7 Positives for the UK Startup Scene from the Autumn Budget

Yesterday the Chancellor unveiled his budget plan for the UK.

The main headline was that we can expect slow growth (around 2%) for the next few years. And that Brexit seemed to be the principal cause of this. A gloomy budget indeed.

But, as ever, even in the murkiest river a nugget of gold can be found. With a little sifting, I’ve found some positive news for us spirited folk on the startup scene.

The sifting was very boring. I’ve tried to set out my findings as clearly as possible. So, you can enjoy the gold without getting your feet wet! You’re welcome.

The Treasury conducted a survey called ‘Patient Capital Review’ which set out to consider how to support innovative firms in getting funding and achieving scale. The conclusions drawn are positive and will be a boon for early-stage companies over the next 10 years.

These conclusions resulted in an ‘Action Plan’ in the budget which aims to unlock £20bn over the next 10 years to support growth in innovative firms.

The main points are as follows:

1. Tax Breaks (EIS & VCT)

– EIS allowance for people investing in ‘knowledge-intensive companies’ will double from £1m to £2m each year.
– ‘Knowledge-intensive companies’ can receive twice as much EIS & VCT investment each year. That’s a move from £5m to £10m.

(Check out a previous post for more info on the benefits of EIS.)
SEIS & EIS budget
Result: An estimated extra £7bn of investment.

2. Government-backed Co-investment Fund

– A £2.5bn Investment Fund incubated in the British Business Bank will be established to co-invest with the private sector.
Result: An estimated extra £7.5bn of investment.

3. Backing Fund of Funds

– The British Business Bank will invest in a series of private sector fund of funds.
Result: An estimated £4bn of investment will be unlocked.

4. Backing Fund Managers

– The British Business Bank will continue to back new and existing fund managers through its existing Enterprise Capital Fund.
Result: An estimated extra £1.5bn of investment.

5. Backing overseas investment into UK

– The Department of International Trade will support overseas venture capital into the UK.
Result: An estimated extra £1bn of investment.

6. Support for Regional Investment

– The British Business Bank will establish new investment programmes to support business angel groups outside of London. This will complement existing programmes like the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund and the Midlands Engine Investment Fund.
– £21m is budgeted to expand Tech City UK’s reach across more regions.
Result: Unlocking of investment potential outside of the London hub.

tech city uk budget (1)

7. Other

– British Business Bank to investigate supporting Women Entrepreneurs getting access to equity investment
– £2.3bn increase in R&D spending
– £1m Games Fund to support video game development
– Helping Pension Funds invest in innovative firms
– Qualification for Entrepreneurs’ Relief will no longer de-incentivize accepting external investment

I hope all that makes sense.

It’s pleasing to see that, in difficult times, the government recognises the importance of supporting the innovation sector as a key driver of our economy.

If you want more detail on this Action Plan in the budget, I’ll be at the UKBAA National Investment Summit on 28th November. Keith Morgan CEO of British Business Bank will be leading the discussion on the Chancellor’s proposals.

You can get tickets here

Hope to see you there!

SEIS and EIS Tax Relief Explained with a little help from Star Wars…

SEIS and EIS are the given acronyms for the generous tax breaks the UK government offers to investors in startup companies. (Seed) Enterprise Investment Scheme. The company must be UK registered and meet certain eligibility requirements. Eligibility is a great way to incentivize investors because it reduces their risk. Dramatically.

As it’s May the 4th. As in May the Fourth be with you. As in Star Wars Day. I thought it appropriate to share an article I wrote explaining the benefits of SEIS and EIS with a few lame Star Wars puns thrown in. You know, to keep it, well, Light.

**This article is relevant for companies registered in the UK only. However, companies registered outside of the UK may find it useful as there may be similar tax breaks offered by their local government.**

What are SEIS & EIS Tax breaks?

Investing in startup companies is generally much riskier than buying shares in much larger more established companies, although the returns are potentially much larger. As a means of offsetting this risk for investors and thereby incentivising them to invest, the UK government offers two attractive tax breaks known as SEIS and EIS (the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme; and its parent the Enterprise Investment Scheme).

The tax breaks are very generous to investors and have been instrumental in helping the startup industry grow in the UK. As a result, investors now place high value on companies that have qualified for SEIS & EIS.

Because of this, we recommend that all UK companies raising through our platform seek ‘advanced assurance’ for SEIS/EIS if they think they will qualify. As a general rule, if you consider your company early stage then you probably qualify for both, or at least EIS.

What’s SEIS?

HMRC gives the following overview:

“…[SEIS] is designed to help small, early-stage companies raise equity finance by offering tax reliefs to individual investors who purchase new shares in those companies.”

Startups who qualify will be eligible to offer up to £150,000 in SEIS shares to investors.

What are the principal benefits for investors?

  • SEIS is incredibly generous and investors will get 50% tax relief per tax year on investments up to £100,000. (Relief is given each year, but the shares must be held for at least 3 years)
  • Investors will also get Capital gains exemption on the disposal of assets
  • There is a ‘carry back’ facility which allows investors to treat shares as if they were acquired in the previous tax year. Hence the relief can be claimed for the tax year before the investment.

