other tax contingencies, a decrease of $160m mainly due to releases of tax contingencies following the expiry of the relevant statute of limitations and on the conclusion of tax authority review, partially offset by the impact of an additional year of transactions relating to contingencies for which accruals had already been established and exchange rate effects. The majority of the accrual relates to tax contingencies which are estimated using the expected value method and depend on AstraZeneca’s assessment of the likelihood of the approach taken by the tax authorities and could change in the future to reflect progress in tax authority reviews, the extent that any tax authority challenge is concluded, or matters lapse including following expiry of the relevant statutes of limitation resulting in a reduction in the tax charge in future periods.

For these other tax contingencies, AstraZeneca estimates the potential for reasonably possible additional losses above and beyond the amount provided to be up to $517m (2019: $327m; 2018: $253m) including associated interest. It is possible that some of these contingencies may reduce in the future if any tax authority challenge is concluded or matters lapse following expiry of the relevant statutes of limitation, resulting in a reduction in the tax charge in future periods.

Timing of cash flows and interest

It is not possible to estimate the timing of tax cash flows in relation to each outcome. It is anticipated that tax payments may be required in relation to a number of significant disputes which may be resolved over the next one to two years. AstraZeneca considers the accruals set out above to appropriately reflect the expected value of any final settlement. Some of the items discussed above are not currently within the scope of tax authority audits and may take longer to resolve.

Included within other receivables and payables is a net amount of interest arising on tax contingencies of $82m (2019: $90m; 2018: $116m).