Monthly Archives

September 2020

IHT disputes

Inheritance disputes

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More arguments about wills are reaching the High Court.

A recent report from the Ministry of Justice revealed that, last year in England and Wales, 188 cases involving contested wills were heard in the High Court, an increase of nearly 50% over the previous year. In practice that figure almost certainly understates quite how many disputes there are about wills and inheritances. The cost of going to court often encourages arguing parties to reach an agreement rather than see a slice of the estate – or their own funds – wasted on legal wrangling.

Challenges to wills can arise for a variety of reasons:

  • A co-habiting partner may find that they have been left out of their late partner’s will because it was not updated when the co-habitation began.
  • Children from previous relationships may feel they have been unfavourably treated relative to others born later.
  • An estranged child who is excluded from the will could attempt to make a claim for ‘reasonable financial provision’ under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
  • Disappointed beneficiaries might argue that the deceased lacked the mental capacity to make a will or was subject to undue external pressure.
  • The will may contain errors, a problem more likely to appear in DIY variants.

A common piece of advice is that if you think your will could be viewed as contentious for any reason, you should clearly set out the reasons for your decisions. Usually this would be done in a ‘letter of wishes’ that sits beside the will but is not itself a legal document. In an ideal world you would also explain your choice to the person(s) involved during your lifetime, but such discussions can be highly emotive, making them difficult or impossible.

The Covid-19 pandemic prompted a sudden interest in will writing and estate planning at a time when doing either was logistically problematic due to social distancing. It may also have resulted in some homemade wills that will reach the courts in years to come.

On 25 July the Ministry of Justice announced it would be amending the law in England and Wales to allow remote witnessing of wills by video link for a period of two years, with a retrospective start date of 31 January 2020. Wills made in Scotland are already able to be witnessed via video. Will writing and estate planning are best done with expert advice in an unrushed manner. But, as Covid-19 presented an unwelcome reminder, it does need to be done.

 

If you would like to speak with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS about writing a will, please get in touch here.

 

The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate tax advice or will writing. 

Man with calculator analysing reports

Who pays capital gains tax?

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HMRC has published some interesting research into capital gains tax (CGT).

Here are three CGT questions for you to ponder:

  1. How many individuals made enough capital gains in 2018/19 to face a CGT bill?

The answer is just 256,000, according to the latest provisional figures from HMRC – 9,000 fewer than in the previous tax year. Viewed another way, that is less than 1% of all income taxpayers. However, over the 10 years since 2008/09 the number of CGT payers has nearly doubled.

Now you know that individual CGT payers numbered only about a quarter of a million, try the next question…

  1. How much tax did they have to pay in total?

The answer is £8,805m, which is over £3,400m more than was collected in inheritance tax (IHT) in 2018/19. IHT and CGT are both capital taxes, often levied on the same asset, albeit usually at different times. Yet CGT attracts much less criticism than IHT, which has been rated as the UK’s most-hated tax.

With the information on how many taxpayers and how much tax was collected, the third question might look easy…

  1. What proportion of that £8,805m was paid by the top 5,000 CGT payers?

The top 5,000 – about 2% of all CGT payers – contributed 54.4% (£4,789m) of all CGT paid. They all had gains of at least £2,000,000. Expand the band a little and 18,000 individuals, with gains of at least £500,000, accounted for just under three-quarters of the CGT paid. The spread of gains and tax paid is shown in more detail in the pie chart below.

Share of CGT paid according to size of gain

The answers to these three questions highlight two points which give pause for thought, one for the Chancellor and the other for you as an investor:

  • As with some other personal taxes, the amount raised from a small number of the wealthiest individuals is a significant proportion of the total. This means that the results of increasing the tax rate(s) will heavily depend upon how those individuals react. If some of them decide not to realise their gains, the overall takings from this tax could fall rather than rise.
  • The annual CGT exemption is £12,300 in 2020/21. Investment returns that are received as capital gains are usually taxed more lightly than those received as income. The relatively small number of taxpayers is a reminder of the current generosity of the exemption.

