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Employee Ownership Trusts

What is an employee ownership trust (EOT)?

An employee ownership trust (EOT) is a trust established for the benefit of the employees of a business. Selling a majority stake in your company to an EOT will mean that your employees will have an indirect interest in the business, potentially leading to increased performance and commitment, as well as a number of additional benefits:

  • A disposal of a majority shareholding in a company to an EOT will generally be free of capital gains tax, income tax and inheritance tax.
  • Bonus payments of up to £3,600 per year can be made to employees of the business, tax-free.
  • Full market value for the shares can be realised by the selling shareholders.
  • The shareholders do not have to sell all of their shares, so can continue to have a stake in the business, and can remain as directors of the company post-sale.

In order to sell shares to an EOT and realise the benefits outlined above, a company (which must be a trading company or a holding company of a trading company) will usually be incorporated to act as the trustee of the EOT. The relevant company and the EOT trustee will enter into a trust deed, under which the property held by the EOT trustee, such as the shares in the company, are held for the benefit of the company’s employees.

The company’s shareholders will then agree to sell more than 50% of the shares in the company to the EOT Trustee. Depending on how the transaction will be funded, the purchase price may be left payable on deferred terms so as to allow the dividends received by the EOT trustee from the trading company to be used to pay the purchase price.

What is required to qualify?

In addition to the requirement that the relevant company must be a trading company, there are certain additional requirements which must be met in order for the transaction to qualify for the tax treatment benefits:

  • The “all-employee benefit” requirement. The terms of the trust must not permit the trust property to be applied other than for the benefit of all the business’ employees, to transfer the property to another trust, or to make loans to the trust beneficiaries.
  • The “equality” requirement. Any distribution from the trust fund, or payment under a bonus scheme, must be for the benefit of all eligible employees, on the same terms.
  • The “controlling interest” requirement. The EOT trustee must hold at least 50% of the ordinary share capital, voting rights, profit entitlement and entitlement to assets on a winding-up.

What are the benefits?

You will appreciate this tax-efficient structure provides another exit opportunity to management alongside trade sale, traditional MBOs (VIMBOs, MBIs, etc.), listings and asset sales. This allows management partially to de-risk their investment and unlocks tax-free capital to invest elsewhere.

Bearing in mind the succession issues experienced by owner-managers since the financial crisis of 2008, this structure is well worth considering as part of clients’ financial planning.

This structure is also well suited to professional service firms where ownership and capital value may be barred due to the high cost of buy-in. Using this method would incentivise and tie in valuable members of teams and ensure a fruitful final exit for management and employees

How can we help?

If you would like to discuss the benefits of implementing an EOT structure, we would be happy to discuss it further with you. Bermans can assist in all aspects of the transaction, including:

  • Setting up the company to act as the trustee of the EOT.
  • Preparing the trust deed between the company and the EOT trustee, detailing the terms on which the company’s shares will be held for the benefit of the employees.
  • Preparing the constitutional documents of both the company and the EOT trustee.
  • Drafting and advising on the share purchase agreement relating to the sale of the shares to the EOT trustee.
  • Advising on any documents or structures relating to the funding of the transaction.