For UK financial advisers only, not approved for use by retail customers. Click here for the customer website.

What are the implications for a charity investing in an insurance bond?

7 min read 31 Mar 23

  • This article relates to both life assurance and (offshore) capital
    redemption bonds. 
  • Gains on insurance bonds are not tax exempt for charities.
  • Insurance bonds are not qualifying investments for charities.
  • The Charity Commission has published investment guidance for trustees.
  • OEICs are tax efficient investments for charities.

These notes apply to both life assurance bonds and capital redemption bonds held by charities.

"Charity trustees may... consider it prudent to seek professional advice before entering into an insurance policy or accepting a transfer of an insurance policy from a donor".(HMRC)

Most of the income and gains received by charities are exempt from income tax and corporation tax, provided that the money is used for charitable purposes only. However that statement contains two qualifications - 'most' and 'used for charitable purposes only'.

The tax legislation sets out categories of 'qualifying investments' which include bank deposits, national savings products, 'gilts', listed shares, unit trusts or open-ended investment companies (OEICs).

An investment or loan which does not fall within these categories is 'non-qualifying'. HMRC does not accept that premiums paid by charities on insurance policies, including policies assigned in favour of charities, are qualifying investments. This restriction covers both life assurance and capital redemption contracts.

If the charity makes a non-charitable (non-qualifying) loan or investment, this is treated for tax purposes as non-charitable expenditure. The charity will lose tax exemption on some, or all, of its income.

Gifts of insurance bonds - or capital redemption bonds - to charities don't qualify for income tax relief (or corporation tax relief) for the donor.

The Charity Commission has published CC14 “Charities and Investment Matters: A guide for trustees”.

The guidance contains the following matters which are of particular relevance to financial advisers:

  • The duties set out in the guidance are based on the law relating to Trust Law, but directors of charitable companies (who are charity trustees) are likely to have similar duties when investing their charity’s assets.

  • The purpose of financial investment is to yield the best financial return within the level of risk considered to be acceptable - this return can then be spent on the charity’s aims.

  • In order to act within the law, trustees must:
    • know, and act within, their charity’s powers to invest

    • exercise care and skill when making investment decisions

    • select investments that are right for their charity. This means taking account of how suitable any investment is for the charity and the need to diversify investments take advice from someone experienced in investment matters unless they have good reason for not doing so

    • follow certain legal requirements if they are going to use someone to manage investments on their behalf

    • review investments from time to time

    • explain their investment policy (if they have one) in the trustees’ annual report
  • Before making any investment decisions, trustees should consider what is the appropriate level of risk that they want to, or are able to, accept. As part of their duty of care, the trustees must be satisfied that the overall level of risk they are taking is right for their charity and its beneficiaries.

Although investments structured as life assurance bonds are clearly inappropriate it would be permissible for investments structured as OEICs and unit trusts to be held by charities. The income from these entities would be free of income tax and capital gains on their eventual disposal would be exempt from capital gains tax. OEICs and unit trusts hold a number of internal investments thus meeting requirements for diversification. They are internally tax efficient; disposal of holdings by managers are capital gains tax exempt. They can readily be converted back into cash (subject to the possibility of funds suspending redemptions).

Trustees must take and consider advice from someone experienced in investment matters before making investments and when reviewing them, unless they have good reasons for not doing so. They may decide not to take advice if they conclude that it is unnecessary, or inappropriate in the circumstances. They may decide not to take external advice if they have sufficient experience within the charity.