 

If you are interested in discussing capital gains tax with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

 

The value of tax reliefs depends on your individual circumstances. Tax laws can change. The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate tax advice. The value of your investment and the income from it can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. 

ISA Investment

So much cash, so little interest…

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The latest statistics on ISAs have emerged, showing nearly £270bn is held in cash.

Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) reached their 20th birthday in April last year. Somewhat belatedly, HMRC has now issued ISA statistics up to April 2019. These reveal some surprising – and not so surprising – facts about ISAs:

  • Overall, ISA subscriptions in 2018/19 were almost a fifth lower than in 2014/15.
  • Cash ISAs accounted for 46% of all the value held in ISAs as at April 2019, despite the ultra-low interest rates on offer.
  • In 2018/19, 65% of all new ISA subscriptions were made to cash ISAs.
  • In the three years to April 2019, the amount of cash held in ISAs was virtually unchanged, suggesting that subscriptions and interest were just about matched by withdrawals.
  • Similarly, in the two years to April 2019, the total value of stocks and shares ISAs was down by 0.3%, also pointing to withdrawals matching investment returns plus fresh subscriptions.
  • Lifetime ISAs have not been a great success, accounting for less than 1% of all ISA subscriptions in 2018/19.

There are two good reasons why ISAs have waned in popularity:

  1. The personal savings allowance of up to £1,000, introduced in April 2016, combined with low interest rates means that many savers do not need a cash ISA to avoid paying tax on interest.
  2. The dividend allowance, introduced alongside the personal savings allowance, exempts £2,000 of dividends from tax, so for many investors in share-based funds, an ISA offers no income tax savings.

But ISAs still have an important role to play in financial planning, particularly if your investment income already exceeds your available allowances or you regularly use your capital gains tax (CGT) annual exemption (£12,300 in 2020/21).

In the past, the tax advantages of ISAs meant they were often regarded as buy-and-forget investments. If you have ISAs that fall into that category, blow the dust off them and take a look at how they are performing, or ask us to review them. Market-topping bonus interest rates and flavour-of-the-month funds can lose their attractions over the years.

If you are interested in discussing your options with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

 

The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. Investing in shares should be regarded as a long-term investment and should fit in with your overall attitude to risk and financial circumstances. The value of tax reliefs depends on your individual circumstances. Tax laws can change. The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate tax advice.

Signing a will

Trustees’ duties and powers when making investment decisions

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The role of a trustee is one that should not be entered into lightly, as it carries risks and responsibilities. Whether appointed as a trustee under a will or standing as a trustee of a trust established during an individual’s lifetime, there are specific duties that trustees must comply with.

In this article, we will consider those duties and responsibilities in more detail and specific requirements in respect of trust investments.

 

How is a trustee appointed?

In the case of will trusts, unless otherwise stated in the will, the executors of the will also act as trustee of any trusts that are established by the will. In other trust matters, such as where funds are set aside for a child under the age of 18 via a trust investment or insurance policy, then parents, close family or trusted friends are often invited to stand as a trustee. It is recommended that there are at least two trustees appointed, although in the case of land, a maximum of four trustees can stand. All trustees need to act unanimously in their decision making, and therefore the greater the number of trustees, the greater the possibility of disagreement.

 

What are the duties of a trustee?

The primary responsibility of a trustee is that he or she owes duties of honesty, integrity, loyalty, and good faith to the beneficiaries of the trust.

To comply with legislation, trustees must understand and observe the terms of the trust. These are set out in the trust deed, which is often a will, or other trust instrument, such as an insurance company deed, and establish who the beneficiaries are, what assets are to be held within the trust, and any other instructions that the trustees need to follow. The trust deed may confer powers on the trustees to carry out actions, which are also defined by law.

Whilst following the terms of the trust, trustees need to show impartiality towards beneficiaries and cannot allow a beneficiary to suffer at the expense of another. This is particularly relevant where an individual beneficiary receives income from trust assets, and other beneficiaries receive capital.

It is important that trustees keep good records of decisions made and accurate and up to date accounts, so that beneficiaries can be provided with relevant information when it is requested.

