This article was first published in the March 2016 international edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

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In January 2016, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) released IFRS 16, Leases, which supersedes IAS 17, Leases. IFRS 16 eliminates the classification of leases as either operating leases or finance leases, and introduces a single lessee accounting model. The new standard requires the lessee to recognise lease assets and any related financial obligation to make future lease payments. This applies to all leases with a term of more than 12 months, unless the value is low. 

Leases are measured by recognising the present value of the lease payments including any directly related costs. They are either shown as lease assets (right-of-use assets) or included within property, plant and equipment. Further, in the income statement, depreciation on lease assets should be shown separately from interest on lease liabilities. In the financial statements of lessors, leases are still classified as operating or finance leases, and are accounted for separately. The main change for lessors is the additional disclosure of information on the risks relating to its residual interest in leased assets.

A lease is defined as part of a contract that conveys to the customer the right to use an asset for a period in exchange for consideration. A distinction is drawn between a lease and a service. Under a leasing agreement, the customer obtains control of a resource that is the right to use an asset whereas, in a service contract, the supplier retains control. Consequently, the standard focuses on whether a customer controls the use of an asset. 

The use of the asset is controlled when the customer has the right to substantially all of the economic benefits and can direct the use of the asset. Just as with IAS 17, judgment may be required to determine whether a contract contains a lease. The identification of an asset can arise by being explicitly or implicitly specified in the contract when the asset is made available for use.

Where an entity previously has a number of leases not recognised on the balance sheet, there may be a significant change in the nature of expenses related to those leases, as the operating lease expense will be replaced by the depreciation expense for the leased asset and the interest expense on the lease liability. Over the life of the lease, there will be a reduction in the lease expense because the interest expense naturally reduces.

It is possible for a customer to obtain economic benefits from use of an asset in many ways, including the sub-letting of the asset. Economic benefits include the assets output, cashflows and any other benefit from a commercial transaction as a result of using the asset. Control of the asset can be determined by examining such things as whether the customer has the right to make the decisions about the purpose for which the asset is used or can use the asset without the supplier having the right to change the way that the asset is operated. 

Treatment changes

Under IAS 17, off balance sheet leases and services are treated in similar ways but this will change under IFRS 16. Thus the decision as to whether a contract is a lease or a service contract is critical because it determines the recognition of related assets and liabilities. The principle is relatively simple in as much as a lease exists when the customer controls the use of the asset and a service exists when the supplier controls the asset’s use.

On first applying IFRS 16, entities need not reassess existing contracts to determine whether the contract contains a lease. The entity is allowed to apply IFRS 16 to contracts that were previously identified as leases under IAS 17 and not to apply IFRS 16 to contracts that were not previously accounted for under IAS 17. Thus the only initial costs that an entity should suffer are when it chooses to reassess contracts. 

When new contracts are entered into, entities will have to determine whether they contain a lease or whether they are service contracts. Often, contracts contain both a right to use the asset and a service agreement. Where this is the case, entities can separate the contract » into its component elements, often with the use of judgment. However, IFRS 16 allows an entity to either capitalise only the amounts paid for the lease or not separate lease and service elements but account for them together as a lease. The latter policy choice is only likely where the contract contains a small service element.


Certain measurement simplifications have been introduced by IFRS 16. For example, variable lease payments are excluded from the measurement of lease assets and liabilities, with any such costs recognised in profit or loss in the period in which they are incurred. In addition, inflation-linked payments are measured based upon current contractual payments, and entities are not required to forecast future inflation. If a lease contains clauses that may require optional payments, which are not reasonably certain, then those payments are excluded from the measurement of lease assets and liabilities.

On first application of IFRS 16, there is no requirement to restate comparative information and an entity can choose how to measure lease assets relating to off balance sheet leases either as if IFRS 16 had always been applied or at an amount based on the lease liability. Entities will have to choose between the costs of prior application of the standard as opposed to an option that may mean a higher value for the leased assets. Additionally, a lessee may apply a single discount rate to a portfolio of leases with similar characteristics when applying IFRS 16 retrospectively.

The impact of IFRS 16 will vary. For entities with significant off balance sheet leases, IFRS 16 will result in a reduction in reported equity, the degree of which is dependent upon the significance of leasing to the entity, the time remaining on the leases and the discount rate applied. These entities may also find that they have a higher operating profit because operating lease payments are reported as part of operating costs whereas the implicit interest in lease liabilities is now shown as part of finance costs. 

There will be no change in total cashflows but, following from the above, there will be a reduction in operating cash outflows and an increase in financing cash outflows. The higher asset and liability base will affect ratios such as asset turnover and gearing, whereas the higher operating profit will affect ratios such as EBITDA, which excludes the interest element of the lease liability. However, many users of financial information already make adjustments for the different accounting treatment of operating and finance leases and view the current treatment as artificial. 

Entities with material off balance sheet leases may incur costs in measuring lease assets and liabilities at the present value of future lease payments due to the need to determine a discount rate for each recognised lease. However, when first applying IFRS 16, entities are permitted to use the incremental borrowing rate for each portfolio of similar leases.

In 2015, the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG) and the national standard-setters of France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania and the UK carried out a consultation to understand the impact of IFRS 16 on loan covenants; the IASB also participated. The results indicated a variation in practice, with some lenders stating that covenants were often tailored for the particular client. However, most respondents stated that their loan agreements often included some of the following features:

  1. automatic renegotiation clauses in the case of a change in accounting principles
  2. ‘frozen GAAP’ provisions, or
  3. adjustments for operating lease commitments in determining covenants.

The report stated that the requirements of IFRS 16 are not expected, in isolation, to cause a breach in the case of covenants using the above features. However, a majority of respondents stated that they would reconsider the terms and conditions of covenants when IFRS 16 is effective.

The non-lender respondents were almost all preparers of financial statements and they reported that their covenants were not expected to be impacted or would be renegotiated if IFRS 16 affects covenant ratios. The majority of lender respondents stated that different financial covenants are applied depending on the size of the loan and that the characteristics of clients, including credit quality, could affect the nature of the covenants. Some indicated that terms might not be based on accounting data but factors such as the structure of ownership or changes in management. However, all the lender respondents stated that they use financial covenants based on IFRS or local GAAP figures. Often agreements that include ‘frozen GAAP’ provisions are automatically renegotiated where accounting standards change, or are already adjusted for operating lease commitments.

The survey indicated that IFRS 16 could affect covenants if all of the following conditions apply:

  1. the covenant is based on accounting data from the financial statements
  2. the calculation of covenant ratios does not include adjustments for operating lease commitments
  3. the agreement does not include ‘frozen GAAP’ provisions.

Those financial institutions with significant off balance sheet leases could find that their regulatory capital is affected. The nature of the impact will be determined by the actions of prudential regulators. The application date of the standard is 1 January 2019. An entity can apply IFRS 16 before that date but only if it also applies IFRS 15, Revenue from Contracts with Customers.

Graham Holt is a director of professional studies at the accounting, finance and economics department at Manchester Metropolitan Business School