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FTSE groups improve tax transparency
May, 30th 2016

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Nearly two-thirds of FTSE 100 companies now disclose information about their approach to taxation, up from under half two years ago. The trend is a sign of the growing pressure to become more transparent about tax, following a backlash against aggressive planning.

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The analysis by PwC, the professional services firm, showed that 64 companies made disclosures in their latest accounts, up from 49 two years earlier.

Companies are volunteering information in response to public pressure, as well as preparing for new laws mandating more transparency. The UK is introducing rules forcing companies to disclose their tax strategy, while Brussels has proposed making them publish where they earn profits and pay taxes in Europe.

Regulators are also making demands for more transparency. PwC said it had “already seen early signs of companies changing their disclosures of tax numbers” in light of a review by the Financial Reporting Council, the corporate governance regulator. The review, announced in December, set out “to encourage more transparent recording of the relationship between the tax charges and accounting profit”.

Investors have begun to put pressure on companies to become more transparent about their tax payments. In a report published last year, PRI, an international network of fund managers pursuing sustainable investment strategies, said the opacity around companies’ tax affairs meant investors knew little about the risks associated with them.

Andrew Packman, a partner at PwC, said approaches varied with companies’ circumstances. Some — banks and extractive companies — were already required to publish details of tax payments, while others had been targeted by campaigners and wanted to provide a more detailed explanation of their position.

Companies are volunteering information in response to public pressure, as well as preparing for new laws mandating more transparency

Some companies wanted to make disclosures because their boards supported transparency while those putting little information in the public domain were often foreign-based multinationals with limited UK activity.

But the tax line remains difficult to interpret. Just 18 FTSE 100 companies — up from 14 last year — provide an explanation of the difference between the tax charge in the accounts and the cash tax actually paid by the group.

Businesses are required to disclose details of payments of tax, profits and other financial data to tax authorities, under plans drawn up by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The push by Brussels to make some of this data public is opposed by Germany and some other countries, which say it would put commercially sensitive details into the public domain. But Mr Packman said the “general assumption” was that the data would become public in the medium term because of the weight of opinion in the European Parliament.

PwC reviewed the annual reports, company websites and corporate responsibility statements for financial years ending between January and December 2015, for all companies listed in the FTSE 100 at March 31 2016.

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