 

Dealing with trust investments

The Trustee Act 2000 introduced updated default rules for investments made by trustees. Unless the powers conferred by the Act are over-ridden within the trust deed, the Act provides significantly wider investment powers than were previously in place, and gives trustees the power to invest the trust capital as if they were the absolute owners themselves.

A statutory duty of care applies to all trustees, whereby he or she must exercise such care and skill as ‘is reasonable in the circumstances’. A trustee acting in a professional capacity, or having special knowledge and experience, would be subject to a higher duty of care. This statutory duty applies to decisions taken when investments are made or reviewed, property or land is purchased, managed or insured, or a decision taken to appoint a third party to assist in the investment process.

The standard investment criteria set out in the Trustee Act 2000 stipulate three key elements that must be adhered to. Firstly, trustees need to ensure that the investments selected are suitable for the trust in question. Factors that trustees need to consider here is the objective of the trust and requirements of beneficiaries, the time horizon for investment, and the level of risk to which trust investments are exposed.

Secondly, investments need to show sufficient diversification, as appropriate to the trust in question. For the majority of cases, this means that the investment strategy needs to allocate funds across different assets (such as equities, fixed interest securities, property and cash) geographies and sectors. The precise level of diversification will need to pay due consideration to the terms of the trust. For example, in the case of a trust holding £5,000 for the benefit of a child who will be 18 in a year’s time, it is highly likely that a cash deposit would be appropriate and the need for diversification would be low. Conversely, a large trust fund providing income to a beneficiary and capital to residual beneficiaries in the future, would be expected to invest in an adequately diversified portfolio.

Thirdly, trustees need to keep investments under regular review. This is often overlooked by trustees, and the importance of this requirement cannot be overstated. In today’s rapidly changing investment landscape, arranging an investment portfolio and not reviewing the suitability and performance on a regular basis could lead to significant underperformance, and invite criticism from beneficiaries.

 

The need to obtain advice

The Trustee Act requires trustees obtain qualified investment advice when considering exercising the power of investment or reviewing existing trust investments. The only exclusion to this requirement is where trustees reasonably consider obtaining advice to be an unnecessary step, for example, where a trustee possesses the relevant skills to reach a decision. Given the potential risk of criticism or litigation from beneficiaries, we wouldn’t expect to see many trustees make decisions themselves without seeking appropriate advice.

To assist with the regular review of trust investments, trustees are able to delegate certain functions, for example, ongoing management of trust investments, to an agent, who acts on the trustees’ behalf. When delegating this responsibility to a professional, there needs to be firm agreement in place as to the objectives of the trust investments, the level of risk and any other guidance, such as the need to produce income, that is relevant.

Many trustees look to appoint an adviser who can manage funds on a discretionary basis, so that the trust portfolio is kept under close review and changes are made to the investment portfolio as appropriate. Our FAS Concepts discretionary managed service is an ideal solution for trustees to consider.

 

If you are interested in discussing the above with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

 

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice.

woman hand holding red and green apple

Advisory vs discretionary investment management

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When appointing a wealth manager to provide advice on an investment portfolio, clients are often faced with the choice of selecting between an advisory and discretionary investment approach. We set out the key differences and highlight the potential benefits of model portfolios and our FAS Concepts investment approach, as opposed to traditional discretionary managed portfolios offered by fund houses and banks.

 

Advisory vs discretionary – what is the difference?

If a client selects advisory management, this is where the investment adviser makes recommendations based on the client’s individual circumstances needs and objectives, and attitude to investment risk. Should any changes to the portfolio be appropriate – for example to switch out of an underperforming investment or change asset allocation – then the express permission of the client is required before the adviser firm can make the changes.

By choosing discretionary management, the first part of the advice process remains the same. A portfolio of investments is established based on the client’s circumstances, attitude to risk and objectives. The main difference is by also establishing a risk profile, the advice firm can make changes to the portfolio within the defined boundaries of the risk profile without consulting the client first to gain their express approval.

Each of these options has advantages and drawbacks. Advisory portfolio management does allow a greater level of client engagement, as clients can get the opportunity of reviewing each suggested change recommended by their adviser. This does afford the client an element of control, although in practice, the majority of advisory clients tend to follow the advice given and accept the recommended changes. The downside of this approach is that it can be laborious and slow, which may not be best practice in today’s fast-moving investment markets.

