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Tax opportunities for technology businesses and why it’s important to get them right

October 22, 2019

In recent years, successive governments have introduced or improved several tax incentives for early stage companies looking to scale up and grow. In an increasingly competitive international marketplace, they have recognised the benefit of encouraging innovative companies to build in the UK. This has included a focus on the technology sector.

In this article we consider the tax reliefs that are available for a growing technology business over its lifecycle, how useful they are, and what businesses need to do to ensure they can maximise the incentives available.

Effective tax planning can have a massive impact on the returns generated for a technology business and its shareholders.To understand and maximise the benefits, it is important that businesses receive appropriate advice.

Initial investment stage

The Enterprise Incentive Scheme (EIS) offers significant tax advantages to investors who make qualifying investments. This can entail immediate income tax relief worth 30% of the investment made.Alternatively, under the Seed Enterprise Scheme (SEIS),designed for investment into very early stage businesses, immediate income tax relief is worth 50% of the investment.

Companies can raise up to £5 million a year under EIS or £12 million in the company’s lifetime. The first EIS or other venture capital scheme investment needs to be made within seven years of the company’s first commercial sale. These limits are relaxed further for companies which are deemed to be knowledge intensive. Conversely, the SEIS investment limit of £200,000 is much smaller and this needs to be raised within two years of the commencement of trade.  

These schemes have undoubtedly played an important role in raising investment in scale up technology businesses, which commercially represent a high risk for investors. In 2017/18 £1.9 billion was raised under EIS and £20 billion in total since the scheme was first introduced.

Let’s imagine a scenario where an individual invests £1 million in an EIS qualifying technology business and then sells their shares three years later for three times the initial investment price.

The investor could receive a £300,000deduction against their income tax liability to use in the tax year of investment or the previous tax year and would then receive a £2 million gain tax free at the time of sale.

Even if the investment fails the tax reliefs available soften the blow. If the individual never saw their £1 million investment again, they could still get income tax relief worth up to 61.5% of their original investment.    

Despite its generosity the EIS regime is renowned for its complexity and HMRC is rigid in applying the rules and disqualifying the investment where the investor or company have accidentally breached them.

It is possible to gain an advance assurance from HMRC that the investment qualifies for the scheme at the time, and this is often key to attracting the initial investment. However, this is not the end of it.

Firstly, there are specific rules concerning how the share issue should be implemented, and HMRC have been known to look at this carefully. One key rule is that the investment cannot compose of a conversion of an existing loan. The company also needs to demonstrate that is has spent the funds within two years. It is recommended that separate bank accounts are maintained to evidence this. If the company becomes profitable in this time, it may otherwise be difficult to demonstrate that the EIS funds themselves have been spent.

The company then needs to ensure that the investment meets strict ongoing criteria, broadly for a continuous three-year period from the date of investment. This involves the monitoring of excluded activities, which include:

·      the provision of financial services

·       receiving royalties

·      receiving rental income.

Where a group has raised the investment such non-qualifying activities cannot be substantial (which HMRC deem to be 20% or more) and where the investee is a standalone company with a qualifying trade. Any other activities outside of this trade cannot be more than incidental (something which HMRC have indicated in correspondence is less than 1%).

Such a breach leads to a clawback of the income tax relief claimed, which can have serious repercussions for the investor/company relationship.

 

Still confused about tax opportunities and how to get them right? No worries, you can meet Stephen Hemmings and his team at our Nov 12th Investment Conference happening at Cocoon Global and get all your questions answered in person. While also learning from hot debates, pitching for funding& networking with top investors & growth support institutions keen to help your grow. Learn more and secure tickets here: https://bit.ly/33Nkwt1

 

WRITTEN BY: STEPHEN HEMMINGS

Stephen is a corporate tax partner at Menzies and head of the firm’s Technology sector group. HE was involved in launching the firm’s initiative focusing on high growth companies in theSilicon Roundabout area of London.

He has been advising owner-managed businesses and international groups on their tax affairs for over 10 years. In addition to assisting companies with their tax compliance matters and managing the risk that this entails, he enjoys providing practical and efficient guidance to his clients on their tax strategies.

This ranges from initial structuring advice to exit planning and he works closely with the Menzies Corporate Finance team on these matters and in respect of the tax due diligence side of transactions.

His everyday work includes helping clients maximise the tax efficiencies when incentivising employees, tax capital allowances on fixed assets and innovation tax reliefs such as research and development tax allowances.

Meet Stephen Hemmings and his team at our Nov 12th Investment Conference happening at Cocoon Global. Secure tickets here: https://bit.ly/33Nkwt1

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