Capital gains tax (CGT) is normally paid when an item is either sold or given away. It is usually paid on profits made by selling various types of assets including properties (but generally not a main residence), stocks and shares, paintings, and other works of art, but it may also be payable in certain circumstances when a gift is made.
The most common method for minimising a liability to capital gains tax is to ensure that the annual exemption is fully utilised wherever possible. Whilst this is relatively straight-forward where only capital gains are in question, the computation can be slightly more complex where capital losses are also involved.
Where a loss arises on the sale of assets it can be offset against any other gains made in the same year or in the future. However, a strict order applies for setting-off losses.
Firstly, losses arising in the tax year are deducted from any other chargeable gains for the same year. All losses for the year must be deducted, even if this results in chargeable gains after losses below the level of the annual exempt amount. If the allowable losses arising in the tax year are greater than the total chargeable gains for the year, the excess losses can be carried forward to be deducted from chargeable gains in future years. In this situation, the annual exemption for the year in question may be lost.
If chargeable gains remain after deducting the allowable losses arising from the same year, unused allowable losses brought forward from an earlier year may then be deducted. It is only necessary to deduct sufficient allowable losses brought forward to reduce the chargeable gains after losses to the level of the annual exempt amount. Any remaining losses brought forward are carried forward again without limit, to be deducted from chargeable gains in future years.
For 2017/18, most individuals will be entitled to an annual exemption of £11,300, which means that no CGT will be payable on gains up to that amount for that tax year. Since spouses and civil partners are each entitled to the exemption, for jointly held assets, there is scope for exempting £22,600 worth of gains in 2017/18.
The annual exemption is good only for the current tax year - it cannot be carried forward or taken back to an earlier year - so anyone planning to make a series of disposals, may want to consider the timing of sales between two or more tax years to use up as much and as many annual exemptions as possible.