Monday 19 August 2019

Tax Credit System for Video Games not Working Well in the United Kingdom?

The United Kingdom’s Tax Watch has an interesting report on the alleged abuse of the tax credit system in the United Kingdom by video game maker, Rockstar North, Take-Two Interactive and related companies.  Rockstar North and Take-Two Interactive are two of the related companies responsible for the hugely popular video game Grand Theft Auto.  Despite making 6 billion US dollars, Rockstar North has apparently not paid any corporate tax in the United Kingdom and has claimed 42 million UK pounds in tax credits.  The Report states: 

Video Games Tax Relief was introduced by the UK government in 2014 to provide targeted support for games that were “culturally British”, with a particular focus on support for small and medium sized businesses.

Our analysis shows that the amount claimed by Rockstar North is the equivalent of 19% of the total relief paid to the entire video games industry in the UK since the programme came into effect. This raises serious questions as to whether the relief is being properly targeted, at a time when the industry is lobbying for the relief to be expanded and made more generous.

This report also raises questions as to whether an appropriate amount of profit has been allocated to the UK companies involved in the game’s development. Seven active companies based in the UK, using the Take-Two and Rockstar names, declared a total profit before tax of £47.3m in the UK between 2013 and 2018. However, over the same period we estimated the operating profit of games published by Rockstar to be in the region of $5bn.

Despite the minimal allocation of profits to the UK, Take Two interactive placed a substantial amount of value on the work of Rockstar employees, including those based in the UK. These key employees were given the rights to substantial amounts of the profit generated by the company in relation to games released under the Rockstar label.

It is our opinion that a more appropriate allocation of profit between the US and UK would have resulted in substantially more profit being allocated to the UK. This would have meant that Rockstar North would not be eligible for a payable tax credit. Instead, Take-Two and the Rockstar companies should have had a substantial tax liability in the UK.

It would be interesting to see data on the supposed overall economic benefit of having the development of Grand Theft Auto in the United Kingdom; although I take that type of data with a “grain of salt.”  Part of the conclusion of the Report states: 

Take-Two appears to believe that it is reasonable that close to 100% of the profit should flow to their US based parent companies and senior management, whilst almost no profit flows back to the UK companies involved in either making or selling the game. We do not believe that this division of profits can be justified under the so-called “arm’s length” standard found in international tax law.

There is no evidence that HMRC have challenged this set-up or that Take-Two or any of the individuals named in this report has acted illegally. However, it is open for HMRC to challenge the allocation of profit under the transfer pricing system and we urge them to investigate this case urgently.

My understanding is that some prominent video game makers suffered a stock price drop soon after President Trump's criticism of violent video games.  The full Report is available, here.  (Hat tip to George Turner)

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