Accumulation units – tax on reinvested dividends UK

Are reinvested dividends taxable in the UK? Sadly, yes. Fund accumulation units attract income tax on dividends and interest at the same rates as their more transparent ‘income unit’ cousins.

You owe dividend income tax (or income tax on interest in the case of bond funds) even though you don’t physically receive a payout to your bank account. 

And the taxman still wants his cut even though many accumulation class funds don’t show dividend distributions on their webpages. 

But it gets worse. Some investors are probably paying tax twice on their accumulation unit income, because they don’t properly account for the effect of dividends on their capital gains tax bill. 

Let’s sort this mess out with a quick summary of the reinvested dividend tax rules. 

++ Monevator minefield warning ++ Everything below applies equally to dividends and interest but we’ll mostly only refer to dividends because life is short. It also equally applies to accumulating / capitalising ETFs, as well as the accumulation units of OEIC and Unit Trust funds. We’ll pick out the occasional exception where it exists. 

What are accumulation units again? And how do they reinvest dividends?

Many investment funds come in two varieties (or share classes) that differ only in the way they treat dividend payments:

Accumulation units are the share class that automatically reinvests dividends or interest straight back into your investment fund.

In contrast, income units cough up dividends directly, paying you cash like three cherries on a fruit machine.

You can tell how a fund reinvests dividends by checking its name:

A fund name that includes the abbreviation Acc indicates the use of accumulation units. 

A fund that features Inc in its name sports income units. 

Reinvested dividends increase the capital value of a fund composed of accumulation units. That has implications for capital gains tax. We’ll show you how to work this out below. 

Meanwhile, dividends reinvested in your fund’s accumulation units are known as a ‘notional distribution’. This notional distribution is taxable – just in the same way as income units.

Tax on accumulation funds – when do you not have to pay?

You owe income tax on ‘accumulated’ dividends unless:

Your (notional) dividend income is covered by your tax-free dividend allowance. Any dividend earnings above the allowance are subject to dividend income tax, regardless of the fact they’re rolling up in an ‘Acc’ fund.

Dividend income is also tax-free where you have spare personal allowance – the level before you must pay tax on income. (Perhaps you’re a FIRE-ee who no longer pulls down a salary?)

Interest income can be sheltered by your personal allowance, your ‘starting rate for savings’ and your ‘personal savings allowance’. (Ever wondered why accountants like our convoluted tax code?)

If your accumulation unit funds are held within an ISA or SIPP then they’re legally off the taxman’s radar.

Do you pay capital gains tax on reinvested dividends in the UK?

You do not have to pay capital gains tax on reinvested dividends in accumulation units. You’re already paying income tax on those. 

So when you come to fathom the capital gain on your accumulation funds (and as your resultant psychic scream reverberates around the universe), make sure you deduct any notional distributions from the total gain. Otherwise, the reinvested dividends inflate the value of your fund and you’ll overpay CGT.

Here’s the formula to correctly calculate capital gains tax on accumulation funds:

Capital gain = Net proceeds1 minus original acquisition cost minus accumulation income2 plus equalisation payments

Here’s a worked example for an acc fund sold for £20,000. It’s accumulated £500 income over the years since it was purchased for £10,000:

Net proceeds: £20,000

Less acquisition cost: £10,000

Less accumulation income: £500

Plus equalisation payments: £100

Capital gain = £9,600

If you haven’t received any equalisation payments from your fund then ignore that step. See below for more on equalisation. 

You can also reduce capital gains if you owe excess reportable income

Incidentally, if you switch from accumulation to income units then that is a chargeable event and may incur capital gains tax. 

Equalisation payment effect on accumulation units 

You’ll notice in the example above that accumulation income reduces your capital gains tax bill. Meanwhile, equalisation payments raise it. 

Equalisation payments may be made by your fund when you purchase units between dividend payment dates.

They’re paid because part of your purchase price included dividends that inflated the capital value of the fund – before those dividends were paid out (or reinvested). 

You weren’t entitled to the dividends that accrued before you invested. The equalisation payment is effectively a return of your capital. It cancels out the extra you paid on the purchase price due to the embedded dividends.  

You don’t owe income tax on equalisation payments.

With accumulation units, treat equalisation as per the capital gains tax formula above.

The effect of dividends you weren’t entitled to is then cancelled out from your fund’s capital value. 

Equalisation payments should show up on your fund’s dividend statements via your broker – after the distribution or at the end of the tax year. 

You’ll receive multiple equalisation payments if you invest regularly in a fund with an equalisation policy.

Note: not all funds make equalisation payments. 

Vanguard has published a guide on how to work out equalisation payments on its funds

Accumulation unit dividends – how to find them

Of course, you can only make the necessary accumulation fund tax calculations if you’ve been recording the dividends you’ve received over the years.

And who doesn’t do that…?

The problem is accumulation unit distributions are more stealthy than income unit payouts. You don’t get to do a little dance every time those divis turn up in your trading account.

So where can you find out about them?

In your dividend statements from your broker, if you receive them.

Trustnet keeps a good account of accumulation unit distributions. Put your accumulation fund’s name in the ‘Find A Fund’ search box. Then click the dividends tab.

In your fund’s annual report.

Using Investegate’s advanced search. Set categories to ‘dividends’. Set the timespan to ‘six months’ or whatever suits you. Search for the company name of your fund. Enjoy!

Are accumulation units worth the hassle?

The main advantage of accumulation funds is to skip the cost and effort of reinvesting dividends.

This cost saving is rendered superfluous if your fund isn’t saddled with trading fees or a high regular investing minimum. 

On the other hand, accumulating funds mean that your income is reinvested straightaway, without time out of the market or you having to lift a finger. That’s a godsend if you prefer the hands-off approach. 

Some people prefer to hold income units when investing outside of a tax shelter. The dividend payouts can be used to rebalance, or to pay tax bills without you having to sell units and trigger capital gains woes if you breach your exemption allowance.

Whichever way you go, just remember that any accumulation units in your portfolio are not immune to income tax.

As (nearly) always, making full use of tax shelters – by investing within your ISAs and pension – saves you hassle as well as money, by enabling you to sidestep all the above malarkey.

But where that’s not possible, start recording those reinvested dividends.

You could do it just for the fun of seeing what you’re earning in income, even if you don’t have to pay tax on them!

Take it steady,

The Accumulator

The amount you sold for.i.e. dividends or interest.

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Many investors think that they don’t have to pay tax on their dividends squirrelled away in accumulation units. It’s a myth. Discover the truth within.
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