8.6 Social Investment Tax Relief
Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR) was launched in April 2014 with the aim of encouraging investment in social enterprises by unconnected individuals. SITR currently functions under the state aid de minimus principles, but the government has applied for state aid clearance, which will result in an expansion of the scheme as noted below. There is no timetable for when this clearance might be granted, and further legislation may be required to introduce some of the planned enlargement of the scheme.
The rules for SITR mirror those of EIS and SEIS in some but not all areas. For instance, the rules regarding connected persons and subsidiary entities are very similar. There are some minor differences in the definition of qualifying trading activities. But there are major differences in the type of enterprise that qualifies for SITR and the nature of the investments. Furthermore, none of the changes to EIS introduced in the July 2015 Budget currently apply to SITR, including the age restrictions on qualifying enterprises or the ban on using the investment funds to acquire existing businesses or business assets.
SITR is available for both debt and equity investment in social enterprises. The eligibility of debt finance makes SITR radically different from EIS and SEIS, both of which only apply to equity investment. To qualify for SITR, debt finance must be unsecured and there must be no pre-arranged exit for the investor for at least three years. It must be subordinate to all other debts held by the social enterprise and not attract more than a commercial rate of interest.
SITR defines social enterprises as charities, community interest companies and certain types of community benefit societies. At the heart of this definition is the requirement that the enterprise has a statutorily defined asset lock, so only community benefit societies with the prescribed asset lock (see Section 2.4) fit the definition, along with charitable community benefit societies, where the asset lock is determined by charity law. Co-operative societies are not included in this definition because there is no statutory asset lock for this type of society. Other eligibility criteria include a requirement that the social enterprise must not have more than 500 employees or more than £15m in gross assets.
As with EIS and SEIS, the social enterprise must be engaged in a qualifying trading activity. This means that charities solely reliant on voluntary or investment income are not eligible. But a charity with a wholly or majority owned trading subsidiary is eligible, as long as the funds raised are invested in the trading activity. Most trading activities do qualify; the list of excluded activities is largely the same as that for EIS and SEIS, although this is set to change when state aid clearance for SITR is obtained. Currently SITR excludes the subsidised generation or export of electricity, but this will become a qualifying trade when clearance is obtained, as will small scale community farms and horticulture schemes. Unlike SEIS and EIS, SITR does not exclude all financial services activities; investment in a social investment financial intermediary that lends to social enterprises is eligible. Other trading activities that are not excluded from SITR but are excluded from EIS and SEIS, include the provision of legal and accountancy services, and the operation or management of hotels or comparable establishments, nursing homes or residential care homes.
Like SEIS, the maximum amount a social enterprise can raise is restricted to the €200,000 state aid de minimus limit. But unlike SEIS, where the maximum amount that can be raised is fixed at £150,000, SITR uses a formula to calculate the maximum amount, based on the value of the tax reliefs, less any state aid already received by the social enterprise during a rolling three year qualifying period. At current tax relief rates, this works out as €344,827, or just over £250,000. However, the government has applied for state aid clearance, and when this is achieved the investment limit per organisation will increase to £5m per annum, subject to a maximum limit of £15m.
Like EIS, SITR is a tax relief for individuals (not corporate bodies) and is currently set at 30%. The maximum amount an investor can invest in SITR schemes is £1m per annum. Connected persons, defined in a similar way as for EIS and SEIS, are not eligible for SITR, including any investor with more than 30% of the total loan capital or voting rights. Investors are eligible for capital gains hold-over relief on gains reinvested in SITR schemes, and also for capital gains disposal relief on gains made on qualifying SITR investments.
SITR is not available on any investment for which the investor has already received SEIS, EIS or Community Investment Tax Relief. But a social enterprise can offer SITR on debt finance in combination with SEIS for equity finance, as long as cumulative tax relief benefit does not exceed the maximum restrictions applicable to each scheme; although these restrictions are based on de minimus state aid, this has been interpreted slightly differently for each scheme, so HMRC may need to determine which investment was made first in order to work out how much can be invested in each scheme. A social enterprise can also offer SITR on loan capital at the same time as offering EIS on share capital; these schemes are independent of each other, and EIS is not subject to de minimus state aid rules.
SITR is administered by the SCEC at HMRC. The arrangements are similar to those for SEIS and EIS, including the provisions for advance assurance. All qualifying investments made on or after 6 April 2014 are eligible.
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