16 August 2018

VCT’s and EIS’s – Another planning option for high earners?

News & Insights

Rick Gosling

Our previous blog in May 2018 explored the Tapered Annual Allowance and how subject to certain criteria, the annual pension allowance on which you receive tax relief may be reduced (to a minimum of £10,000) for those earning over £150,000. For those who have already managed to build up sizeable pension pots, the lifetime allowance currently stands at £1.03m (due to increase in line with inflation) and any excess over this figure will incur tax when tested that could negate the benefits of making pension contributions.

We are therefore seeing increasing numbers of clients who have maximised their pension contributions and have significant excess income with which they can look to use other allowances.

The first step would be to review your goals and ensure that any relevant ISA allowances, Junior ISA allowances or pension contributions for spouses and/or children are made. Unwrapped portfolios and other tax wrappers such as investment bonds may also meet the needs of many clients and should be considered at this point. Further details on the current tax year’s allowances can be found here

However, for those individuals who have made use of their relevant allowances and are looking for further opportunities for tax efficient investments, Venture Capital Trusts (VCT) and Enterprise Investment Schemes (EIS)/Seed Enterprise Investment Schemes (SEIS) offer some attractive headline reliefs.

These products are a government sanctioned venture capital schemes designed to encourage investment in small companies that are not listed on a recognised stock exchange. Both VCTs and EISs are considered high risk ventures and therefore are only suitable for a small number of investors.

The key difference in terms of the actual structure of the schemes is that a VCT is a listed fund, whereas an EIS scheme is not. In theory this means that VCTs are the more liquid product as you could simply sell the shares, whereas with an EIS you must wait for an exit opportunity (stock market floatation, management buy-out, trade sale etc.) to realise the investments. However, in practice VCTs can often be illiquid and trade at a discount to their net asset value (NAV).

Venture Capital Trusts (when purchased as new shares)

  • Income Tax relief at the rate of 30% on the amount subscribed for the shares, up to a £200,000 subscription limit in a tax year as long as they are held for at least 5 years.
  • Exemption from Income Tax on dividends.
  • Exemption from Capital Gains Tax (CGT) on disposal of the shares.

Enterprise Investment Schemes

  • Income Tax relief at the rate of 30% on the amount subscribed for the shares, up to a £1,000,000 subscription limit in a tax year as long as they are held for at least 3 years. The Income Tax relief can be carried back to the previous tax year.
  • Exemption from CGT on disposal of the shares if they are held for at least 3 years.
  • If shares are sold at a loss, you can elect that the amount of the loss (less any I.T. relief) can be set against income rather than CGs.
  • The payment of tax on a capital gain can be deferred when the gain is invested in EIS shares/fund. The investment must be made up to 1 year prior or 3 years after the gain arose. There is no minimum period, the deferred CG is brought back into charge when the shares are disposed of.
  • Shares do not form part of the estate for Inheritance Tax purposes, provided the investments have been held for at least 2 years at time of death and the company qualifies for Business Property Relief (“BPR”).

Seed Enterprise Investment Schemes

SEIS’s share a lot of the same reliefs as regular EIS’s, however have some exceptions where they are more generous, reflecting the increased risk of investing in smaller companies. The main differences are:

  • The Income Tax relief is at a rate of 50% (rather than 30%) on the amount subscribed for the shares, however SEIS has a reduced subscription limit of £100,000 in a tax year.
  • Rather than deferring a capital gain as is the case with EIS’s, a Capital Gain can be made wholly exempt from tax if it is invested in SEIS shares/fund. An investor can qualify for CGT relief on 50% of the investment, up to the subscription limit of £100,00 (i.e. maximum relief of £50,000).

Whilst both VCT and EIS products both benefit from 30% income tax relief, they have significantly different structures and benefits, which will need to be carefully assessed against a client’s needs and objectives. VCT’s offer tax-free income in the form of dividends which can be a useful top up to an existing income. However, the larger investment limit of £1m, Capital Gains Tax deferral, ability to set losses against income and potential BPR qualifying status of EIS can make it an attractive option. It’s therefore important to assess whether additional income, CGT planning or estate planning is more important. The products can be considered to be complementary and for some clients, a combination of EIS and VCT might be a potential solution.

As with any investment, ensuring that the underlying securities are of a suitable quality is the main priority. Changes were made to the EIS legislation in 2015, tightening the definitions of qualifying companies by introducing rules which stated EIS only applied to companies that had been trading for 7 years, amongst other. Furthermore, HMRC has recently introduced a ‘capital preservation purpose test’ which aims to weed out those schemes which are simply low-risk tax shelters and ensure that there is an actual risk to capital. It’s important to understand the legislative risk of these schemes (i.e. a company becoming non-qualifying and therefore reliefs being lost) and we would only recommend those schemes which are investing in the true spirit of the legislation by investing in genuine growth businesses.

The nature of VCT and EIS investments means that an investor will be exposed to smaller companies and therefore a higher level of risk than, for example, a fund of large cap equities. Whilst some of the risk of a drop in capital value will be offset by the initial tax reliefs, we would generally look at these products only for investors who a comfortable with the possibility of a 100% loss of the invested capital.

This blog has only briefly touched on the subject matter, VCT and in particular EIS schemes can involve some complex planning and it’s therefore essential that you seek advice before considering investing. Not all schemes are of equal quality and the experience, financial stability and diligence of the scheme/trust manager is extremely important. At Five Wealth we review the whole marketplace in order to recommend the best quality schemes. If you would like to discuss the content of this blog or would like any further information about VCT and EIS products, please contact us.

Levels, bases of and reliefs from taxation may be subject to change and their value depends on the individual circumstances of the investor. Tax relief depend on scheme maintain their qualifying HMRC structure.