IAS 37 Provisions, Contingent Liabilities and Contingent Assets

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IAS 37 defines and specifies the accounting for and disclosure of provisions, contingent liabilities, and contingent assets.

Provisions

A provision is a liability of uncertain timing or amount. The liability may be a legal obligation or a constructive obligation. A constructive obligation arises from the entity’s actions, through which it has indicated to others that it will accept certain responsibilities, and as a result has created an expectation that it will discharge those responsibilities. Examples of provisions may include: warranty obligations; legal or constructive obligations to clean up contaminated land or restore facilities; and obligations caused by a retailer’s policy to make refunds to customers.

An entity recognises a provision if it is probable that an outflow of cash or other economic resources will be required to settle the provision. If an outflow is not probable, the item is treated as a contingent liability.

A provision is measured at the amount that the entity would rationally pay to settle the obligation at the end of the reporting period or to transfer it to a third party at that time. Risks and uncertainties are taken into account in measuring a provision. A provision is discounted to its present value.

IAS 37 elaborates on the application of the recognition and measurement requirements for three specific cases:

  • future operating losses—a provision cannot be recognised because there is no obligation at the end of the reporting period;
  • an onerous contract gives rise to a provision; and
  • a provision for restructuring costs is recognised only when the entity has a constructive obligation because the main features of the detailed restructuring plan have been announced to those affected by it.

Contingent liabilities

Contingent liabilities are possible obligations whose existence will be confirmed by uncertain future events that are not wholly within the control of the entity. An example is litigation against the entity when it is uncertain whether the entity has committed an act of wrongdoing and when it is not probable that settlement will be needed.

Contingent liabilities also include obligations that are not recognised because their amount cannot be measured reliably or because settlement is not probable. Contingent liabilities do not include provisions for which it is certain that the entity has a present obligation that is more likely than not to lead to an outflow of cash or other economic resources, even though the amount or timing is uncertain.

A contingent liability is not recognised in the statement of financial position. However, unless the possibility of an outflow of economic resources is remote, a contingent liability is disclosed in the notes.

Contingent assets

Contingent assets are possible assets whose existence will be confirmed by the occurrence or non-occurrence of uncertain future events that are not wholly within the control of the entity. Contingent assets are not recognised, but they are disclosed when it is more likely than not that an inflow of benefits will occur. However, when the inflow of benefits is virtually certain an asset is recognised in the statement of financial position, because that asset is no longer considered to be contingent.

Standard history

In April 2001 the International Accounting Standards Board adopted IAS 37 Provisions, Contingent Liabilities and Contingent Assets, which had originally been issued by the International Accounting Standards Committee in September 1998. That standard replaced parts of IAS 10 Contingencies and Events Occurring after the Balance Sheet Date that was issued in 1978 and that dealt with contingencies.

In May 2020 the Board issued Onerous Contracts—Cost of Fulfilling a Contract. This amended IAS 37 to clarify that for the purpose of assessing whether a contract is onerous, the cost of fulfilling the contract includes both the incremental costs of fulfilling that contract and an allocation of other costs that relate directly to fulfilling contracts.

Other Standards have made minor consequential amendments to IAS 37. They include IFRS 9 Financial Instruments (Hedge Accounting and amendments to IFRS 9, IFRS 7 and IAS 39) (issued November 2013), Annual Improvements to IFRSs 2010–2012 Cycle (issued December 2013), IFRS 15 Revenue from Contracts with Customers (issued May 2014), IFRS 9 Financial Instruments (issued July 2014), IFRS 16 Leases (issued January 2016), IFRS 17 Insurance Contracts (issued May 2017), Amendments to References to the Conceptual Framework in IFRS Standards (issued March 2018) and Definition of Material (Amendments to IAS 1 and IAS 8) (issued October 2018).

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