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Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS)

Enterprise Investment Schemes are investment opportunities for individuals looking to invest in unlisted companies.

EIS was launched by the Government in 1994 to help smaller higher-risk trading companies to raise finance  i.e. companies whose shares, stocks, debentures or other securities are not available to be bought or sold publicly.  Investors were, and still are, incentivised to make an investment in return for a range of impressive tax breaks.

How is an EIS structured?

Investors buy shares directly in EIS qualifying companies. To qualify for EIS status, companies must be unquoted or listed on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) or PLUS markets.  Investors are free to either source attractive businesses for direct investment themselves or use a third party investment intermediary. Such intermediaries have the expertise to source a selection of EIS qualifying companies, often marketing EIS as a ‘product’. Investors who want to invest in this product then deposit funds with the intermediary who in turn will then purchase shares in the actual companies on the investors’ behalf.

The intermediary will issue a prospectus explain the background to the EIS opportunity, the individual companies involved, the rationale behind the investment ideas and the potential returns that may be achieved.

What are the tax benefits?

  • Income Tax relief at 30%

Immediate relief is available on a maximum investment of £1,000,000; it is possible to use ‘carry back’ allowing all or part of the cost of the shares acquired in one tax year, to be treated as though those shares had been acquired in the preceding tax year. It is therefore possible to engineer a tax reduction of up to £300,000 in any one given year.

  • Business Property Relief (BPR)

BPR is available after two years of investment; effectively means that the money, if held until death, falls outside of the owner’s estate on death

  • Capital Gains Tax deferral

Deferral allows the gains made on a disposal to remain deferred for the life of the investment

  • No Capital Gains Tax

If held for the full three years, there is no CGT on the sale of the shares

  • Loss relief

Loss relief can be used above and beyond the income tax relief granted

NB: The Budget on 22 June 2010 announced that after that date it is no longer possible to defer gains under EIS, and at the same time for them to qualify for Entrepreneur’s Relief.

What are the risks?

Primarily there are two main risks associated with EIS investment:

Investment Risk

You can lose all or some of your invested money. By buying shares in small or start-up companies an individual faces much greater risk than investing in their more established mature counterparts.

An EIS intermediary will try to mitigate this risk by:

  • Spreading investor’s money across a number of different companies.
  • Investing in more mature or lower risk businesses or those that own real assets e.g. property.
  • Selecting the companies carefully and follow a rigorous process of due diligence.

Liquidity Risk

There may not be a market to sell your EIS shares. An investor must retain his EIS shares for a minimum of 3 years to keep the 30% income tax relief given.  The second hand market for these shares may be limited especially as the income tax relief is not given to the purchaser.

EIS intermediaries will try to mitigate this risk by:

  • Offering to buy back their own shares.
  • Structuring the EIS as a planned exit or limited life offering.

What approaches to EIS investment are there?

  • Single Company EIS

An investment in a single company that has successfully been approved for EIS status is at the most risky end of the EIS scale

  • Portfolio of EIS companies

A portfolio approach sees a manager or intermediary create a portfolio of EIS approved companies.

  • Approved EIS funds

Approved EIS funds have had their business strategy reviewed by HMRC, this is no guarantee that this type of EIS is even safer than other types of EIS.  With this kind of EIS there are some different timing consequences around the prevailing tax perks offered through the EIS

Summary

EIS investment is high risk and should rarely if ever form a large portion of an individual’s investment portfolio.  Whilst the tax benefits of EIS investment are attractive, the tax incentives alone should not be the sole reason to make an investment.

EIS investments should be used to complement other more mainstream investments via open ended tax structures and should normally only be considered when other tax allowances have been used up.