Newsletter Spring 2017

Don't ERr in your claim

Entrepreneurs’ Relief (ER) has been with us for many years and provides a valuable relief – only a 10% rate of capital gains tax on lifetime gains of up to £10 million. However, as with everything in the world of tax, there are always niceties to be observed in order to ensure that you qualify for ER.

HMRC have been criticised by Parliament for not checking enough ER claims and it appears that HMRC are now examining claims more closely. The main area which HMRC seem to be focussing on is ER claims on share disposals. Briefly, ER will apply to gains on disposals of shares in a trading company (or the holding company of a trading group) provided that the individual making the disposal:

  • has been an officer or employee of the company, or of a company in the same group of companies, and
  • owns at least 5% of the ordinary share capital of the company and that holding enables the individual to exercise at least 5% of the voting rights in that company.

These two conditions must be satisfied throughout the year leading up to the disposal of the shares.

Two recent Tax Tribunal cases illustrate the dangers of failing to meet these criteria.

In the first, the company concerned was formed in 1995 and the taxpayer was one of the founding shareholders and directors. In 2009 it was agreed that the company would purchase the majority of the taxpayer’s shares. Provided certain conditions are satisfied such a transaction will be treated as equivalent to a sale of the shares by the shareholder and thus be treated as a capital gain.

It was also agreed that the taxpayer’s employment would be terminated and that he would resign as a director. In May 2009 a general meeting approved the share buy-back. However, all the documents suggested that the employment had terminated as at February 2009. After opening an enquiry HMRC concluded that the taxpayer was not, throughout the period of one year ending with the disposal of his shareholding, either an officer or employee of the company and this was upheld by the Tribunal.

In the second case, two couples owned a company equally. The couple concerned owned 33% of the shares, with the balance being owned by the second couple, so at this stage they clearly met the 5% test. However, the problem arose when a loan of £30,000 by the other shareholders was converted into 30,000 new shares.

HMRC argued that the taxpayers had not, throughout the period of one year ending with the date of the share sale, held at least 5% of the ordinary share capital of the company. This was because during part of that one year period, the ordinary share capital had included the 30,000 new shares, so that each of the taxpayers had held only 33 of 30,033 £1 shares - far less than the 5% of the ordinary share capital required by the ER legislation.

The Tribunal was persuaded that the new shares were not ‘ordinary share capital’ and so the taxpayers were not caught by the 5% rule. However, HMRC do not agree and have appealed the case to a higher court.

Of course, if either of the above problems are identified pre-sale, a further ‘clean’ 12-month period can be completed but, in reality, this may be easier said than done. ER is important to many but if you are unsure as to your current position or are contemplating a disposal in the near future, please do get in touch so that we can check you qualify.