The Discretionary route has the advantage of offering the potential for investment decisions to be placed in a timely manner, free from the delays introduced by the necessary client contact under Advisory management. That said, by handing over control under discretion, investors cannot dictate precise terms of the strategy adopted, or have an input prior to decisions being taken.

 

FAS Concepts

At FAS, we offer both advisory and discretionary portfolio options to our clients. We have historically acted for clients on an advisory basis but introduced our own discretionary managed portfolio service, FAS Concepts, to provide the full range of services to our clients.

When we devised our FAS Concepts investment approach, we were very keen to differentiate our discretionary service from the services offered by large fund houses, banks and other institutions that offer discretionary management. We have undertaken countless reviews of discretionary portfolios managed by some of the UK’s largest institutions and found a number of areas where we feel our FAS Concepts approach offers a significant advantage.

The first of these advantages is cost. We tend to find discretionary portfolios to be expensive when you factor in the cost of management, and the cost of the underlying investments themselves. These charges have a cumulative effect over time and dampen returns.

Secondly, many discretionary fund managers build portfolios that feature very similar investment approaches, and indeed similar stocks and funds, to each other. In our many years of experience, we have noticed a trend when reviewing discretionary portfolios that performance across different managers closely correlate with each other and appear to be more focused on relative index performance than achieving strong absolute returns.

Thirdly, traditional discretionary management is often concentrated on UK investments, with heavy exposure to UK directly held Equities and Gilts. We have long been advocates of global investing, and we feel that the current economic and market conditions will continue to favour this approach.

 

FAS Concepts for individuals and trustees

The FAS Concepts service is a model portfolio service that provides a range of discretionary managed portfolios designed to fit common client needs and objectives. Each portfolio has a stated objective, either providing capital growth or a mix of growth and natural income, and a risk level based on asset allocation.

Our in-house investment committee meets at least four times a year, and following the decisions taken by the committee, changes are made to each model portfolio, either replacing funds where appropriate or rebalancing positions to keep the portfolio within closely defined risk parameters. As all portfolios aligned to a model are changed at the same time, this provides consistency of performance.

In addition to providing a cost effective and responsive discretionary approach to individuals, our FAS Concepts service is an ideal solution for trust investments. Through our regular review of the investment portfolios, and automatic changes based on market conditions and investment performance, this can help ensure trustees meet their obligations under the Trustee Act to keep the trust investment portfolio under review.

Our professional trustee clients have told us that using the discretionary approach alleviates the need for busy professionals to be dealing with recommendations and documents that require a signature under an advisory portfolio service.

Finally, we can assist trustees in meeting their reporting duties through our detailed investment reports, which include relevant industry benchmark performance for comparison purposes.

We are proud of how cost competitive the FAS Concepts service is when compared to traditional discretionary fund management. By working closely with platforms, partners and individual fund houses, and using a blend of actively managed and passive funds, we aim to ensure that the FAS Concepts service is keenly priced.

 

If you would like more information regarding our FAS Concepts service, please do get in touch with us here.

 

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice.

Sustainable development

Is Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) effective?

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As we enter a new decade, the environmental impact of the way we live is in sharp focus. As a result, more investors are considering the construction of their portfolio, to see whether it aligns with their core values in respect of the environment and social responsibility. According to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance, as at the end of 2018, over $30tn was invested globally in responsible investment strategies, a significant jump of 34% over a period of two years.

In this article, we look at the increasing popularity of SRI investment, ways to access portfolios designed to meet SRI criteria, and whether these portfolios can deliver strong returns for investors.

 

What is SRI investing?

SRI investing aims to invest money in companies and funds that have positive social impacts. Each investment fund with a stated SRI objective will set out its own criteria as to how investment positions are selected; however, most SRI investment funds will automatically exclude investment in companies involved in tobacco, alcohol, and gambling, and will often also exclude companies whose activities are in fossil fuels, weaponry, and animal testing.

