The Lifecycle Of A Business - An Introduction To Incentive Arrangements And Their Associated Tax Treatment



Forsters is a leading London law firm based in Mayfair which delivers exceptional legal advice to clients principally drawn from the real estate and private wealth sectors. Taking a joined-up approach we seek out solutions that embrace the unique needs of each individual or company. The lawyers’ engaged, approachable manner combined with the delivery of concise, clear and commercially-led advice is what helps the firm to develop long-term client relationships.
Setting up and running your own business is an amazing achievement. It requires vision, creativity, motivation and stamina.
UK Tax
To print this article, all you need is to be registered or login on

Setting up and running your own business is an amazing achievement. It requires vision, creativity, motivation and stamina. On occasion, it can even bring you fame, riches and fortune. But it can also result in reams of paperwork and cause sleepless nights. And as someone once said to me about children "It doesn't get easier, it just changes", so the same can be said for your business throughout its lifecycle. From setting up to exit, it will force you to consider issues that you might not previously have known anything about and it will need you to make many decisions, sometimes very quickly. What it certainly is not is mundane.

With this in mind, the corporate team at Forsters, together with some of our specialist colleagues, has written a series of articles about the various issues and some of the key points that it may help you to know about at each stage of a business's life. Not all of these will be relevant to you or your business endeavours, but we hope that you will find at least some of these guides interesting and useful, whether you just have the glimmer of an idea, are a start-up, a well-established enterprise or are considering your exit options. Do feel free to drop us a line or pick up the phone if you would like to discuss any of the issues raised further.

We've already discussed various topics, such as, set up, directors, funding and shareholder-related matters, but now let's concentrate on "Employment: 9 to 5".

An Introduction to Incentive Arrangements and their Associated Tax Treatment

In this article, we briefly outline some of the common types of share and cash incentives provided to directors/employees, and their associated tax treatment. Such incentives are a great way for businesses to attract and retain talent, ensuring that employees are rewarded in a way which aligns with the interests of a business more generally. In essence, they allow an employee to benefit from the growth in value of a business.

References to employees in this article include directors.

Issue of shares

Employees can be issued shares in a business. This gives an employee real ownership in a business straightaway (rather than an option to buy later), often with certain voting rights and the right to dividends. Such shares can be gifted or purchased by an employee.

Income tax will normally be due from the employee to the extent that the employee pays less than the market value of the shares that are issued to them. However, if the shares are subject to forfeiture provisions which last for no more than five years, a different tax treatment can apply.

A number of elections can also be made which will alter the tax treatment in some circumstances.

Enterprise Management Incentive (EMI) share option scheme

EMI schemes can be a very tax efficient way to incentivise staff, especially where a company has the potential for growth. Under the HMRC approved EMI share option scheme, employees can be granted options over shares (i.e. the right to acquire them at a certain price in the future) having a maximum value (at the date of grant) of £250,000. As with all option plans, the hope is that the value of the shares is worth more than the pre-agreed price at the time they are acquired.

EMI schemes can also include conditionality and time frames; companies can, for example, set performance or length of service milestones which need to be met before EMI options vest.

However, although EMI options benefit from favourable tax treatment, the company in question must be carrying on a "qualifying trade" and so it is not always possible to grant EMI options; for example, the business of owning and operating hotels is not a qualifying trade for EMI purposes.

CSOP share option scheme

Another form of HMRC approved share option scheme is the CSOP, under which an employee can be granted options over shares having a value (at the date of grant) of up to £60,000.

Unlike the EMI scheme, it is not necessary for the company to be carrying on a qualifying trade and, provided that the option is exercised, broadly, no earlier than three years from the time that the option is granted, the employee will not be subject to income tax on either the grant or exercise of the option. (Note that in some situations, it is possible for the option to be exercised earlier, for example, if the company is subject to a successful takeover.) Instead, the employee will be subject to capital gains tax (CGT) on the difference between the price paid on exercise and the market value of the shares when sold. At present CGT is payable at a much lower rate than income tax so this is a significant advantage of exercising a CSOP option.

Since CSOPs must comply with a number of HMRC conditions, it is necessary to ensure that these conditions are, and will continue to be, satisfied. In addition, given that the options have to be granted at a price equal to the current market value of the shares when the option is granted, a CSOP scheme will only act as a successful incentive if the share price increases after the date of grant.

Unapproved share option schemes

As the name suggests, unapproved share option schemes are not approved by HMRC and therefore the drafting of the scheme rules can be flexible. However, although income tax is not payable when the option is granted, on the exercise of the option the employee will be subject to income tax on the difference between the price paid on exercise and the value of the shares at that point.

If the shares are tradeable at the point of exercise (for example, because the exercise is triggered by an exit event such as a takeover) employer and employee national insurance contributions (NICs) will also be due.

Phantom share scheme

Under a phantom share scheme, the employee does not hold shares or a share option, but the economic effect is to track the performance of the shares as if the employee held shares or an option over shares.

Since the employee will only ever receive cash, the proceeds under a phantom share scheme are treated in the same way as other remuneration and so are subject to income tax and to employer's and employee's NICs.

Cash bonus scheme

A cash bonus scheme is treated in the same way as if the employee had received a salary and so the amount received under the scheme will be subject to income tax deducted under the PAYE scheme and also to employer's and employee's NICs.

What happens when an employee leaves?

With all incentive plans, companies should think about what happens to a participant's interest once their employment comes to an end. It is important that this is made clear in any scheme documentation to avoid any later dispute. Typically, schemes will have a concept of "good" and "bad" leaver. "Good" leavers are normally those who leave due to no fault of their own (such as ill health or where they have been made redundant) and will often retain some of their interest (subject to any specific HMRC restrictions) – this could be all of it or only that which has vested before their employment ends. "Bad" leavers (such as those whose employment is terminated for cause) will often forfeit all of their entitlements.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

See More Popular Content From

Mondaq uses cookies on this website. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies as set out in our Privacy Policy.

Learn More