Museums and Galleries Tax Relief: extending and widening this relief will boost the UK cultural ecosystem

Museum and Galleries Tax Relief came into effect from 1 April 2017, aiming to encourage the development of new exhibitions and incentivise their touring to a wide audience. Unusually, the legislation includes a ‘sunset clause’, which allows the relief to expire in April 2022 if it is not extended by the UK Parliament. We are around a year away from April 2022, so perhaps now is a good time to consider how well the relief is currently being used.

Whilst the relief was modelled on existing creative industry tax reliefs, there are some striking differences. As mentioned above, unless the relief is extended, it will expire next April. Claims are also subject to a cap of £100,000 (for touring exhibitions) and £80,000 (for non-touring exhibitions). This means the value of claims are substantially lower than in other creative industries’ tax reliefs, where no such cap exists.

Despite these caps, take-up of the relief has grown substantially over the years. Figures from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) show:

  • For 2018/19 £4 million was paid, covering 300 exhibitions included within 50 claims.
  • In 2019/20 £16 million was paid, covering 1,045 exhibitions included within 170 claims.

This is obviously an impressive increase in both the value and number of claims, especially for a 1-year period. So how does this compare to other creative industry tax reliefs? For 2019/20, the number of claims for Museum and Galleries Tax Relief is comparable to Theatre Tax Relief claims and is almost double the number of Orchestra Tax Relief Claims. The fact that there is a cap on the amount that can be claimed through Museum and Galleries Tax Relief has an impact on the total value of claims, but it does appear promising that the number of claims is comparable to the more established Theatre Tax Relief, which was introduced  3 years earlier.

All of this points to the fact that the relief is well used in the sector.  Many will undoubtedly have been disappointed to note no mention of an extension at the 2021 Budget. There is another chance for the Government to announce an extension; more tax policy details will be announced on 23 March and I hope that the UK Government will take the opportunity to not just approve the extension of the scheme but also to widen its scope. Currently many exhibitions which include live performances are not eligible for relief, nor are exhibitions that include objects which are for sale, and many organisations lose out on a cash injection as a result.

The Government could also consider widening access to the scheme. Currently, those organisations that provide public benefit, but are not charities, are not eligible.

Most museums and galleries are open to the public free of charge, so the money received from these tax relief claims boosts cash flow, giving a welcome boost of funding to these institutions so they can continue developing further exhibitions. An extension to the relief will be especially welcome in the coming years when, no doubt, we will continue to see the financial impact of the COVID pandemic on charity finances.

If you have any questions about Museums and Galleries Tax Relief, or any other creative industry tax relief, contact Catriona Finnie.