ACCA - The global body for professional accountants

David Harrowven considers the current tax planning options available to the main body of UK shareholders

Studying this technical article and answering the related questions can count towards your verifiable CPD if you are following the unit route to CPD and the content is relevant to your learning and development needs. One hour of learning equates to one unit of CPD. We'd suggest that you use this as a guide when allocating yourself CPD units.

With quoted shares and securities (and also unit trusts and OEICs) there is more scope for CGT tax planning than there is with most other chargeable assets. This is because it is easy to sell or gift the exact number of shares required to arrive at a particular chargeable gain or capital loss. Other assets, such as unquoted shares, are more difficult to sell, and with assets such as land and property it is not generally practical to dispose of just part of the asset in order to achieve a gain equivalent to, say, the annual exempt amount.

The introduction of the 28 percent higher rate of CGT from 2010 means that there are now more tax planning possibilities than was previously the case with just a flat rate of 18 percent. There are several million shareholders in the UK, and many of these will have built up portfolios of sufficient size to benefit from the type of planning outlined in this article. The article is aimed at investors with portfolios in the GBP50,000 to GBP250,000 range, and for such investors more advanced tax planning, such as the use of trusts, is probably not a realistic option.

Avoiding CGT altogether

The easiest way to avoid CGT is to build up a portfolio by using stocks and shares ISAs, since chargeable gains will be tax free. However, such a strategy will be constrained by the annual investment limit (currently GBP11,520), and it is not possible to transfer existing shareholdings into an ISA since subscriptions must normally be in cash.

If a share portfolio is retained until death then the shares will be completely exempt from CGT - and therefore there is no need for any CGT planning. However, people may have to sell shares later in life to top up their pension and investment income, whilst many other investors prefer to actively trade shares rather than just retaining the same portfolio.

Such an approach must also be balanced against the possible inheritance tax implications. Although retaining a share portfolio until death will avoid CGT, such an approach may not be beneficial where the value of the portfolio is high in relation to the amount of chargeable gains. For example, a person has a share portfolio valued at GBP200,000 with potential chargeable gains of GBP50,000. Retaining the portfolio until death will result in a maximum CGT saving of GBP14,000 (GBP50,000 at 28 percent), but the inheritance tax cost could be GBP80,000 (GBP200,000 at 40 percent).

It is also possible to avoid CGT by becoming non-UK resident, although it is necessary to be non-resident for at least five tax years. Obviously, such tax planning is not appropriate for people with the modest share portfolios being discussed here, but if someone is already planning to retire overseas it would make sense to delay disposals until after they have left the UK - this assumes that the gains will not be taxed in the new country of residence.

Deferring gains

The only relief that is likely to be available is reinvestment relief as a result of investing in shares that qualify for the enterprise investment scheme. Such an investment is probably too risky for our investor, but it might be appropriate where an investor is investing in their own company (for reinvestment relief, it does not matter if the investor is connected with the company). It is not particularly difficult for a company to become an enterprise investment scheme company (simply complete form EIS1), and the main restriction will be that certain types of trade are excluded.

The investment must be made within a period starting one year before and ending three years after the date of the disposal. It is only necessary to reinvest the amount of chargeable gains in order to obtain full deferral, and there is no upper limit to the amount of gains that can be deferred. Gains are only deferred until the enterprise investment scheme shares are disposed of, but if the shares are held until death the deferred gains will then be exempt.

There is also the option of investing up to GBP100,000 per year in shares that qualify for the seed enterprise investment scheme, although this is not appropriate for someone investing in their own company. For 2013-14, an investment provides 50 percent exemption for reinvested chargeable gains plus income tax relief at the rate of 50 percent.

The total potential tax relief of 64 percent (50 percent + (half of the higher CGT rate of 28 percent) might therefore make such an investment attractive despite the risk of investing in very small companies. An investment can be treated as being made in the previous tax year, so it's still possible to exempt gains made during 2012-13. In this case, 100 percent of the reinvested gains will be exempt - the total tax relief is then 78 percent (50 percent + 28 percent).

Basic tax planning

There are three main aspects to basic CGT planning.

Firstly, maximise the benefit of the annual exempt amount - currently GBP10,900. This can be achieved by making sufficient disposals each tax year so that chargeable gains are at least GBP10,900.

Secondly, where CGT will be payable, then (all other things being equal) delay a disposal until the start of the following tax year, since the due date will then be one year later. For example, for a disposal made on 4 April 2014 the due date will be 31 January 2015, but for a disposal made on 6 April 2014 it will be 31 January 2016.

And lastly, minimise the rate of CGT by making disposals during a tax year when an investor has some of his or her basic rate tax band available. Chargeable gains are taxed at the lower rate of 18 percent where they fall within the basic rate tax band (currently GBP32,010), and at the higher rate of 28 percent where they exceed this threshold. There are several relevant points here:

  • Where an investor's taxable income is consistently below GBP32,010 then disposals could be spread over several years so that CGT is at 18 percent instead of 28 percent. This strategy also fits in with utilising the annual exempt amount.
  • The basic rate band is extended if a person makes personal pension contributions. Therefore matching disposals and pension contributions to the same tax year could reduce the rate of CGT payable.
  • Some investors may have fluctuating taxable income. It could be because a self-employed person makes a loss, or because an employee is posted overseas for a year (with their earnings being outside the UK tax net). In such a year all or most of a person's basic rate tax band might be available, so it will be a good time to make disposals. Directors of owner-managed companies that withdraw profits mainly by way of dividends could forego dividends for one year to achieve the same result.
  • Similarly, a self-employed person could aim to make disposals in the same year that they incur expenditure qualifying for the 100 percent annual investment allowance - thus reducing their taxable profits.

