Team Vinod Kothari Consultants P. Ltd
There has been a lot of uncertainty on the issue of exigibility of direct assignments and securitisation transactions to goods and services tax (GST). While on one hand, there have been opinions that assignments of secured debts may be taxable being covered by the circuitous definition of “actionable claims”, there are other views holding such assignments of debts (secured or unsecured) to be non-taxable since an obligation to pay money is nothing but money, and hence, not “goods” under the GST law. The uncertainty was costing the market heavily.
In order to put diverging views to rest, the GST Council came out with a set of Frequently Asked Questions on Financial Services Sector, trying to clarify the position of some arguable issues pertaining to transactions undertaken in the financial sector. These FAQs include three separate (and interestingly, mutually unclear) questions on – (a) assignment or sale of secured or secured debts [Q.40], (b) whether assignment of secured debts constitutes a transaction in money [Q.41], and (c) securitisation transactions undertaken by banks [Q.65].
The end-result arising out of these questions is that there will be no GST on securitisation transactions. However, the GST Council has relied on some very intriguing arguments to come to this conclusion – seemingly lost between the meaning of “derivatives”, “securities”, and “actionable claims”. If one does not care about why we reached here, the conclusion is most welcome. However, the FAQs also reflect the serious lack of understanding of financial instruments with the Council, which may potentially create issues in the long run.
In this note we intend to discuss the outcome of the FAQs, but before that let us first understand what the situation of the issue was before this clarification.
Situation before the clarification
- GST is chargeable on supply of goods or services or both. Goods have been defined in section 2(52) of the CGST Act in the following manner:
“(52) “goods” means every kind of movable property other than money and securities but includes actionable claim, growing crops, grass and things attached to or forming part of the land which are agreed to be severed before supply or under a contract of supply;”
Services have been defined in section 2(102) of the CGST Act oin in the following manner:
““services” means anything other than goods, money and securities but includes activities relating to the use of money or its conversion by cash or by any other mode, from one form, currency or denomination, to another form, currency or denomination for which a separate consideration is charged;”
Money, is therefore, excludible from the scope of “goods” as well as “services”.
Section 7 details the scope of the expression “supply”. According to the section, “supply” includes “all forms of supply of goods or services or both such as sale, transfer, barter, exchange, licence, rental, lease or disposal made or agreed to be made for a consideration by a person in the course or furtherance of business.” However, activities as specified in Schedule III of the said Act shall not be considered as “supply”.
It may be noted here that “Actionable claims, other than lottery, betting and gambling” are enlisted in entry 6 of Schedule III of the said Act; therefore are not exigible to GST.
- There is no doubt that a “receivable” is a movable property. “Receivable” denotes something which one is entitled to receive. Receivable is therefore, a mirror image for “debt”. If a sum of money is receivable for A, the same sum of money must be a debt for B. A debt is an obligation to pay, a receivable is the corresponding right to receive.
Coming to the definition of “money”, it has been defined under section 2(75) as follows –
““money” means the Indian legal tender or any foreign currency, cheque, promissory note, bill of exchange, letter of credit, draft, pay order, traveller cheque, money order, postal or electronic remittance or any other instrument recognised by the Reserve Bank of India when used as a consideration to settle an obligation or exchange with Indian legal tender of another denomination but shall not include any currency that is held for its numismatic value.”
The definition above enlists all such instruments which have a “value-in-exchange”, so as to represent money. A debt also represents a sum of money and the form in which it can be paid can be any of these forms as enlisted above.
So, in effect, a receivable is also a sum of “money”. As such, receivables shall not be considered as “goods” or “services” for the purpose of GST law.
- As mentioned earlier, “actionable claims” have been included in the definition of “goods” under the CGST Act, however, any transfer (i.e. supply) of actionable claim is explicitly excluded from being treated as a supply of either goods or services for the purpose of levy of GST.
