More than £300m of reclaimed tax revenue could be distributed to shareholders of investment companies following a European court ruling this week. On Thursday, the European Court of Justice ruled that closed-ended investment trusts should have the same tax rules on their management fees as unit trusts and open-ended investment company, which have been VAT exempt since 1990. The decision is expected to save the £88.6bn investment trust sector around £40m per year in VAT fees. Up to £300m of VAT levied since 1990 could be clawed back.
This, says Daniel Godfrey, chief executive of the Association of Investment Companies (AIC), could result in a 0.5 percent increase in the value of the net asset value on average across the sector although in practice some trusts will receive nothing and some more than 1 per cent. It depends on, Godfrey says, how long the companies have been established, their relative size over that time and whether performance fees were involved, which will also now be VAT exempt. Godfrey adds the bigger benefits will accrue from the £40m per year that investment companies could save on management fees. He says this could be worth as much as an extra £1bn to the industry over time, resulting in a potential 1.5 per cent boost to net asset value of companies across the sector. Godfrey expects some funds to pay the reclaimed funds as special dividends if the money is treated as income. Otherwise, the money will add to the net asset value of the company.
The European court ruling cements the fees advantages that closed-ended vehicles such as investment trusts have over open-ended rivals, which normally charge more for their management services regardless of VAT. But tax experts have warned that it could take years for the money to trickle through, and the decision could lead to huge disputes between the companies and their managers. Investment trusts would need to reclaim their VAT from the managers, who would then claim the money back from the government. Charles Cade, head of research at Winterflood Investment, says management groups could lose out as they have been offsetting VAT on their own expenses against the VAT on their fees, and so this money may not be readily available.for further details, click on : https://www.winterfloodresearch.com/
Cade says the degree to which managers could lose depends on how much of administration is outsourced, but he puts a rough estimate of the cost per year to managers of £10m-£15m. Efforts to reclaim the money for trusts would be hampered, he adds, if the management of the trust has changed in that time. Godfrey says there will need to be anegotiation between the investment company boards and their managers about how best to reclaim the money owed by the government. The government still has the option of referring the ruling to the VAT tribunal.
One potential incentive for the government to block the ruling is the wider effect it might have on other pooled investment vehicles, such as non-insurance pension funds, which also pay VAT on their management fees. Taxation lawyers argue the basis of the AIC case – that rival pooled investment vehicles should compete without any taxation handicaps – could be used elsewhere in the investment industry. “It could well apply to pension funds,” says Simon Tyler, senior pensions associate at Pinsent Masons. “There is no reason why pensions can’t run the same argument as investment trust companies and claim back third party management fees.” If pension funds do decide to argue on the same basis, then the government could face potential claims for billions of pounds of tax. It is likely that further litigation would be required to prove this case, however, which could take many more years.