New tax-incentivised gift scheme open for business

After 10 years of campaigning for there to be more ways to encourage giving to museums, the government's Cultural Gifts Scheme has finally gone live.

Almost 10 years ago, the Treasury asked the Art Fund's then outgoing chairman, Sir Nicholas Goodison, to look into what would help boost the collecting abilities of UK museums and galleries. Although a fair number of recommendations in his 2004 Report were subsequently taken up – including more joint acquisitions (where museums share ownership as well as costs) and better help for museums trying to buy art at auctions, a pretty much equal number were also quietly shelved. One seemingly simple way to boost public art collections – to give collectors an incentive to donate to the nation – wasn't taken up at the time but has defiantly refused to go away with almost every report since recommending a similar approach. The Art Fund in particular has continued to bang this drum for almost a decade. In the 2011 Budget, the Chancellor finally agreed to implement it, and yesterday, the Cultural Gifts Scheme finally went live.

Last week, if you wanted to donate a work of art or cultural object – for example, a collection of Chinese bronzes, literary archive or Stradivari violin to a UK museum or gallery, you would get nothing in return, save for the grateful thanks of your chosen institution. From now on, if the object is deemed to be of 'pre-eminent' quality and approved by a panel of experts, you will receive 30% of the item’s value taken off your personal tax bill (income and/or capital gains) in the year in which you give. Corporate bodies are also being encouraged to donate art for the first time (many have amassed impressive collections), receiving 20% off their corporation tax bill if accepted.

It is difficult to believe this is a new concept in the UK. For years the Government has allowed people to pay Inheritance Tax (‘death duties’) with art, but has refused to give anything to those who want to share their art with the public during their lifetime. Critics of the new scheme have wondered whether a 30% incentive is really enough to persuade someone to give, or whether those already planning to donate will simply receive a bonus windfall. It remains to be seen. I don't think it’s enough to herald a new dawn of giving, but I do think it will encourage new donors to come forward, perhaps the start of more fruitful relationships once they have caught the 'giving bug' and can see how works can truly transform collections and delight so many people. This new scheme isn't the preserve of the national collections – gifts can be ‘pre-eminent’ in a local context, and will hopefully lead to gifts of silver to, say, the Bowes Museum and watercolours to Falmouth. We have published a Guide to Giving Art that explains the new scheme as well as many other ways to support museums and galleries – including through the Art Fund, which many generous people already do.

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