EIS and SEIS: the no pre-arranged exits requirement

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 17 Hydref 2017.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 12 and 13 stand part.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

Clauses 11, 12 and 13 make changes to the tax-advantaged venture capital schemes: the enterprise investment scheme, the seed enterprise investment scheme and venture capital trusts. The changes provide small but useful easing of the rules, which I shall explain in more detail. Following the calling of the general election and subsequent negotiations between the Government and the Opposition, these clauses were removed from the Finance Act 2017. As all the clauses are wholly relieving, the Government have introduced retrospective legislation to ensure that taxpayers can still benefit from the changes being made from the original commencement date.

The tax-advantaged venture capital schemes provide a range of generous tax reliefs to encourage individuals to invest directly or indirectly in certain smaller and higher-risk early stage companies. These small companies would otherwise struggle to access the funding they need to grow and develop, because they have little or no track record to attract funding from the market.

Clause 11 makes changes to an anti-abuse rule, the no pre-arranged exits requirement, in the enterprise investment and seed enterprise investment schemes. The rule prevents tax relief from being provided if arrangements under which the shares were issued might lead to a disposal of those or other shares in the company and so potentially put the future continuation of the company at risk.

Many companies include such rights in their standard documents. However, rights allowing for share conversions in the future carry no risk to the integrity of the scheme, as excluding the rights can be administratively burdensome for some companies. The changes will allow companies to qualify for relief if they issue shares that include rights to a future conversion into shares of another class in that company. The changes are wholly relieving and will apply retrospectively, with effect for shares issued on or after 5 December 2016.

Clause 12 makes technical changes to clarify the law and ensures venture capital trusts can provide follow-on funding to certain groups of companies. The changes ensure that the VCT rules work in the same way as those for EIS. The rules for VCTs and EIS were changed in late 2015 to target the schemes more closely on early stage companies. However, the rules do allow older companies to receive tax-advantaged investments in some situations. These include follow-on funding provisions. Broadly speaking, follow-on funding may be provided to an older company as long as the company received its initial tax-advantaged funding at a time when it met the basic age limit. The changes made by clause 12 ensure that, where certain conditions are met, VCTs will be able to provide follow-on funding for companies that have been taken over by a new holding company after the initial funding was received.

Clause 13 makes changes to extend a power for the Treasury to make regulations on the exchange of certain investments held by a VCT. A VCT may hold non-qualifying investments, but only in very limited circumstances. Regulations under the current power ensure that VCTs are not at immediate risk of losing their approved status when they are obliged to exchange a qualifying investment for a non-qualifying investment. However, the power to make regulations applies only where the original investment is a qualifying investment.

The new regulations will provide broadly similar protection to VCTs where the original investment is a non-qualifying investment and the VCT is similarly required to exchange the investment as part of a commercial reorganisation or buy-out. Without the new regulations, VCTs would continue to rely on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs exercising its discretion to avoid immediate loss of approval when a non-qualifying investment is exchanged. Draft regulations will be published for public consultation later in the year. The regulations will provide certainty to a VCT regarding the treatment of the new shares or securities obtained when it exchanges non-qualifying investments.

Clauses 11, 12 and 13 make technical easements to reduce administrative burdens and smooth certain rules within the tax-advantaged venture capital schemes. I therefore hope that they will stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I have two questions about clauses 11 and 12. First, EIS and SEIS are two of the four tax-advantaged venture capital schemes, alongside venture capital plus and social investment tax relief, which we will discuss under a later clause. In addition to the features mentioned by the Minister, the schemes share in common the fact that advance assurance applications and submissions of statutory compliance statements are often sought by those seeking to reassure potential investors about the tax treatment of their investments. Clearly, the new requirement will widen eligibility for EIS and SEIS, potentially leading to a greater number of requests to HMRC for these kinds of ex-ante assessments. I would be grateful if the Minister could assure us that HMRC will be able to satisfy those requests in a timely manner.

I understand from the Minister’s response to my parliamentary question on this matter that there is no time limit on an advance assurance application, and while the target for more complex cases is 40 days, he admitted that more complex cases may take longer. Although I agree with him that the changes will simplify the administrative side for business to an extent, they could complicate qualifying criteria from HMRC’s point of view. How will the Minister ensure that that does not lead to greater pressures on an already struggling HMRC?

On clause 12, my second question is perhaps more fundamental. As I understand it, EU state-aid rules generally suggest that the operation of such tax reliefs should focus on genuinely promoting new growth rather than on the acquiring of existing businesses, given that we are talking about the state exempting certain categories of firms from tax that others must pay. Will the Minister provide us with a taste of how he has assured himself that this relief genuinely will focus on the promotion of such new growth?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. On clause 11, she has been in touch with the Treasury about the important matter of advance assurances from HMRC, which always does its utmost to provide advice in as timely a manner as possible. The change proposed by the clause, however, is to remove a requirement on HMRC to opine on the approach that some companies intend to take, which will introduce greater certainty.

Clause 12, which relates to VCTs and the introduction of a parent company, is also likely to ease the investment decision because it will take away the uncertainty that would otherwise accrue by having a parent company inserted into the corporate structure under consideration. These technical amendments therefore make important changes to existing legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 12 and 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14