10 EMI mistakes to avoid

10 EMI mistakes to avoid

10 EMI mistakes to avoid

This is a guest blog written by Robert Postlethwaite for LegalEdge, a business partner of Postlethwaite Solicitors. It first appeared on their website.

Enterprise Management Incentive (EMI) share options were introduced for SMEs in 2000, offering companies a great way to attract and retain employees.  Rewards received through EMI options are not subject to income tax and National Insurance but instead are taxed as capital gains, which under current tax rules means a tax rate of 20% and in many cases 10%.

(Visit our EMI page for more information)

All sounds great, right?

But as with any new endeavour, there are some things you need to be mindful of.

So, if you’re thinking of creating an EMI for your company, here we highlight 10 common mistakes to watch out for and to avoid….


1. Failure to register EMI options correctly

Within 92 days of the date of any grant of EMI options, you’ll need to tell HMRC. Failure to do so will likely mean the EMI tax benefits are not available.  We have seen many companies fall foul of this.

2. Option scheme not managed properly / annual returns not completed correctly

Someone capable (within the business or externally) needs to be tasked with managing the option scheme carefully and filing accurate online annual returns with HMRC after the end of each tax year. The annual returns provide data to HMRC which they may use in determining any eventual tax liability for optionholders. And if they’re not filed, or they’re incorrect, HMRC may fine the company. Also potentially expensive remedial work may be needed before options can be exercised or before a due diligence event (eg a new funding round or exit). Worst case is that there’s a dispute over who is entitled to what number of options/shares, and/or the tax advantages of the scheme are lost, resulting in potentially big tax liabilities for the company and staff.

3. Promise to employees not satisfied

If your company doesn’t grow at the rate expected, EMI options won’t deliver the planned level of reward. So when explaining to EMI optionholders how their options work, make sure that in any illustrations of their potential value, it is clear that these are not predictions, just illustrations, and that the value of shares can go down as well as up.

4. No discretion for board on leavers

HMRC doesn’t like EMI schemes where directors can choose whether employees that leave can retain options or not. But what you can do is say a leaver’s options will lapse (or will lapse in certain circumstances e.g. gross misconduct) but reserve the right for the directors to be more generous.

5. Make sure your company and employees are eligible for EMI

Not all companies are eligible to grant EMI options, and not all employees are eligible to receive them. Eligibility can normally be confirmed by completing a short checklist. Re-complete the checklist regularly (because things can change e.g. a fast growing company may reach the maximum 250 employee limit and no longer be eligible to grant further EMI options).

6. Failure to get HMRC approval on the share value

The low tax on EMI options is on any genuine growth in the value of the underlying shares from the date of grant, so if the price at which the shares can be purchased when the options are exercised – the exercise price – is less than their market value at the date of grant, the optionholder will be liable for income tax and potentially also National Insurance on that discount. Certainty that there is no such income taxable discount can be achieved by agreeing with HMRC at the time of the option grant what the shares are worth.

7. Keep a close eye on the financial limits

The maximum aggregate value of a company’s EMI options (measured at the date(s) of grant) is £3 million, and the maximum value for each employee is £250,000. This is another reason why it is important to agree market value with HMRC for each option grant.

8. Restrictions affecting option shares must be clearly spelt out to optionholders

There is a requirement that an EMI optionholder be notified in writing of any restrictions affecting their option shares (e.g. limits on how the shares may be sold). These should be summarised in the option agreement. Failure to do so could invalidate the EMI tax status.

9. Locking in optionholders after a sale of the Company

Company owners often want to stipulate that if the Company is sold, optionholders who then exercise their options and sell their shares to the purchaser may only receive the full sale proceeds if they stay working for the Company for a period afterwards. This is not easy to structure and is generally best avoided.

10. Dealing with uncertain sale value e.g. earnouts

If a Company’s sale involves an earn out and this is applied to optionholders, it may mean that several further years pass before it is clear as to their total reward from their options. At the very least this will create an administrative task and will complicate the optionholder’s tax affairs. Wherever possible if there is to be an earn out it should not apply to optionholders.


Further information on EMIs available here.

If you have any questions on EMI or other types of employee share schemes, please contact Robert Postletwaite or someone else on the team at Postlethwaite Solicitors on 020 38189420 or email info@postlethwaiteco.com.