The Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) has seen a lot of changes in recent years with the main focus of concentrating the scheme on high-growth companies, thereby re-positioning the market towards greater risk. The move from capital preservation to more organic high-growth companies has been driven by the new risk to capital condition. This has seen investment lean heavily towards the technology sector, whereas previously more investments were made in the infrastructure sector, which is traditionally more asset-backed, and the media and entertainment industry, using special purpose vehicles.
Although these changes may be realigning EIS with that of its intended purpose (focused on high-growth companies), their overall impact and therefore the number of businesses supported may be difficult to realise with the ever-looming issue of Brexit. Furthermore, it is expected that the changes will result in a drop in the number EIS investments made, however, we will need to wait until Spring 2020 when HMRC publishes its annual statistics for these effects to be quantified.
In summary, the volume of EIS investments completed has been steadily increasing for several years, and the figures published for the 2017/18 tax year show no divergence from this trend. As mentioned previously, these results are expected to drop significantly in response to the introduction of the risk to capital condition introduced last year.
Although EIS is a hugely lucrative and popular scheme, there still seems to be an abnormally low level of utilisation in Scotland. Of the 3,920 EIS investments made in 2017/18, only 185 (5%) of them were made in Scottish companies, and a large number of the investments were in London based companies (1,860).
The knowledge-intensive companies rules have seen several changes since their introduction in the 2015 Finance Act, the most recent of which sees the annual investment limits doubled to £2m and
10m for individuals and companies, respectively. HMRC have also been granted powers to approve knowledge-intensive funds, which should increase their use in the industry.
HMRC’s Advance Assurance application process has also seen significant changes recently with the rejection of speculative applications and the introduction of a compulsory checklist. The change in HMRC’s position towards speculative applications (i.e. now refusing to consider them) has seen a reduction in the number of applications submitted, this is thought to have been done to ease the load on HMRC. However, it has caused some frustration in the industry, as investment opportunities were previously assessed by investors after Advance Assurance had been acquired. The figures also show that the percentage of submitted applications being accepted has dropped significantly, this may be in response to the new risk to capital condition that gives HMRC inspectors added discretion when it comes to accepting or rejecting applications.
It seems as though the Government is attempting to direct EIS investment back towards high-growth, entrepreneurial companies and that can only be good for the economy. Although the investors in the market may be frustrated by these changes, it is unlikely that the level of investment made using EIS will change substantially due to how rewarding the scheme is in terms of tax breaks. With Brexit looming on the horizon, EIS may be subject to further changes as the EU state aid rules will no longer be enforced. This may free the UK Governments hand to determine how they wish the tax relief to be structured.
As the EIS legislation becomes increasingly complex, and HMRC flex their muscles regarding the risk to capital condition, the need for experienced EIS advisors continues to grow. If you have a query about EIS investment or generally investing in a company, please contact Ryan today at email@example.com.