Treasury to probe private equity tax relief

Private equity lawyers will be following intently the Treasury’s review of tax relief that has enabled the prominence of private equity on the general M&A landscape.

Under the spotlight will be the tax relief on shareholder loans in highly leveraged deals, economic secretary Ed Balls announced today.

It follows Tuesday’s announcement that the Treasury Select Committee, led by Labour MP John McFall, would investigate private equity. It will look into the FSA’s report into potential regulation that was discussed in the regulator’s own paper (as reported in The Lawyer, 13 November), as well as the news from the British Venture Capital Association that it would draw up a voluntary code of conduct.

The government has been under pressure by unions and politicians in the last month to address private equity. The main bone of contention is the tax deductions on interest repayments on the highly leveraged debt that makes private equity investments so popular.

But one City corporate partner pointed out: “It’s a spurious argument. It’s tax relief that is open to any company, be it owned by private equity or not.”

Typically, though, private equity houses take more risk and leverage their deals higher than a publicly owned company.

A private equity partner at a magic circle firm said: “I’m not expecting a sea-change. They’ve already looked into the tax position on shareholder loans. What Ed Balls is saying is that he wants to make sure the rules are working; it’s not that there are no rules at the moment.”