SRI managers can select investments via a negative or positive screening method. The former seeks to eliminate those companies engaged in activities listed above, whilst the latter may include a company where the board is gender-diverse or is making strides towards improving its environmental impact. As a result, positive screening tends to allow a wide range of companies from which the manager can construct a portfolio but potentially may carry investments that sit outside of an individual’s ethical preference. These screening methods are sometimes referred to as ‘light’ or ‘dark’ green, to signify the strictness of the criteria used.

SRI investments are often spoken about at the same time as ESG investing. ESG stands for Environmental, Social and Governance, and ESG investment strategies will consider the impact of these three key areas – the environmental impact of a company’s operations, social risks (such as health and safety and human rights), and standards in the way companies are run.

Where ESG and SRI differ is that a company which has a positive ESG score, and therefore may be included in a fund using ESG criteria, could be involved in an area that is precluded from SRI investment as being unethical, for example, a company involved in fossil fuels may pass ESG filters, but not be considered for SRI investment.

 

The SRI Market in 2020

The first UK investment funds with a mandate to invest in a responsible manner were launched in the 1980s. Early adoption of this investment strategy posed significant issues, in that fund managers were selecting from a very small pool of investments that met the necessary criteria. As a result, performance from SRI funds has, historically, fallen behind more traditional investment management without SRI filters, and investors that chose to invest ‘ethically’ had to make a decision whether their core beliefs justified the potential for underperformance over the longer term.

With an increasing number of companies now meeting SRI criteria, fund managers of SRI portfolios now have a much wider range from which to construct portfolios, and the gap in performance between traditional investment portfolios and constructed SRI portfolios has now narrowed significantly. Indeed, over the last year, we have found that SRI portfolios have outperformed traditional investment strategies, and we feel this is a result of a combination of two factors.

Firstly, many companies are themselves gravitating towards social responsibility, and therefore the range of companies available for investment within an SRI orientated fund has increased. With a greater number of companies that pass the screening methods, active fund managers can select from an increased range, which can lead to better outcomes. Secondly, many traditional industries that SRI funds would avoid, such as gambling and fossil fuels, have struggled over the course of last year, whereas technology and pharmaceuticals, which generally pass SRI filters, have outperformed.

 

The Future of SRI investing

It is clear from the trends we are seeing that SRI investing is here to stay. Recent analysis shows that one dollar in every four dollars invested in the US is made into SRI or ESG funds.

Given that many companies now issue their own sustainability report, it is likely that those companies that do not embrace SRI issues and take them seriously may find themselves cast adrift, not only from investors but also from doing business with companies who take their responsibility seriously and do not wish to tarnish their reputation. As a result, we expect to see more companies striving to meet sustainability targets.

In addition to actively managed SRI funds, passive investment options have also emerged over recent years, offering access to Global Index funds that meet SRI criteria. This offers a low-cost way of investing in Global Equities, and an increasing range of Ethical Bond funds now provide the opportunities for Fixed Interest investors to gain access to good performing funds that only lend to those companies who meet SRI criteria.

Finally, younger generations, who are generally more conscious of ethical investment themes, will enter the investment world through pensions and other long-term investment plans. We feel this will increase the demand for SRI compliant portfolios.

 

Accessing SRI investments through FAS Concepts

At FAS, we have devised two discretionary managed investment portfolios that meet SRI criteria. Since launch, these have proved popular, and provide access to global investment markets by selecting investment funds that both pass our standard in-house analysis, but also meet necessary SRI criteria.

 

If you would like to discuss SRI investing or would prefer an existing investment portfolio managed elsewhere to be managed in a responsible manner, then please get in touch, here.

 

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice.

volunteers packing donation boxes in charity food bank.

Investing for charities

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One of the biggest responsibilities facing charity trustees is how to invest donations and other financial support received in an appropriate manner. In this article, we explain why charities should look to invest funds, some of the issues that need due consideration, and how FAS can assist in this process.

 

Why should charities invest?