Section 2(1) of the CGST Act defines “actionable claim” so as to assign it the same meaning as in section 3 of the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, which in turn, defines “actionable claim” as –
“actionable claim” means a claim to any debt, other than a debt secured by mortgage of immovable property or by hypothecation or pledge of movable property, or to any beneficial interest in movable property not in the possession, either actual or constructive, of the claimant, which the civil courts recognise as affording grounds for relief, whether such debt or beneficial interest be existent, accruing, conditional or contingent;”
It may be noted that the inclusion of “actionable claim” is still subject to the exclusion of “money” from the definition of “goods”. The definition of actionable claim travels beyond “claim to a debt” and covers “claim to any beneficial interest in movable property”. Therefore, an actionable claim is definitely more than a “receivable”. Hence, if the actionable claim represents property that is money, it can be held that such form of the actionable claim shall be excluded from the ambit of “goods”.
There were views in the industry which, on the basis of the definition above, distinguish between — (a) a debt secured by mortgage of immovable property, and a debt secured by hypothecation/pledge of movable property on one hand (which are excluded from the definition of actionable claim); and (b) an unsecured debt on the other hand. However, others opined that a debt, whether secured or unsecured, is after all a “debt”, i.e. a property in money; and thus can never be classified as “goods”. Therefore, the entire exercise of making a distinction between secured and unsecured debt may not be relevant at all.
In case it is argued that a receivable which is secured (i.e. a secured debt) shall come within the definition of “goods”, it must be noted that a security granted against a debt is merely a back-up, a collateral against default in repayment of debt.
- In one of the background materials on GST published by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, it has been emphasised that a transaction where a person merely slips into the shoes of another person, the same cannot be termed as supply. As such, unrestricted expansion of the expression “supply” should not be encouraged:
“. . . supply is not a boundless word of uncertain meaning. The inclusive part of the opening words in this clause may be understood to include everything that supply is generally understood to be PLUS the ones that are enlisted. It must be admitted that the general understanding of the world supply is but an amalgam of these 8 forms of supply. Any attempt at expanding this list of 8 forms of supply must be attempted with great caution. Attempting to find other forms of supply has not yielded results however, transactions that do not want to supply have been discovered. Transactions of assignment where one person steps into the shoes of another appears to slip away from the scope of supply as well as transactions where goods are destroyed without a transfer of any kind taking place.”
Also, as already stated, where the object is neither goods nor services, there is no question of being a supply thereof.
- Therefore, there was one school of thought which treated as assignment of secured receivables as a supply under the GST regime and another school of thought promoted a view which was contrary to the other one. To clarify the position, representations were made by some of the leading bankers and the Indian Securitisation Foundation.
Situation after the clarification
- The GST Council has discussed the issue of assignment and securitisation of receivables through different question, extracts have been reproduced below:
- Whether assignment or sale of secured or unsecured debts is liable to GST?
Section 2(52) of the CGST Act, 2017 defines ‘goods’ to mean every kind of movable property other than money and securities but includes actionable claim. Schedule III of the CGST Act, 2017 lists activities or transactions which shall be treated neither as a supply of goods nor a supply of services and actionable claims other than lottery, betting and gambling are included in the said Schedule. Thus, only actionable claims in respect of lottery, betting and gambling would be taxable under GST. Further, where sale, transfer or assignment of debts falls within the purview of actionable claims, the same would not be subject to GST.
Further, any charges collected in the course of transfer or assignment of a debt would be chargeable to GST, being in the nature of consideration for supply of services.
- Would sale, purchase, acquisition or assignment of a secured debt constitute a transaction in money?
Sale, purchase, acquisition or assignment of a secured debt does not constitute a transaction in money; it is in the nature of a derivative and hence a security.
- What is the leviability of GST on securitization transactions undertaken by banks?
Securitized assets are in the nature of securities and hence not liable to GST. However, if some service charges or service fees or documentation fees or broking charges or such like fees or charges are charged, the same would be a consideration for provision of services related to securitization and chargeable to GST.
- The fallacy starts with two sequential and separate questions: one dealing with securitisation and the other on assignment transactions. There was absolutely no need for incorporating separate questions for the two, since all securitisation transactions involve an assignment of debt.
