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During COVID-19, the ATO provided tax-free cash flow boosts to small businesses employing staff with an aggregate annual turnover of under $50 million. These were designed to help keep businesses operating, retain staff, and able to pay rent, electricity and other bills.

But if a business has decided to enter members’ voluntary liquidation (MVL), how are any cash flow boost reserves the company has left treated? What are the tax implications? And where should they sit on the balance sheet?

Members’ voluntary liquidation

A members’ voluntary liquidation is a tool used to formally dissolve and deregister a solvent company.

Members may decide to wind up their solvent company for several reasons. One is that it’s no longer operating and they have no use for it. Others include to save on ongoing compliance costs, to rationalise a group structure, to resolve a dispute or to access the company’s equity in a tax-effective manner.

During a members’ voluntary liquidation, the appointed liquidator realises the company assets, pays the company’s liabilities and ensures the company’s tax lodgements and payment obligations are discharged.  They then make a distribution to the shareholders of any surplus funds.

Realising a company’s assets includes selling off assets for cash, such as vehicles, inventory, investments and equipment. Once this is done, shares are cancelled and the cash value is returned to the shareholders.

Dividends versus capital distributions

Outside of liquidation, the distribution of company profits or capital gains will be taxable as dividends. In some cases, there may be insufficient franking credits, and as a result, dividends may be unfranked, leading to significant tax becoming payable by the shareholders on distributions received.

Under liquidation, certain equity classes are classed differently, with some providing more favourable tax outcomes for shareholders than others.

Here’s a summary of the tax treatment of liquidators distributions compared to those outside of liquidation:

Equity Tax Treatment
Liquidation Outside of Liquidation
Share capital Capital Capital
Retained Profits (to the extent it represents assessable income) Dividend Dividend
Capital Profits Reserve (pre-CGT assets) Capital Dividend
Exempt 50% Component of Capital Gain Attributable to Goodwill or Active Asset Capital Dividend
Capital Profits Reserve (post-CGT assets) Dividend Dividend

Cash flow boost as NANE income

Because cash flow boosts are tax-free, non-accessible non-exempt income, in a liquidation scenario, cash flow boost reserves will be treated as capital in nature.

This means on payment of the cash flow boost out of the company during liquidation, it’s not treated as a dividend and should instead be included as consideration for the cancellation of shares under capital gains tax Event C2 and be tax free in the hands of the shareholder.

Quarantine residual cash flow boost on the balance sheet

To ensure easy identification and the appropriate treatment of cash flow boost reserves under members’ voluntary liquidation, it’s important that you quarantine it on the balance sheet.

By putting it into quarantine you maximise the available options to access any surplus cash flow boost in a tax-effective manner.

If you’re unsure about the treatment of this or any other tax-free payments, or if you have a client considering members’ voluntary liquidation, contact us today for advice.