For example, over the next 12 months an investor wishes to make disposals of shares which will result in chargeable gains totally GBP60,000. The investor's annual taxable income is GBP17,500. If the disposals are made entirely in the current tax year then the CGT liability will be as follows:

Table 1

         £
Chargeable gains60,000
Annual exempt amount (10,900)
________
 49,100
________
CGT 14,510 (32,010 - 17,500) at 18%2,612
         34,590 (49,100 - 14,510) at 28%9,685
________
 12,297
________


Spreading the disposals over this and the next tax year will reduce the total CGT to GBP7,781 (using the figures already announced for 2014-15), and also delay the payment of some of the liability by one year.

Table 2

 This year   Next year
 ££
Chargeable gains25,41034,590
Annual exempt amount(10,900)
________

(11,000)

________

 

14,510

________

23,590

________

CGT at 18%2,6122,586
         at 28%Nil
________

2,583

________

 2,612
________
5,169
________


Married couples and civil partners

For married couples and civil partners the basic tax planning outlined above can be extended further. Prior to their disposal, shareholdings can be transferred to a spouse or civil partner if that person has some of their annual exempt amount or basic rate tax band available. Alternatively, shareholdings could be in joint names.

If one spouse (or civil partner) is a higher rate taxpayer, and the other has little or no income, the potential CGT saving each tax year is GBP6,253 ((GBP10,900 at 28 percent) + (GBP32,010 at 10 percent (28 percent - 18 percent))).

Bed and breakfasting

Bed and breakfasting is the simple procedure of selling (bedding) shares at the close of business one day and then buying (breakfasting) them back at the opening of business the following day. Such a practice means that a chargeable gain can be realised in order to make use of the annual exempt amount, or a capital loss can be established. Although bed and breakfasting is prevented by matching disposals with shares purchased within the following 30 days, there are still ways in which a similar result can be achieved:

  • Shares can be sold and bought, but the two transactions must be at least 30 days apart - the investor will therefore be exposed to real price movements.
  • By making use of an ISA - shares are sold as normal, but the matching acquisition is then made within an ISA. Given the ISA investment limits this approach obviously has limited scope.
  • The matching rules only apply where the same class of share in the same company is being sold and then reacquired. An investor is quite free to sell shares in one company and then to immediately acquire shares in another, similar, company. For example, if a shareholding in Lloyds TSB was sold it could be replaced by a similar value holding in Barclays, thus maintaining a broadly similar portfolio. If desired, the position could be reversed after 30 days so that the investor again holds shares in the original company.
  • Spouses or civil partners can jointly undertake a bed and breakfasting arrangement. For example, a wife could sell shares with the husband acquiring an equal number of shares in the same company. Overall the couple have maintained exactly the same share portfolio. Of course the shares must actually be sold and acquired - it is not sufficient to simply make a transfer between spouses as this would be ineffective for CGT purposes (being at no gain, no loss). If desired, the position could be reversed after 30 days by making a transfer of the shares back to the spouse or civil partner that originally held them. A similar type of strategy could be followed by unmarried couples living together. Care must be taken to ensure that a bed and breakfasting arrangement of this nature is not invalidated by the capital loss targeted anti-avoidance rule.

Charges for these types of transaction are likely to be higher than for a traditional bed and breakfasting arrangement - the commission that used to be charged to arrange a bed and breakfasting deal was generally at a reduced rate.

Capital losses

Capital losses can only be set off against gains made in the same tax year or carried forward against future gains. Careful planning is necessary in order to make the best use of capital losses. The main problem is that capital losses of the same year have to be set against gains in full, with the result that the annual exempt amount may be wasted. In contrast, where capital losses are brought forward it is only necessary to offset sufficient losses to bring gains down to the level of the annual exempt amount.

For example, for 2013-14 an investor has chargeable gains of GBP10,000 and capital losses of GBP12,000. Although the gains are covered by the annual exempt amount, it is still necessary to offset GBP10,000 of the capital losses, leaving just GBP2,000 of losses to carry forward to 2014-15. The investor could have taken any of the following approaches to avoid this problem:

  • Further disposals could have been made during 2013-14 so that chargeable gains totalled at least GBP22,900. This would leave gains of GBP10,900 after offsetting the capital losses.
  • Postpone the disposals that resulted in the chargeable gains until 2014-15. The losses would then be carried forward in full to future tax years - unless further gains are made in 2014-15. Alternatively, the chargeable gains could have been incurred by a spouse or civil partner.
  • Postpone the disposals that resulted in the capital losses until 2014-15. The losses would then be carried forward in full. Alternatively, the capital losses could have been incurred by a spouse or civil partner.

Conclusion

Tax planning with quoted shares will often involve incurring transactions costs now in order to save CGT in the future. A broker's fees will start from around GBP10 per transaction, and there will also be stamp duty at the rate of 0.5 percent on the cost of shares purchased. These costs could easily mount up if dealing with a number of small shareholdings. However, the higher CGT rate of 28 percent is still relatively low compared to the higher and additional income rates of income tax of 40 percent and 45 percent, so it would not be surprising if the 28 percent rate increased in the future.

Last updated: 12 Sep 2014