There are many reasons why investors in the UK decide to support businesses in their growth plans, be this exclusively philanthropic for the impact this can bring or purely for financial return. However, most are looking for something in between, and to aid this one of the strategies employed is investing in a tax efficient way into high growth SMEs.
This approach allows an investor to support the next generation of exciting, British businesses while mitigating some of the risk through the use of tax efficient incentives and reliefs. This also allows for a greater upside benefit, particularly when the return is compared to the net investment outlay.
There are a number of ways that investors can invest tax efficiently, each with their own focus and benefits, giving investors the ability to choose an approach that best suits their priorities and personal circumstances.
And on the highest of levels, these investment choices can be divided into five main ways.
1. Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs)
Individual Savings Accounts, or ISAs, will almost certainly be the most widely recognised investment method on this list. Introduced in 1999, the term ISA now accounts for a family of products that are available to all savers in the UK and allow them to benefit from a number of reliefs, with the two products that will be recognised by most of the UK being a basic cash ISA or Stocks and Shares ISA.
Capital invested into a ISA is allowed to grow in a tax free environment, meaning that any income, be that interest for Cash ISAs or dividends or capital growth for S&S ISAs will be exempt from the respective taxes.
For investors the S&S ISA allows them to save and use their capital to back companies while potentially making a better return than through other saving products and even Cash ISAs while saving the tax that would normally be owed.
When they were introduced these were one of the most attractive ways for general savers to invest their capital for tax efficiency. This lead to ISAs becoming a leading product for most households, with 40% holding an ISA and only current accounts being held by a greater proportion (93%).
However, with historically low interest rates leading to low returns on Cash ISAs and the introduction of the Personal Savings Allowance, ISAs are in many ways less attractive than they once were, with investors able to save in non-ISA products and still not be required to pay tax.
The next - hopefully - well known way to invest in a tax efficient way is through pensions. Pension contributions up to the annual allowance of £40,000 - or 100% of your income if lower - can be made with tax relief at your prevailing rate of income tax. This allowance tapers over £150,000, reducing by £1 for every £2 over the £150,000. The effect of this is that contributions are effectively tax free up to your annual allowance.
Your pension pot is allowed to grow in a tax free environment, so as with ISAs, once you have paid into a pension scheme this amount can be invested into allowable assets, which can provide an income or growth without needing to pay tax.
Self-Invested Personal Pensions (SIPPs) and Small Self-Administered Schemes (SSASs) are pension wrappers designed for business owners that that are controlled by the scheme beneficiaries and allow the members to invest into a wide variety of assets to achieve growth in their investment.
As with all pension schemes, they provide tax relief at the prevailing rate of income tax meaning that a £100 contribution would cost a basic rate taxpayer £80 and an additional rate taxpayer £55. Any gain made from investments through these schemes will be free of capital gains, meaning any shares in the pension can achieve a growth without any risk of paying capital gains when they are sold.
Venture Capital Schemes
For regular readers of our content, you will be familiar with two of the members of this family of tax efficient investment schemes - the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) - as well as having some knowledge of the third, Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs). This group of schemes all offer similar tax reliefs and structures and are designed for tax efficient investment into early stage businesses to promote growth in the next generation of exciting and innovative British businesses.
There are a few ways that investors can use the EIS and SEIS, and the approach used by each investor will vary depending on a number of factors including the amount to be invested and their aversion to risk. Experienced high net worth investors or angels may be happier investing directly into a company and taking an active role, but on the other side, someone new to investing or only looking to invest smaller amounts may prefer to group together with a large group of investors with equity crowdfunding, and may use an online platform to invest.
3. Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS)
The first of the Venture Capital Schemes, EIS was created as the successor to the Business Expansion Scheme in 1994 and is designed to promote investment into unlisted early-stage businesses. While the scheme has undergone a number of changes over the years the main goal has remained and the scheme has been successful in ensuring a steady stream of capital to the businesses that need it the most, with over £16.2 billion of funds raised up to October 2017.
This offers investors the ability to back unlisted businesses, which generally represent higher risk due to their early stage and lack of liquidity. This is offset by a raft of tax reliefs, including the headline income tax relief of 30% on the value of your investment, as well as capital gains deferral on invested gains and exemption on growth achieved. To further mitigate the risk, EIS shares are eligible for loss relief on the net invested amount if the investment doesn't produce a return, potentially reducing the total exposure to 38.5%.
4. Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS)
The younger sibling of the EIS, SEIS was launched in 2012 to cater for the earliest of all businesses seeking investment. This scheme provides support for the first £150,000 of external equity capital a business raises within its first two years of trading. By October 2017, SEIS had helped 6,665 companies raise over £621 million of investment and provides attractive incentives to investors for investing into these earliest stage businesses.
Representing this highest level of risk for investors, the SEIS tax reliefs are similar, to but greater than, those of EIS, with 50% income tax relief upfront and reinvestment relief that allows investors to reclaim 50% relief on a reinvested gain. These, along with the similar capital gains exemption on disposal and loss relief, ensure a potential total exposure as low as 13.5%. However, it should be stressed that these are the earliest of the early businesses and are therefore the riskiest, with limited liquidity and a potentially long wait to an exit, if any.
5. Venture Capital Trusts
More of a cousin than sibling to the enterprise schemes, VCTs take a slightly different structure for investment and allow a wider range of companies, though the reliefs can be similar to the two schemes.
Launched in 1994, shortly after EIS, a VCT is a listed company in its own right that pools investment to then distribute to build a managed portfolio of investments into eligible companies. Being a managed investment structure, the VCT will hold a diverse portfolio of investments into early stage unlisted and AIM listed businesses on behalf of the investors.
As this structure allows investment into slightly later stage businesses, the reliefs offered are slightly less generous, but this represents the reduced risk profile of these companies. Income tax relief of 30% can be claimed upfront and the dividends paid are not subject to income tax without affecting your dividend allowance for the year. Similarly, the growth that is achieved is not subject to capital gains tax, however the loss relief offered through the more risk-focused investments is not available for this managed approach.
While VCTs are always a managed approach to tax efficient investing, both SEIS and EIS offer a choice of managed or direct investment. Both of these usually require the investor to choose how they invest and to carefully assess each opportunity as part of their due diligence. However, for investors who wish to have their investment managed there are SEIS and EIS funds available from many firms.
As the name suggests these funds invest solely in eligible companies and all contributions into the fund provide the same tax reliefs to the investor as if they had invested directly, including income tax relief and capital gains exemption on sale. However, as you would expect the managed approach attracts fees from the managing company, usually both at the point of investment and annually, which can sometimes be a significant amount over the lifetime of the investment.
These three approaches have their own limits, both in terms of holding time (5 years for VCTs and 3 years for SEIS or EIS), and the amount that can be invested in each (£200,000 for VCTs, £100,000 for SEIS and for EIS, this is more complex - there's an annual limit of £1,000,000 each year, but a further £1,000,000 can be invested if this additional amount is into a knowledge intensive company).
Making a tax efficient investment
As you can see there are a number of ways to invest for tax efficient purposes, which offers a wide range of choice for investors, giving them the ability to make a choice suited to their own preferences and priorities. This means that investors, no matter on the amount they are looking to invest or whether they are working primarily for return or impact, are able to do so in a tax efficient way, providing them with greater opportunity for return and mitigated risk.