Reducing Stamp Duty on a Business Asset Sale and Purchase in Ireland

It is generally understood that a buyer’s stamp duty liability will be 7.5%1 of the market value consideration paid for all assets passing under a Business Asset Sale and Purchase Agreement executed in Ireland2 but this is not necessarily the case. Below are a few mechanisms by which stamp duty on a business asset sale may be reduced.

  1. Any document executed in connection with the sale of intellectual property is exempt from stamp duty3. This is an important provision as it includes trademarks, copyright, patent and know-how and goodwill attaching to same4.
  2. It is possible, in some cases, to avoid stamp duty on the sale of plant and machinery, goods, wares and merchandise5. In order to do so, a buyer will need to agree in the Business Asset Sale and Purchase Agreement for ownership to these items to pass ‘by delivery’ and must not require a formal instrument evidencing the transfer of ownership on closing6.
  3. Similarly, it may be possible to avoid stamp duty on the acquisition of a debt (deemed consideration for stamp duty purposes), if the buyer agreed the debt would transfer ‘on delivery’. This could be effected by the production of a bearer instrument7 to the buyer on completion. Alternatively, the debt may be transferred by a novation agreement which, unlike an assignment8, would not classify the debt as a ‘conveyance on sale’ for stamp duty purposes9.
  4. The transfer of loan capital of a company or body corporate is exempt from stamp duty10 provided certain conditions are met. Broadly, the loan capital must not carry a right of conversion into shares of an Irish company, must not carry rights similar to rights attaching to shares (e.g. voting rights, right to profits etc), must not be issued for a price which is less than 90% of its nominal value and must not carry a right to interest which is related to movements in an index.
  5. Any instrument executed in connection with the sale of foreign property is exempt from stamp duty11. This can be extremely useful in circumstances where the seller is non-resident as movable property (including potentially the seller’s debts) could be deemed to be situated in the Seller’s country of residence, rather than in Ireland.
  6. Instruments executed in connection with the sale of residential property attract stamp duty of 1% of the market value of the consideration paid12. Residential property includes mobile and other holiday homes. This is a useful and valuable provision for buyers looking to acquire a residential property portfolio.
  7. Many instruments relating to the financial services industry such as debt-factoring agreements13, financial futures and contracts for difference are exempt from stamp duty14.
1 Stamp duty on non-residential property is typically charged as a ‘conveyance on sale’ at this rate – see Schedule 1, Stamp Duties Consolidation Act, 1999 (“SDCA ‘99”) as amended by section 57 of the Finance Act 2019.
2 The charge to stamp duty liability arises under s. 2 SDCA ’99 in relation to instruments executed “in Ireland”
4 Goodwill will be exempt only to the extent that it is directly attributable to the intellectual property in question. Where there is business goodwill and goodwill that is attributable to the intellectual property, the consideration must be apportioned between the two on a just and reasonable basis.
5 See section 31 Stamp Duties Consolidation Act, 1999 which provides that contracts for the sale of these movables are exempt from stamp duty
6 Circumstances of the transaction will dictate if this is advisable. Careful drafting of the relevant clause is required so as not to render the contract stamp-able as a ‘conveyance on sale’ under schedule 1, SDCA ’99.
7bearer instrument, or bearer bond, is a type of fixed-income security in which no ownership information is recorded and the security is issued in physical form to the purchaser. The holder is presumed to be the owner, and whoever is in possession of the physical bond is entitled to the coupon payments.
8 An assignment is considered a “conveyance or transfer on sale of any property other than stocks or marketable securities or a policy of insurance of a policy of life insurance” (commonly known as “Conveyance on Sale”) under schedule 1 SDCA ’99.
9 A novation agreement would involve the execution of a tripartite agreement by the original lender, the borrower and the party acquiring the debt. The suitability of this option will depend on the facts of the transaction, for example, it would not normally be an appropriate means of transferring a large portfolio of debts as it would require execution by each individual debtor
11 S.2 SDCA ’99 (charge to stamp duty) and see section 31 of the SDCA which provides for the exemption of contracts for sale of foreign property (as opposed to ‘conveyances’)
13 The exemption does not apply if the instruments relate to shares in Irish companies or land or buildings in Ireland s. 90 SDCA ‘99

An ‘asset sale’ has many advantages over a ‘share sale’ for both the buyer and the seller. For example, a seller may be in a position to crystallise a tax loss to offset a gain and a buyer has the potential to avoid uncrystallised gains in its accounts after completion.  Consequently, a purchaser should not summarily dismiss structuring a transaction as an ‘asset sale’ as the tax cost may be less than what it may seem at first instance.

Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this article, it has been provided for information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Amorys Solicitors is a boutique commercial and private client law firm in Sandyford, Dublin 18, Ireland.
For further information and advice in relation to “Reducing Stamp Duty on a Business Asset Sale and Purchase in Ireland”, please contact Deirdre Farrell, partner, Amorys Solicitors, telephone 01 213 5940 or your usual contact at Amorys.

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