Capital Gains Tax explained

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This article provides a broad outline of capital gains tax (“CGT”) from identifying what is taxable, working out your capital gains and determining if tax is payable, and when.

To help you understand CGT, this article answers a number of frequently asked questions and uses examples throughout.

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  1. What is CGT and what is it payable on?

On the sale (or disposal) of something (an ‘asset’), if it has increased in value to the extent that you make a profit, CGT may be due. In simple terms, CGT is a tax on the profit when you dispose of an asset that’s increased in value. Selling your business is a common reason to need to pay Capital Gains tax.

CGT is different to income tax which (as it sounds) is charged on income such as salaries, dividends and interest. The rates of CGT are current lower than income tax rates. 

Assets include:

  • Most personal possessions worth £6,000 or more e.g. antiques, paintings, jewellery
  • Property that is not your main home – residential or commercial
  • Your main home if it has been let out or used for business purposes
  • Shares not held in an ISA or PEP
  • Cryptocurrencies
  • Business assets

Example 1
You bought a necklace for £5,000 and later sold it for £20,000. This means you made a capital gain of £15,000 (£20,000 - £5,000).

CGT is charged on the net gain arising and not the total amount of money that you receive.

Making a profit on disposal of an asset does not guarantee a CGT liability.

To reduce capital gains, there is a CGT allowance, various reliefs/deferrals and not all assets are subject to CGT, some are tax free! See below for more details.

    2. What counts as a disposal?

A disposal for CGT purposes is more than a simple sale of an asset. A disposal of an asset includes:

i) Selling it

ii) Giving/gifting it away or transferring it to someone else

iii) Swapping it for something else, e.g. another asset

iv) Receiving compensation, e.g. insurance payouts on loss of an asset

It is important to note that a CGT liability can arise even without a traditional ‘sale’ occurring and in cases when no money is received for an asset. 

    3. When don’t you pay CGT?

CGT is not payable on:

i) Cars (unless used for business purposes)

ii) Anything with a lifespan of less than 50 years

iii) ISAs or PEPs

iv) Betting and lottery winnings

v) Government gilts and Premium Bonds

The second point covers all items of machinery and also items such as antique clocks and watches.

Usually there is no CGT payable on gifts of assets made to your husband, wife, civil partner, or a charity.

    4. Working out your capital gain

In most circumstances, your capital gain is the difference between what you paid for the asset and what you sold it for, i.e. proceeds less cost.

In addition to the actual cost of the asset, further deductions can be made for costs associated with both the acquisition and disposal of the asset.

For example, fees for valuing or advertising the asset prior to sale would be deductible. If you paid VAT on the acquisition of an asset (and you cannot reclaim it) this is also a deductible cost.

Any enhancement/improvement expenditure is also deductible. For example, the cost of an extension on a second home would be a deductible cost in calculating the capital gain arising on disposal.

For assets that have been owned since before March 1982, there are specific rules around the deductible acquisition cost.

    5. CGT allowances

A CGT liability only arises if your overall capital gains for a tax year exceed the tax-free allowance, the Annual Exempt Amount (“AEA”).

The tax-free AEA for the 2024/25 tax year is:

  • £3,000 for individuals 
  • £1,500 for trustees 

If you realise more than one capital gain, you can decide which gain(s) the AEA can be allocated against.

Example 2

Following from the example in Q1, on the sale of the necklace, you have realised a capital gain of £15,000.

After deduction of the AEA this leaves a taxable gain of £12,000.

    6. Capital losses

On disposal of an asset, sometimes a capital loss may arise. These can be offset against other capital gains arising in the same or future tax years. These capital losses can be used as to reduce your capital gains down to the AEA.  

For capital losses to be used, they must be claimed by including it on your self assessment tax return. It is possible to write to HMRC to claim these if you do not submit a tax return. 

Example 3

Following from the example in Q1, on the sale of the necklace, you have realised a capital gain of £15,000. From a disposal in a previous tax year, you have capital losses brought forward of £2,000.

After deducting the losses, this leaves a capital gain of £13,000 against which the AEA is deducted.

This leaves a taxable gain of £10,000.

    7. What are the current CGT rates?

The rate of CGT depends on the size of your gain, your taxable income and whether or not the asset disposed of is residential property (other than your main home).

For the 2024/25 tax year the basic rate band is £37,700.

Basic rate taxpayers

18% on gains from residential property

10% on gains from other chargeable assets

Higher rate taxpayers

24% on gains from residential property

20% on gains from other chargeable assets

If your capital gain exceeds the basic rate tax band, CGT will be payable at both the basic and higher rates.

Example 4

Your taxable income is £30,000 and your taxable gains are £15,600. Your gains are not from residential property.

First, deduct the AEA from your taxable gain. After deducting the £3,000, this leaves a gain of £12,600.

Add this to your taxable income. Because the combined amount of £42,600 is more than £37,700 (the basic rate band for the 2024/25 tax year), you pay CGT at 10% on £7,700 and 20% on the balance of £4,900.

    8. What if my only ‘income’ is capital gains?

Income and capital gains share the same tax bands, as shown in example 4.

Consequently, if you have no taxable income and only capital gains, you have the full basic rate band available for taxing your capital gains.    

Example 5

You have no income and have realised capital gains of £75,000. After deducting the AEA, you have taxable gains of £72,000.

You have the full basic rate band available so £37,700 of the capital gains are subject to CGT at 10%. £34,300 of the gains are subject to CGT at 20%.

    9. Paying capital gains tax

There are different ways to pay CGT due on UK residential property and gains on other assets.

In respect of UK residential property, you must report and pay any CGT due within 60 days of selling it. This requires an HMRC ‘Capital Gains Tax on UK property account’. Even if you are not UK resident for tax purposes you are still required to report the sale within 30 days, even if you have no tax to pay.

For capital gains arising on other assets, ordinarily these are reported via self assessment tax returns. The CGT will be due by 31 January following the end of the tax year. 

    10. Reliefs and deferrals

There are various reliefs available where specific conditions are met. These are predominantly deferral reliefs with Business Asset Disposal Relief (“BADR”) providing relief through a lower rate of taxation.

BADR (formerly Entrepreneurs’ Relief) is a key relief. If certain conditions are met in respect of both the individual and the asset, CGT can be payable at a 10%. This is subject to the lifetime limit of £1million of capital gains.

Gift relief (hold over relief) is a deferral relief. Where business assets are gifted, including shares in some companies and assets used for business purposes, in some cases, it is possible to claim gift relief This in essence transfers the cost of the asset to the person receiving the asset. Consequently, nil or a reduced capital gain may arise.

Rollover relief is another CGT deferral relief available in respect of the disposal of business assets. Broadly, if the sales proceeds are reinvested in another business asset within three years of selling the original assets, the CGT may be deferred. It is possible that partial relief may be available if not all of the sales proceeds are reinvested. 

A further form of reinvestment deferral relief is available when investments are made in small companies. These fall under the Enterprise Investment Scheme (“EIS”) and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (“SEIS”). In addition to CGT deferral options, both EIS and SEIS schemes offer income tax advantages but are, ordinarily, inherently more risky than traditional investments. 

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