1. Characterisation of shared services as reimbursement
The payment of costs and expenses shared between companies of the same economic group, with headquarters in different countries, may be treated as a mere reimbursement without the incidence of a high tax burden on payment or receipt. However, in order for such costs and expenses to be characterised in Brazil as a reimbursement, certain requirements must be complied with.
First of all, to be treated as a reimbursement the costs and expenses must relate to supporting activities rather than core activities of the service provider. Thus, services that are included in the corporate purpose of the service provider may not be shared, and consequently the costs and expenses thereof cannot be treated as a reimbursement.
For this reason, it is only possible to recognise as a reimbursement of shared costs and expenses those actually incurred by the service provider. It is therefore not permitted to add any amount or profit margin to the costs or expenses shared and reimbursed.
Moreover, in order for the costs and expenses to be recognised as a reimbursement, it must be shown unequivocally that the services shared are of mutual benefit to the companies that participate in the agreement. Accordingly, all the companies must benefit from the services shared, including those performing the services.
With a view to proving compliance with the minimum conditions required, it is necessary to have, apart from other documents, a formal contract between the companies of the group, showing the total costs of each service incurred and shared, and also the reasonable and objective criteria used for the division.
The minimum requirements of the said contract were set out in Cosit Answer to Consultation no. 8/12 of which, in spite of its technicality, it is worth citing the following:
- a) the division of the costs and risks inherent to the development, production or obtaining of goods, services or rights must be detailed;
- b) the contribution of each company must be consistent with the individual benefits expected or actually received;
- c) the identification of the specific benefit to each company of the group must be clear;
- d) there must be an agreement for reimbursement, meaning the refund of costs relating to the effort or sacrifice incurred in the carrying out of an activity, without any additional profit;
- e) the collective nature of the advantage offered to all the companies of the group must be express;
- f) there must be a provision for remuneration of the activities, irrespective of their actual use, it being sufficient to “put the activities at the disposal” of the other companies of the group;
- g) the conditions must be such that any company, in the same circumstances, would be interested in contracting.
In short, the contract must state the total cost or expense that benefits the signatory companies; the criteria for its division, each company necessarily defraying only the benefits actually expected or gained, with the possibility of their identification; and further it must state the manner in which reimbursement of the cost or expense will be made, with the supposition that it will be attractive even for independent companies.
Although the amounts classified as reimbursement of costs and expenses do not reflect any financial gain, which is sufficient to justify the non-incidence of taxation, the Brazilian Federal Revenue has still not adopted a firm position to this effect.
2.1. Payments abroad
Generally speaking, payments, credits or remittances abroad relating to the provision of services are subject to Withholding Income Tax (IRRF) of 15%, the Contribution on Economic Activities (CIDE) of 10%, the Contribution for the Financing of Social Security payable by the Importer of Foreign Goods or Services from Abroad (COFINS-Importation) of 7.6% and the Contribution for the Social Integration Programme and Civil Servants’ Investment Programme due on the Importation of Foreign Products or Services (PIS/PASEP-Importation) of 1.65%. The Tax on Financial Operations (IOF) of 0.38% is due in any case. The Tax on Services (ISS), with the maximum rate of 5%, may also be demanded by the municipality.
The IRRF paid in Brazil may be taken as a credit abroad if there exists a double taxation convention with the country in question, or, at least, reciprocity of treatment.
It is worth mentioning that, in the event of a remittance of funds abroad in payment of services, the financial institutions involved are also responsible for the operation, for which reason they tend to confirm the need to pay the taxes due on the operation in order to avoid any risks.
2.2. Cash receipts from abroad
Payments received by the Brazilian company for services shared may be regarded as corresponding to services exported. In this case, the funds received from companies abroad, in the form of foreign currency, would not be subject to PIS and COFINS on the amount invoiced. In any case, if they are recognised as remuneration for services rendered, they would be subject to IRPJ and CSLL. The ISS on the services may also be demanded by the municipality in question.
3. Possible risks and means for their reduction/elimination
As already stated, the Brazilian Federal Revenue has not confirmed its attitude regarding the non-taxation of payments relating to costs and expenses shared and reimbursed. As a result, in operations involving remittances abroad, the financial institutions normally require to see proof of payment of taxes.
If it is intended to avoid paying tax, and with a view to reducing, and even eliminating, possible risks, it is important that the operations be properly formalised. It must be possible to show, by producing solid evidence, that the funds received from, or paid to, the related party refer to the recovery of expenses incurred for the benefit of another, so as not to generate income/earnings for the recipient.
The contracts signed must contain details sufficient to prove compliance with the requirements necessary for characterisation of the reimbursement, with the resulting non-taxation, and all the supporting documentation must be retained.
An alternative, in order to guarantee the position of the Brazilian Federal Revenue, in principle and preferably in favour of the non-incidence of tax, is the submission of a formal consultation with a view to confirming the interpretation applicable to the case.
Specifically for operations involving remittances abroad of sums relating to the costs and expenses shared, it is possible that, even on production of the contract signed between the companies of the group, together with all supporting documentation, and further even presenting the formal consultation to the public authorities, the financial institution may not agree to make the remittance without payment of the tax.
In this event, a declaration may also be produced to the financial institution, in which the company making the remittance assumes the obligation to inform the institution immediately of the result of the formal consultation, as soon as a reply is received from the Federal Revenue, and also to comply with the result thereof, if necessary, with payment of tax on the operation.
We consider that, provided the above requirements are met, the risks may be reduced or even eliminated.
We are available to assist persons interested in any issues involving this matter.
Patrícia Giacomin Pádua
Partner in the Tax Area – São Paulo