Tax Relief For Charities: New Rules Explained

Unless you earn more than £200,000 or are generous enough to donate more than £50,000 a year to charity, the changes to tax relief on donations mean nothing to you personally.

You will still be able to write off small donations to charity against your tax bill or let the charity get the benefit of your tax relief by claiming it for themselves from HMRC through the Gift Aid scheme.

But by introducing a cap of £50,000 or 25% of a person's income - whichever is the greater - the Government hopes to end the practice in which very rich people can reduce their tax bills to zero by donating very large amounts of money to charity.

Charities fear they will no longer get the full benefit of their wealthiest donors' generosity but the Government has suggested that some "donors" have been cheating the system by giving to bogus overseas charities that channel the money back to the fraudsters.

Here is how the changes announced in the budget would affect someone who earns £1m and donates £500,000 a year to charity:

Under the old rules the donor would write off his £500,000 donation and HMRC would charge income tax on the remaining £500,000, which at 50% would leave him with a tax bill of £250,000 and therefore £250,000 for himself.

Under new rules due to come into effect in April 2013 the donor could only write off donations up to £250,000 (25% of his income) so HMRC would charge income tax on the remaining £750,000 which at 50% would leave him with a tax bill of £375,000.

That would leave the donor with £125,000 for himself if he wanted to continue donating £500,000 a year.

Charities are worried about how these changes will affect the £11bn in donations they receive every year because they say half that amount comes from the 7% of wealthiest donors.

According to The Sunday Telegraph, the Government is considering an American "Lifetime Legacies" system allowing donors to nominate an asset (eg. shares or property) to be given to charity at some point in the future, usually upon the donor's death.

The donor maintains ownership of the asset and continues to benefit from whatever income it generates until the donation takes place.

HMRC would immediately pay out tax relief due on the donation, because the gift has been promised, but it would be paid to the charity rather than the donor.

The donor could also benefit from relief on capital gains tax.

Critics of such schemes have argued that while beneficial to charities, they would not be a suitable replacement for unlimited tax relief on donations because the full benefit of the scheme will not be reaped for at least another 10 or 20 years.