Venture capital trust
A venture capital trust or VCT is a highly tax efficient UK closed-end collective investment scheme designed to provide private equity capital for small expanding companies, and income (in the form of dividend distributions) and/or capital gains for investors. VCTs are a form of publicly traded private equity, comparable to business development companies in the United States.
VCTs are companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, which invest in other companies which are not themselves listed. First introduced by the Conservative government in the Finance Act 1995 to encourage investment into new UK businesses, they have proved to be much less risky than originally anticipated.
Tax reliefs are different for investors in new shares issued by VCTs and investors who purchase second-hand shares, for example on the stock market.
For second-hand shares, the reliefs are
- exemption from income tax on dividends on ordinary shares in VCTs
- exemption from capital gains tax on disposal of shares in VCTs
For new shares, the same reliefs are available, and in addition
- income tax relief at the rate of 30% on the amount subscribed for the shares (on or after 6 April 2006). This relief is available on investments up to £200,000 in a tax year (£100,000 before 6 April 2006), if they are held for at least 5 years (3 years for shares issued before 6 April 2006).
- for shares issued before 6 April 2004, capital gains tax deferral (that is, tax on the gains on the disposal of other assets within 12 months before or after the investment could be postponed until the VCT shares were disposed of)
Compared with the issue price of new shares in VCTs, the price of VCT shares on the stock market (second-hand shares) tends to be lower, reflecting the absence of income tax relief.
The managers of the VCT have three years in which to choose companies to invest in and during this time often place the money into cash, gilts or bonds. As they become more sophisticated VCTs are investing in funds such as smaller company funds or funds of hedge funds, to maximise returns.
Within three years of the share issue at least 70% of the VCT's assets must be invested in 'qualifying' holdings. These are defined as holdings of shares or securities, including loans of at least five years duration, in unquoted companies and those whose shares are traded on the alternative investment market (AIM). These companies must have a permanent establishment in the UK. The balance of 30% can be invested into areas such as government securities, gilts or blue-chip shares.
VCTs may invest up to £5m in a qualifying company but each individual investment cannot make up more than 15% of VCT assets. The gross assets of the company into which the VCT invests must not exceed £15m, and the company must have no more than 250 employees. If an investment is held in a company that becomes quoted on the London Stock Exchange then it can continue to be treated as a qualifying VCT investment for up to five years.
VCTs can usually be classified according to the following criteria:
- Evergreen or Limited Life: VCTs that are set up to invest indefinitely are often called evergreen. A limited-life VCT is set to be wound up after the minimum five-year holding period in order for the assets to be distributed among shareholders
- Generalist or Specialist: A generalist VCT invests in companies from a diversity of industries; a specialist VCT focuses on a particular industry or sector such as healthcare or technology
They may also be described according to the type of small company they invest in: some select only AIM-listed companies, others may invest in unquoted companies or a mix of the two.
Amount of money raised by VCTs
- Business development company
- Collective investment scheme
- Enterprise investment scheme
- Investment trust
- Publicly traded private equity
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- "VCTs explode back onto the investment stage" Citywire Wealth Manager 2010-03-29
- "AIC places Octopus VCT atop fundraising chart" Investment Week 2010-05-03
- "The funding barrier holding growth firms back" Growing Business 2010-06-21
- "Tax breaks make venture capital trusts tempting" The Independent on Sunday 2010-09-26