Amazon’s main UK division has paid no corporation tax for the second year in a row after benefiting from tax credits on a chunk of its £1.6bn of investment in infrastructure, including robotic equipment at its warehouses.
Amazon UK Services, which employs more than half of the group’s UK workers, received a tax credit of £7.7m in the year to the end of December, according to accounts filed at Companies House, advance details of which were shared by Amazon with the Guardian.
The government’s “super-deduction” scheme for businesses that invest in infrastructure was introduced by Rishi Sunak when he was chancellor. It allowed companies to offset 130% of investment spending on plant and machinery against profits for two years from April 2021. Amazon booked a credit of £1.13m in 2021 under the scheme.
It is understood that as a result, Amazon’s main UK division paid no corporation tax but other parts of the group’s UK business did pay an undisclosed amount.
Pretax profits at the main division rose about 9% to almost £222m in 2022 as sales rose by nearly 8% to £6.56bn.
Paul Monaghan, the chief executive of the Fair Tax Foundation, criticised Amazon for failing to disclose its total profits in the UK and the corporation tax paid on that despite calls for more transparency from tax justice campaigners and shareholders.
He said: “Over the last decade, Amazon has grown its market domination across the globe on the back of income that is largely untaxed – allowing it to unfairly undercut local businesses that take a more responsible approach.
“We now have a situation where Amazon UK Services is not only not paying tax, but is being handed tax credits for investment that almost certainly would have happened anyway. Tax credits for old rope, if you will. These super-deductions have not only wiped out the corporation charge for the last two years but will likely do so again in 2023 and possibly 2024.”
An Amazon spokesperson said: “Amazon UK Services is only a small part of our business, and when you look across all our UK companies we paid corporation tax last year. The reduction in tax for Amazon UK Services specifically is a result of our significant capital investments in the UK.”
Details of Amazon’s tax benefits emerged as the online retailer and digital services provider said that its employee numbers had stalled at 75,000 in 2022, having almost tripled from about 27,500 in 2018 after adding 10,000 new roles a year in 2021 and 2020.
Amazon and other digital players have been making cuts as spending online has shrunk since the height of the pandemic, after high streets reopened and restrictions on socialising and office working eased.
In January the business announced plans to shut three of its 30-plus UK warehouses and seven small delivery sites, affecting more than 1,300 jobs. It closed the Book Depository online bookseller in April as part of those efforts.
However, Amazon said it had invested £12bn in the UK last year, spending £1.6bn on infrastructure including more robotics for its warehouses and a software development centre in Swansea for its Veeqo division, which provides online tools for sellers.
Sales across the group’s entire UK network rose £1bn over the year, more than 4%, to £24bn last year, making it bigger than Asda, the UK’s third-largest supermarket, and about twice the size of Marks & Spencer, according to group’s US filings.
Amazon said it paid £781m in total taxes in the UK, including business rates, employer’s national insurance contributions and corporation tax, up from £648m a year before.
The UK tax credit at Amazon UK Services was part of €937m (£805m) of tax credits across Europe last year, according to accounts for the group’s Luxembourg-based retail division published in March, after just over €1bn of benefits the year before.
The credits came after Amazon EU Sarl – an entity that includes the group’s UK, German, Spanish, Italian and other EU retail interests – more than doubled losses to €4.3bn, from €2.1bn a year before, as sales slipped back to €50.9bn from €51.3bn a year before.
Monaghan said income was being “shunted to Luxembourg” where the subsidiary was “generating enormous tax reliefs year after year that will be used in the future to ensure that little or no tax continues to be paid there either.”
However, Amazon said that revenues, profits and taxes for the bulk of its UK business were recorded and paid in the UK.
“Our retail and AWS [Amazon Web Services] revenues – the bulk of our business – are part of Amazon EU Sarl and AWS EMEA Sarl, both of which have a UK branch. Our UK revenues, associated expenses, profits and taxes are recorded here in the UK and reported directly to HMRC,” the company said in a statement.
Amazon has previously said it pays hundreds of millions of euros in corporation tax across Europe.