Charity trustees need to consider investing the funds they receive, rather than leaving large amounts on cash deposit, to try and achieve a better return on the monies held, to further the aims of the charity. This return could be in the form of growth, which allows greater charitable work to be carried out in the future, or to provide an income to support the charity’s ongoing operations. Furthermore, trustees need to consider the eroding effects of inflation on funds held, as keeping significant sums on cash deposit is likely to see the real value of funds fall over time.

 

What can charities invest in?

Charity trustees have a wide range of investment options open to them. In addition to straightforward cash deposits, charities can invest in shares of listed companies (Equities), interest-bearing loans (Gilts and Corporate Bonds), property or land, and Collective Investments (which may invest in one or more of these main asset classes). Not all of these asset classes will be appropriate to all charity situations and independent financial advice should be sought before charity trustees make any investment decision.

In all cases, trustees must consider the suitability of any investment for their charity. This will be influenced by the agreed level of risk and other factors, such as the size of the investment fund and the aims and objectives of the charity, together with the need to diversify the investment portfolio.

 

Considerations for trustees

When beginning the process of deciding how best to deal with charity funds, the first consideration is to assess the overall financial position of the charity and determine any immediate financial needs. Appropriate levels of funds should be held as cash to cover these short-term requirements, and these should be kept separate from funds that can be considered for longer-term investment. A breakdown of expected income should also be prepared, to ascertain whether the income the charity expects to receive is sufficient to meet planned expenditure, or whether investment income or withdrawals will be needed.

For funds that are not needed in the short-term, trustees can move on to consider an investment strategy. Helpfully, there is government guidance set out to assist trustees in the investment process.

By law, trustees need to act within the charity investment powers, exercise care and skill where making decisions, and diversify investments wherever possible.  Charity trustees must also consider the risk of any investment made and limit this risk to an acceptable level. The Charity Commission recommends that trustees should decide on an overall investment policy and agree on the balance of risk and reward that is right for the charity; naturally, the aims, objectives of the charity, and size of the funds available for investment will all have a bearing on these decisions.

In addition, trustees also need to ensure that investments align with any environmental, social, and governance factors that are pertinent to the charity’s ethos and values. An example of where this can produce an adverse public reaction was the decision by the Church of England investment managers to invest part of their funds in one of the key backers of payday lender Wonga. Whilst this position was quickly rectified once the link was discovered, it is a good reminder of the importance of looking very carefully at the investment portfolio and determining whether the investment policy conflicts with the ethical stance taken.

 

The value of advice – how can FAS assist with charitable investments?

Given the high degree of responsibility placed on trustees to make appropriate investment decisions with charity funds, it is vital that trustees consider taking investment advice as set out in the Charity Commission guidance. Naturally, the board of trustees may have individuals with some investment experience, although even in this case, we would suggest that an external view from an independent professional could offer an objective opinion.

In addition to obtaining initial advice as to how charity funds are invested, keeping those investments under regular review is crucially important. In addition, where charity investments are already in place, trustees should be considering the following points:

  • Are the investments performing well compared to markets and recognised benchmarks?
  • Does the asset allocation of the portfolio continue to fit with the trustees’ preference for investment risk?
  • Does the portfolio continue to fit with the ethos and values of the charity?
  • Are there external economic factors that could affect the portfolio in the medium and long term?
  • Are there any short-term funding requirements where decisions to realise investments are needed?

Obtaining independent advice may well be of benefit in considering these and other points. FAS is a chartered, independent practice, that can give an impartial and unbiased view on existing investment portfolios, or to trustees looking to establish a new investment portfolio.

FAS Concepts, our discretionary management service, is an ideal solution to assist charity trustees. We have devised socially responsible investment portfolios that meet stated ethical criteria, enabling trustees to invest in a managed portfolio of assets that fit with the aims and policies of the charity, whilst seeking to limit volatility.

Our discretionary managed portfolios are reviewed at least four times a year and changes made to the portfolio based on individual fund performance and prevailing economic conditions. These regular reviews will fulfill the requirement for charity trustees to review the investments in place and save time and cost compared to an advisory investment process. Lastly, our comprehensive reporting package provides clear information on portfolio performance, including performance measurement against recognised benchmarks, further assisting trustees in compliance with the requirements.

