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Shareholder Exits via a Company Purchase of Own Shares

By admin
17 Oct 2023
Manage Tax Risk


Shareholders in a company often seek ways to exit their investments for various reasons, such as retirement, financial diversification, or changing business priorities. One common method for facilitating such exits is through a company’s purchase of its own shares, commonly known as a share buyback or repurchase. This article explores how this process works, its tax implications for both the exiting shareholder and the company, the key conditions for capital treatment, and various legal aspects associated with share buybacks.

How Does a Company Purchase of Own Shares Work?

A company’s purchase of its own shares involves the acquisition of existing shares from one or more of its shareholders. This transaction can be initiated either on a voluntary basis by the shareholder(s) looking to exit or as part of a corporate strategy to return capital to investors. Here’s a simplified step-by-step process:

Shareholder Intent: A shareholder expresses the intent to sell their shares back to the company. This can be initiated through negotiations with the company’s board of directors or in response to a pre-existing buyback program.

Board Approval: The company’s board of directors must approve the buyback. The decision typically takes into account the company’s financial health, available cash reserves, and any legal or regulatory restrictions.

Share Valuation: The company must determine the fair market value of the shares to be repurchased. This valuation is often based on an independent appraisal or a predetermined formula outlined in the company’s bylaws. Should HMRC decide to investigate the valuation of the shares, they will expect the company to be able to produce the method in which the shares were valued.

Agreement: Once the share price is determined, a formal agreement is drafted between the company and the selling shareholder(s). This agreement outlines the terms, conditions, and timing of the share buyback.

Funding: The company must secure the necessary funds to complete the share buyback. This can be accomplished through available cash reserves or, if necessary, by raising debt.

Transaction: The company buys the shares from the exiting shareholder(s) and cancels them, effectively reducing the total number of outstanding shares.

Record Keeping: The company must maintain proper records of the buyback transaction for regulatory and tax purposes. Any contract for purchase of own shares must be retained at the company’s registered office for a period of 10 years.

Tax Implications for the Exiting Shareholder:

The tax consequences of a share buyback for the exiting shareholder can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances. The individual selling their shares will be taxed on their shares either based on the ‘distribution treatment’ or the ‘capital treatment’.

The ‘distribution treatment’ is broadly the same as a dividend and thus is subject to income taxes. An individual would include this figure as income on their self-assessment tax return.

The ‘capital treatment’ is the only method that HMRC will provide clearance for, this entails that the proceeds from selling shares in a buyback are subject to capital gains tax. The tax rate may vary based on factors such as the holding period of the shares and the shareholder’s overall income.

To ensure that the sale of shares in a buyback is treated as a capital transaction rather than ordinary income, certain conditions typically need to be met:

Substantial Shareholder: The selling shareholder is often required to be a substantial or long-term shareholder of the company.

Arm’s Length Transaction: The transaction should be conducted at an arm’s length, meaning the share price should be fair and market-related.

Business Purpose: The buyback should serve a legitimate business purpose, such as capital restructuring or returning excess cash to shareholders.

Tax Implications for the Company Making the Buyback:

The company conducting the share buyback may also face tax implications:

Capital Reduction: In the UK, a company may reduce share capital or share premium. Under certain circumstances this may be distributed as realised profits. This profit may be distributed immediately or left in reserves. These reserves may be used to pay a dividend or make some other form of distribution.

Distributions from reserves by the way of dividends are taxable as dividend income on a shareholders self-assessment tax return. This process may have further tax implications…

Imputation Credits: Companies distributing dividends in connection with a buyback may generate imputation credits, which can be used to offset future tax liabilities.

What if the Company Does Not Have Sufficient Cash Reserves?

If a company lacks the necessary cash to fund a share buyback, it may explore alternative financing options, such as:

Taking on Debt: The company can borrow funds to finance the share buyback. However, this may increase its leverage and interest expenses.

Use of Surplus Assets: If the company has surplus assets, it can sell or liquidate them to generate the required funds.

Advance Clearance Procedure:

In some jurisdictions, companies must seek advance clearance or approval from regulatory authorities before proceeding with a share buyback. This process is designed to ensure compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, protect minority shareholders, and maintain the integrity of the capital markets.

Legal Aspects:

Share buybacks are subject to legal and regulatory frameworks that vary by jurisdiction. Key legal considerations may include:

Regulatory Approvals: Companies must adhere to regulatory requirements, which may include obtaining approval from shareholders or relevant government authorities.

Disclosure: Comprehensive disclosure of the buyback details, including the terms and conditions, is typically required to ensure transparency.

Prohibition on Insider Trading: Companies and insiders must adhere to strict rules to prevent insider trading during the buyback process.

Equal Treatment: Share buybacks should treat all shareholders equally to avoid any perception of unfairness.


Share buybacks can be an effective means for shareholders to exit their investments in a company. Understanding how this process works, along with its tax implications, capital treatment conditions, financing options, advance clearance procedures, and legal aspects, is crucial for both exiting shareholders and the company itself. When executed thoughtfully and in compliance with relevant laws and regulations, share buybacks can be a valuable tool for corporate finance and shareholder management.

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