How VCT investing has developed

This article is part of
Guide to VCT investing

Yet according to Chris Hutchinson, manager of the Unicorn AIM VCT, the rules have become "considerably more complex and challenging over the past 20 years".

He explains: "There are now fewer types of VCT available and fewer specialist VCT managers around who are capable of delivering healthy returns to investors.

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"The VCT sector was established by HM Treasury to allow small firms the opportunity to access the capital required to help fund their growth plans, and to help secure and accelerate employment growth.

"Several VCT strategies developed over the past 20 years, which in truth were not really designed to meet these two basic requirements.

"As a consequence, the rules have been refined and tightened a number of times in recent years to help ensure that capital raised by VCTs subsequently finds its way to businesses that genuinely require 'scale-up capital' to invest in product development, equipment and people." 

Evolution of VCTs

Explaining the changes is Jason Hollands, managing director of business development for Tilney.

He says: "The VCT industry has evolved over the past two decades, as the tax features have undergone changes and there have been quite regular adaptions and tweaks to the criteria of what constitutes an eligible qualifying investment."

For example, VCTs have often focused on areas where there appeared to be a government-led agenda. Before 2000, a lot of VCT money was invested in technology during the dotcom boom.

Stuart Veale, managing partner of Beringea, says the period of 40 per cent initial tax relief, and a three-year holding period (2004 to 2006), means people saw the limited life VCTs, which invested in low-risk, low return assets, tending to generate their returns through the tax relief.

He comments: "These came into their own following the global financial crisis - for a few years, they attracted a significant proportion of all funds raised." 

But this was not seen to be putting the investment money to where the government had intended - the growth and development of the investee companies themselves, rather than 'safer' seeming bets such as management buy-outs.

After all, if the Treasury is to provide a (now) 30 per cent income tax relief, it wants to make sure people are taking commensurate risk to bolster fledgling UK plc, not line their own pockets with a safe bet. For a quick glance at the tax changes, see the Info Box. 

Another once-popular area was solar panels and renewables.

However, this was banned from VCT and Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) investment in 2014 as the Treasury clamped down on investment vehicles which were benefiting from the subsidies and tax breaks on renewables.