 

If you are interested in discussing the above with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

 

This content is for information purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice or financial advice.

a young couple view a property guided by an estate agent.

Stamp duty changes

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The Chancellor’s Summer Statement introduced temporary changes in stamp duty land tax on homes, which prompted similar – but not identical – changes in Scotland and Wales.

In his Statement on 8 July, the Chancellor raised the starting point for stamp duty land tax (SDLT) in England and Northern Ireland from £125,000 to £500,000 until 31 March 2021. Shortly afterwards, the Scottish government made a change to the nil rate band of its Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT), increasing it from £145,000 to £250,000. Last of the line was Wales, which adopted a slightly different tack, raising the nil rate band on land transaction tax (LTT) from £180,000 to £250,000, but only for main home purchases, but not for second homes or buy-to-let investments.

Outside of Wales the tax cuts prompted several news stories about a boost to the buy-to-let market. There is no arguing that the costs of buying an investment property have dropped – by up to £15,000 in England and Northern Ireland. However, the extra 3% SDLT surcharge on the full price will continue in England and Northern Ireland, as will the corresponding 4% LBTT levy in Scotland.

The other tax changes which have been made to buy-to-let over recent years remain unaltered, meaning that:

  • any personal mortgage borrowing cannot be offset against rent received but instead qualifies for a 20% tax credit; and
  • any capital gains on sales not covered by the annual exemption are subject to rates of up to 28% and the tax must be paid within 30 days of completion.

In the English context it is also worth remembering that there is still an unfinished consultation on ‘modernising the rental sector’, including the possibility of removing the availability of assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs).

Another upshot of the tax changes was the suggestion that they had given buy-to-let investors, who directly own their property, a chance to move the property into a company, at a reduced cost, to increase tax-efficiency. This may be true in some instances, but any such transfer could result in one of the 30-day capital gains tax bills.

Buy-to-let investment has been on the government’s hit list since 2016. If the stamp duty and land tax cuts tempt you to think about investing in this sector, make sure you take advice and understand all of the tax consequences before doing so.

If you are interested in discussing your options with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

 

The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance. The value of tax reliefs depends on your individual circumstances. Tax laws can change. The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate tax advice.

Man with calculator analysing reports

Capital gains tax comes under review

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The Chancellor has asked the Office of Tax Simplification to review capital gains tax.

Within a week of giving his Summer Statement, the Chancellor wrote to the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) asking it to “undertake a review of capital gains tax (CGT) and aspects of the taxation of chargeable gains in relation to individuals and smaller businesses”. The request was unexpected and prompted some press speculation that Rishi Sunak was beginning his hunt for extra tax revenue after the unprecedented spending on Covid-19.

CGT is certainly an interesting place to start:

  • The latest data from HMRC show that there were fewer than 300,000 CGT payers in 2017/18.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the tax raised in that year came from 3% of CGT payers who made gains of £1 million or more.
  • Over half of the CGT payers either paid no income tax or paid it only at the basic rate, as the graph below shows.

CGT payers by highest income

The main reason why CGT payers are such a rare breed is the annual exemption. For 2020/21 this allows up to £12,300 of net gains to be realised before any tax becomes payable. Even then, the maximum tax rate is 20% (28% for residential property). In the last election, both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats called for gains to be taxed at full income tax rates and for the exemption to be cut to just £1,000 or abolished. The Conservative manifesto made no comment – CGT was not one of the taxes for which a rate freeze was promised.

Neither Mr Sunak nor the OTS has put any date on when the review might be published. However, the OTS has asked for all comments to be in by 12 October, so government proposals might emerge in the Autumn Budget, particularly if that Budget appears later in the year.

There is a precedent for changing CGT rates part way through a tax year – as then Chancellor George Osborne did in 2010. With this in mind, a wise precaution could be to review your portfolio and consider whether you wish to realise any gains in the next few months, while the current generous CGT regime is in place.

If you are interested in discussing your options with one of our experienced financial planners at FAS, please get in touch here.

The value of tax reliefs depends on your individual circumstances. Tax laws can change. The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate tax advice. The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.