Identifying the location of risk for Insurance Premium Tax (IPT) purposes is the first step to ensuring IPT compliance in a given territory. This area perhaps isn’t as straightforward as it first seems for marine insurance.
As with the location of risk rules for all classes of insurance in Europe, the starting point for marine insurance is the Solvency II Directive (2009/138/EC), in particular Article 13(13). Article 13(13)(b) refers to ‘vehicles of any type’, which is generally understood to include not just motor vehicles but also ships, yachts and aircraft within its scope. Based on this, the location of risk for marine insurance is identified by the ‘Member State of registration’. As this phrase is not defined in the Directive, there has been some confusion about what ‘registration’ refers to in this context. This is illustrated nicely by a case heard in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in April last year.
North of England P&I Association v German Federal Central Tax Office (C-786/19)
This case involved insurance contracts with companies established in Germany and entered into the register of companies held by the District Court in Hamburg. The owners entered the vessels into the shipping register maintained by the same court in Germany. The case arose because the vessels were temporarily authorised to fly the national flags of Malta and Liberia. The German tax authority argued that German IPT was due on these contracts because the vessels remained on the German shipping register throughout the flagging out period.
In contrast, the insurer contested that the risk location should be determined by the Member State that certified that the ship is fit for use and whose flag the ship flies. Malta treats marine insurance as exempt from its Stamp Duty regime, so if the insurer was successful with its argument, then no taxes on its insurance premiums would be due in the European Union.
The ECJ held that the location of risk was in Germany despite the temporary flagging out of the vessels. This decision was because the vessels remained on the Hamburg District Court’s register, which had the primary function of proving ownership. As the owner has the primary interest in insuring the vessel to protect their financial interest in it, the register evidencing ownership was key.
What next for the marine insurance location of risk rules?
It is worth highlighting that it is unclear how much weight should be placed on this case. This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Ordinance for the implementation of the relevant German legislation refers specifically to ‘shipping registers kept by the local courts’ as being determinative, which differs from the position of other territories. Additionally, a significant issue not addressed by the case is what happens when a Member State doesn’t have a shipping register.
We at Sovos haven’t seen a major shift in the approach taken by insurers since the judgment, meaning in many instances that the ship’s flag is continuing to be seen as pertinent by the market. It will be interesting how the ECJ deals with similar future cases.
We’re happy to help any insurers writing business in Europe that have questions about the location of risk rules, whether concerning marine insurance or any other insurance to ensure taxes are correctly declared.