Halifax plc etc -v- Commissioners of Customs & Excise; ECJ 21-Feb-2006

ECJ Sixth VAT Directive – Article 2(1), Article 4(1) and (2), Article 5(1) and Article 6(1) – Economic activity – Supplies of goods – Supplies of services – Abusive practice – Transactions designed solely to obtain a tax advantage.
The court set out the principle of abuse of right, saying: ‘in the sphere of VAT, an abusive practice can be found to exist only if, first, the transactions concerned, notwithstanding formal application of the conditions laid down by the relevant provisions of the Sixth Directive and the national legislation transposing it, result in the accrual of a tax advantage the grant of which would be contrary to the purpose of those provisions.
Second, it must also be apparent from a number of objective factors that the essential aim of the transactions concerned is to obtain a tax advantage. As the Advocate General observed in paragraph 89 of his opinion, the prohibition of abuse is not relevant where the economic activity carried out may have some explanation other than the mere attainment of tax advantages.’
. . And: ‘I am of the view therefore that the Community law notion of abuse, applicable to the VAT system, operates on the basis of a test comprising two elements. Both elements must be present in order to establish the existence of an abuse of Community law in this area. The first corresponds to the subjective element mentioned by the Court in Emsland [2000] ECR I-11569, but it is subjective only in so far as it aims at ascertaining the purpose of the activities in question. That purpose – which must not be confused with the subjective intention of the participants in those activities – is to be objectively determined on the basis of the absence of any other economic justification for the activity than that of creating a tax advantage. Accordingly, this element can be regarded as an element of autonomy. In fact, when applying it, the national authorities must determine whether the activity at issue has some autonomous basis which, if tax considerations are left aside, is capable of endowing it with some economic justification in the circumstances of the case.’

Court: ECJ
Date: 21-Feb-2006
Links: Bailii,
References: C-255/02, [2005] EUECJ C-255/02, Times, 27-Feb-2006, [2006] Ch 387
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