Charity corporation tax: the 10 rules you need to know

This article by Bill Lewis, Consultant at BWB, was originally published here and is reproduced with his permission

Corporation tax poses significant challenge to charities of all sizes – here are some of the common bear traps and how to avoid them…

There are many tax exemptions available to charities – their income from primary purpose trading, property, investments, fundraising and gifts are usually exempt from tax. However, because they are used to operating tax free they often forget that corporation tax is still payable on many sources of income. The following are my top 10 common examples of taxable income.

  1. Charities often forget that the trading tax exemption only applies to income from their primary charitable activities and wrongly think that any trading they carry out is tax exempt. For example, tax will be payable on the sale of used cars even though the profits are used charitably.
  2. If your objects involve the care of the elderly, your income from care of children will be liable to tax on its profits even though they are both charitable activities. This is because the tax exemption only applies to income from your primary purposes, and does not apply to income from wider charitable activity. It is always worth examining your objects before undertaking a new source of charitable activity to ensure you can undertake it tax free. Some charities have very wide objects in part for this reason.
  3. While trading that is ancillary to the primary purpose trading is also tax exempt, wider more loosely connected trading is not. For example, a theatre bar only available to paying attendees at a play is tax exempt. A theatre bar open to anyone whether attending a performance or not is not tax exempt.
  4. Not all fundraising is tax exempt fundraising. There are specific limits in the rules governing the number and type of events that can be held (no more than 15 events of the same type in the same location per year).
  5. Note that when making grants overseas the law says you need to take the steps that HM Revenue & Customs deem as reasonable in the circumstances to ensure that a payment is spent charitably. Fail to take those steps and corporation tax can be charged on the value of the grant paid!
  6. A donation that requires you to give recognition of the donor is generally not a donation but is a sponsorship fee subject to tax. Instead negotiate a separate payment for sponsorship rights ensuring that the bulk of the payment received is still a donation.
  7. Similarly, a payment from a corporate supporter that allows them to display and use your logo and brand is regarded as taxable non-charitable trading.
  8. Overage payments are not exempt from tax. If you sell land and use the proceeds charitably the proceeds are exempt from tax. However, if you are entitled to additional overage payments, i.e. bonuses following the successful development of the land, then this is taxable.
  9. Development of a tax exempt income stream into something else can cause problems. So, for example, while hiring rooms can be income from property exempt from tax, the provision of catering, equipment and overnight accommodation is not exempt from tax.
  10. The sale of goods donated to a charity is tax exempt fundraising. The sale of new goods, often in the same charity shop, is not. Careful monitoring of sales is required to differentiate between the two.

There is a general trading tax exemption worth up to £50,000 of non-charitable trading income that might save the day and which is very helpful for smaller charities. Otherwise I usually recommend that taxable activities are run through a trading company that gifts its profits to the charity. The £50,000 exemption is then a safety net for the unforeseen.

But the main way of avoiding bear traps is planning – examine new activities before they start and route through the trading company where needed to avoid nasty tax surprises.

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