Example:

Angel Investor Skywalker invests £100,000 into ‘Force for Good’, a ground-breaking social enterprise startup which qualifies for SEIS. For the given tax year, Skywalker has a tax liability of £50,000. Because of his SEIS shares he gets 50% of the value of his investment in relief, so £50,000.

This means he pays £0 in tax rather than the £50,000 he owes in tax. This situation is irrespective of how well the company does.

If the company does well, Skywalker would also qualify for exemption from Capital Gains tax (up to £100,000) on the profit provided it is reinvested.

If the company folds, Skywalker will still receive his £50,000 in tax relief meaning only half his initial investment of £100,000 is at risk. When the company folds, he will also be given loss relief of 45% of the ‘at risk’ capital. 45% of £50,000 is £22,500.

So if the company folds, Skywalker will only have lost £27,500 even though he invested £100,000. That’s relief of 72.5%!
SEIS

Does your company qualify?

N.B. These tax breaks are only available to UK based companies; investors do not need to be UK resident but must have some UK tax liability against which to set the tax relief.

For a company to qualify for the SEIS scheme it must meet a number of qualification tests. The list below is not comprehensive as the rules in place are often quite detailed and nuanced, but it gives a helpful, broad picture:

  • Permanent UK Base- your company must have a permanent UK office or the owner must be a UK resident. This must remain the case for three years from when SEIS shares are issued.
  • Your company must not be listed on the stock exchange at the time the SEIS shares are issued.
  • Your company must have fewer than 25 full-time employees at the time the SEIS shares are issued.
  • The gross assets must not exceed £200k at the time the SEIS shares are issued.
  • Your company must be early stage in that it must not be continuing a trade that is more than two years old at the time the SEIS shares are issued.
  • Your company must not have raised money through EIS or VCT schemes in the three years prior to the SEIS share issue.
  • The funds raised must be spent within three years.
  • Your company must be independent i.e. it must not be controlled by any other company or anyone associated with that company.
  • Your company must not be a member of a partnership

To get formal approval of SEIS eligibility you need to fill out an SEIS1 form and send it to HMRC. Download the form and the notes here.

EIS

What’s EIS?

EIS is the parent of SEIS. The principle is the same – to encourage investors to invest in early stage companies by offering them a generous tax break based on the sum they invest.

When the scheme was launched in 1993 the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Michael Portillo, said;

“The purpose of Enterprise Investment Schemes is to recognise that unquoted trading companies can often face considerable difficulties in realising relatively small amounts of share capital. The new scheme is intended to provide a well-targeted means for some of those problems to be overcome.”

EIS is less generous in terms of relief but it is easier for companies to qualify for and there is a larger quota available for eligible companies to offer investors. 

Startups are able to offer up to £2,000,000 in EIS shares.

What are the benefits for investors?

  • Can invest up to £1,000,000 a year in EIS shares.
  • Investors will get 30% tax relief per tax year
  • Any gain is exempt from Capital Gains tax provided the shares have been held for at least 3 years.
  • Loss relief via tax liability upon disposal of shares for a loss
  • Capital gains tax on assets can be deferred if the gain is re-invested in EIS shares
  • ‘Carry back’ facility so the shares can act as tax relief for the previous tax year

Example:

Angel Investor Vader invests £100,000 into ‘Death Star Inc’, a highly disruptive Fintech startup which qualifies for EIS. 

For the given tax year, Vader has a tax liability of £50,000. Because of his EIS shares he gets 30% of the value of his investment in relief, so £30,000. This means he pays £20,000 in tax rather than the £50,000 he owes in tax. This situation is irrespective of how well the company does.

If the company folds, Vader will still receive his £30,000 in tax relief meaning only £70,000 of his initial investment is at risk. When the company folds, he will also be given loss relief of 45% of the ‘at risk’ capital. 45% of £70,000 is £31,500.

So if the company folds, Vader will only have lost £38,500 even though he invested £100,000. That’s relief of 61.5%!

Does your company qualify?

To qualify for EIS your company must satisfy the following criteria:

  • Permanent UK Base- your company must have a permanent UK office or the owner must be a UK resident. This must remain the case for three years from when EIS shares are issued.
  • Your company must not be listed on the stock exchange at the time the EIS shares are issued.
  • Your company must have fewer than 250 full-time employees at the time the EIS shares are issued.
  • The gross assets must not exceed £15 million at the time the EIS shares are issued.
  • The funds raised must be spent within three years.
  • Your company must be independent i.e. it must not be controlled by any other company or anyone associated with that company.
  • Your company must not be a member of a partnership

The full criteria and guidance on how to apply for advanced assurance can be found here on the HMRC website here.

SEIS-EIS

Summary:

If you’re an early stage company registered in the UK and you’re raising money, you really should get advanced assurance for both SEIS and EIS. It can seem a little complicated, but in effect, all you need to do is submit the correct forms to HMRC and let them work out if you qualify.

You can be sure that all your competitors will be doing it – investors are far more likely to invest in an early stage company if they have the guaranteed risk mitigation that SEIS and EIS offer.

This article was originally written by Oliver Jones for Angel Investment Network‘s Learn centre. You can view the original and other similar articles covering all topics related to startup fundraising and investment here.