A year of assessment (or tax year) begins on 1 April of a year and ends on 31 March of the following year. The period that is used to compute the taxable profits for a year of assessment is called the basis period, which is normally the financial year ended in the year of assessment.
Tax returns are issued on the first working day of April each year. The filing deadline is usually within a month from the date of issue. However, corporations whose financial year ended after 30 November and are represented by a tax representative are normally granted with an extension for filing their returns. The exact filing due date depends on the accounting year-end date of the taxpayer.
The basis of assessment is the accounting profits of the financial year ending within the year of assessment, with appropriate adjustments for tax purposes. A tax return is usually filed together with a tax computation showing the tax adjustments to the accounting profits in arriving at the taxable profits or allowable tax losses for a given year of assessment.
Corporate taxpayers are also required to attach their audited accounts as supporting documents when filing a profits tax return, unless they qualify as a small corporation as defined by the HKIRD (i.e. mainly those with gross income for a basis period of not exceeding HKD 2 million plus a few other conditions). Small corporations are not required to attach supporting documents with their profits tax returns but are still required to keep those documents and submit them upon request. A branch of a foreign corporation doing business in Hong Kong is required to file a profits tax return annually, and the HKIRD may require audited accounts of the foreign corporation to support the Hong Kong branch’s profits tax return.
Notice of assessment will be issued after the tax return has been examined by the HKIRD. Taxpayers may be subject to post-assessment investigation or field audit under the computerised random selection procedures of the HKIRD at a later date.
Payment of tax
Tax is usually payable in two instalments. The dates of payment of tax, which generally fall between November of the year in which the return is issued and April of the following year, are determined by the CIR and specified in an assessment notice. A system of provisional tax payments applies whereby estimated tax payments are made during the current year. The provisional profits tax payable is normally estimated based on the previous year’s profits tax liability. The provisional profits tax already paid is credited against the final profits tax assessed for a year of assessment, which is determined after filing of the return.
Taking a company with an accounting year end date of 31 December as an example, the final tax payment for the company for a given tax year is usually due in November of the year in which the return is issued, whereas the provisional tax payments (to be paid in two instalments) are usually due in November of the current year and January of the next year.
Tax audit process
There is no specific tax audit cycle in Hong Kong. Tax audit targets are selected with reference to certain criteria determined by the HKIRD.
Statute of limitations
An additional assessment may be made by an HKIRD tax assessor if a taxpayer chargeable to tax has not been assessed to tax or has been assessed at less than the proper amount. The assessment must be made within the relevant year of assessment or within six years after the end of that year of assessment. The time limit for making additional assessments is extended when a taxpayer either has not been assessed, or is under-assessed, due to fraud or wilful evasion. In that case, an additional assessment may be made up to ten years after the end of the relevant assessment year.
A statement of loss is not an assessment, and the above six-year time limit does not apply to issue or revision of a statement of loss. A tax loss year remains technically open until the sixth year after the first year in which the taxpayer has an assessable profit after utilising all the tax losses brought forward.
Topics of focus for tax authorities
Profits tax issues that are often subject to close scrutiny of the tax authority include offshore claim of profits, capital claims of income, transactions with related parties and closely connected non-residents, and deductibility of expenses (e.g. interest expenses, share-based payments, intra-group management/service fees).
General anti-avoidance rules (GAARs)
The IRO includes a GAAR (i.e. section 61A) allowing the HKIRD to disregard a transaction or counteract the tax benefit conferred by a transaction if the sole or dominant purpose of entering into such a transaction is to obtain a tax benefit. Whether the sole or dominant purpose of entering into a transaction is for obtaining a tax benefit will be assessed according to a set of factors stipulated in section 61A. Another GAAR in the IRO is section 61, which empowers the HKIRD to disregard a transaction that reduces or would reduce the amount of tax payable by any person if that transaction is considered artificial or fictitious. Although both GAARs could be used, in practice, section 61A is more often invoked by the HKIRD in tackling tax avoidance schemes.