20% Withholding Tax Rate on profits distributed by unlisted companies to shareholders through buy-back of shares

Existing provisions of Section 2(22)(e) provide the definition of dividends for the purposes of the Income-tax Act. Section 115- O provides for levy of Dividend Distribution Tax(DDT) on the company at the time when company distributes , declares or pays any dividend to its shareholders. Consequent to the levy of DDT the amount of dividend received by the shareholders is not included in the total income of the shareholder.

The consideration received by a shareholder on buy-back of shares by the company is not treated as dividend but is taxable as capital gains under section 46A of the Act.

A company, having distributable reserves, has two options to distribute the same to its shareholders either by declaration and payment of dividends to the shareholders, or by way of purchase of its own shares (i.e. buy back of shares) at a consideration fixed by it. In the first case, the payment by company is subject to DDT and income in the hands of shareholders is exempt. In the second case the income is taxed in the hands of shareholder as capital gains.

Unlisted Companies, as part of tax avoidance scheme, are resorting to buy back of shares instead of payment of dividends in order to avoid payment of tax by way of DDT particularly where the capital gains arising to the shareholders are either not chargeable to tax or are taxable at a lower rate.

In order to curb such practice it is proposed to amend the Act, by insertion of new Chapter XII-DA, to provide that the consideration paid by the company for purchase of its own unlisted shares which is in excess of the sum received by the company at the time of issue of such shares (distributed income) will be charged to tax and the company would be liable to pay additional income-tax @ 20% of the distributed income paid to the shareholder. The additional income-tax payable by the company shall be the final tax on similar lines as dividend distribution tax. The income arising to the shareholders in respect of such buy back by the company would be exempt where the company is liable to pay the additional income-tax on the buy-back of shares.

These amendments will take effect from 1stJune, 2013.

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