- Next, the department in Question 40 has clarified that the assignment of actionable claims, other than lottery, betting and gambling forms a part of the list of exclusion under Schedule III of the CGST Act, therefore, are not subject to GST. This was apparent from the reading of law, therefore, there is nothing new in this.
However, the second part of the answer needs further discussion. The second part of the answer states that – any charges collected in the course of transfer or assignment of a debt would be chargeable to GST, being in the nature of consideration for supply of services.
There are multiple charges or fees associated in an assignment or securitisation transaction – such as servicing fees or excess spread. While it is very clear that the GST will be chargeable on servicing fees charged by the servicer, there is still a confusion on whether GST will be charged on the excess spread or not. Typically, transactions are devised to give residuary sweep to the originator after servicing the PTCs. Therefore, there could be a challenge that sweep right is also a component of servicing fees or consideration for acting as a servicing agent. The meaning of consideration under the CGST Act is consideration in any form and the nomenclature supports the intent of the transaction.
Since, the originator gets the excess spread, question may arise, if excess spread is in the nature of interest. This indicates the need for proper structuring of transactions, to ensure that either the sweep right is structured as a security, or the same is structured as a right to interest. One commonly followed international structure is credit-enhancing IO strip. The IO strip has not been tried in Indian transactions, and recommendably this structure may alleviate concerns about GST being applied on the excess spread.
- Till now, whatever has been discussed was more or less settled before the clarification, question 41 settles the dispute on the contentious question of whether GST will be charged on assigned of secured debt. The answer to question 41 has compared sale, purchase, acquisition or assignment of secured debt with a derivative. The answer has rejected the view, held by the authors, that any right to a payment in money is money itself. The GST Council holds the view that the receivables are in the nature of derivatives, the transaction qualifies to be a security and therefore, exempt from the purview of supply of goods or supply of services.
While the intent of the GST Council is coming out very clear, but this view is lacking supporting logic. Neither the question discusses why assignments of secured receivables are not transactions in money, nor does it state why it is being treated as derivative.
Our humble submission in this regard is that assignment of secured receivables may not be treated as derivatives. The meaning of the term “derivatives” have been drawn from section 2(ac) of the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1956, which includes the following –
(A) a security derived from a debt instrument, share, loan, whether secured or unsecured, risk instrument or contract for differences or any other form of security;
(B) a contract which derives its value from the prices, or index of prices, of underlying securities.
In the present case, assignment of receivables do not represent any security nor does it derive its value from anything else. The receivables themselves have an inherent value, which get assigned, the fact that it is backed a collateral security does not make any difference as the value of the receivables also factor the value of the underlying.
Even though the logic is not coming out clear, the intent of the Council is coming out clearly and the efforts made by the Council to clear out the ambiguities is really commendable.
 Refer: GST on Securitisation Transactions, by Nidhi Bothra, and Sikha Bansal, at http://vinodkothari.com/blog/gst-on-securitisation-transactions-2/; pg. last visited on 06.06.2018
 At the recently concluded Seventh Securitisation Summit on 25th May, 2018, one leading originator confirmed that his company had kept transactions on hold in view of the GST uncertainty. It was widely believed that the dip in volumes in FY 2017-18 was primarily due to GST uncertainty.
 Portions of this note have been adopted from the article – GST on Securitisation Transactions, by Nidhi Bothra and Sikha Bansal.
 http://idtc-icai.s3.amazonaws.com/download/pdf18/Volume-I(BGM-idtc).pdf; pg. last visited on 19.05.2018
 (31) “consideration” in relation to the supply of goods or services or both includes––
(a) any payment made or to be made, whether in money or otherwise, in respect of, in response to, or for the inducement of, the supply of goods or services or both, whether by the recipient or by any other person but shall not include any subsidy given by the Central Government or a State Government;
(b) the monetary value of any act or forbearance, in respect of, in response to, or for the inducement of, the supply of goods or services or both, whether by the recipient or by any other person but shall not include any subsidy given by the Central Government or a State Government:
Provided that a deposit given in respect of the supply of goods or services or both shall not be considered as payment made for such supply unless the supplier applies such deposit as consideration for the said supply;