Redefining income – dividend requirements clarified

Income Fund - stack of coins | The RU Group

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Earlier this year the rules for what constitutes an income fund changed

Investors often forget that there are two sources of return available to them from an investment portfolio. Income in the form of dividends and Growth in the form of  an increase in the price of the share. Together these elements of a portfolio represent its “total return”, or in other words its profit.

By focusing on one element (i.e. dividend) over the other, an investor limits their potential return and arguably increases their risk. We have always held the view that withdrawals should be based on the total return of a portfolio not limited to the level of “income” it generates in the form of dividend.

This avoids the trap of chasing the companies that pay the highest income (usually at the expense of capital growth) and allows the portfolio to be more diversified – less risky. It is also more tax efficient as dividends are subject to Income Tax whereas capital growth is subject to Capital Gains Tax which means that the profit can be set against two tax allowances rather than one.

What counts as an income fund?

The Investment Association (IA), the trade body for investment fund managers, sets detailed criteria for no less than 39 different investment sectors, ranging from Japanese Smaller Companies to Volatility Managed. The IA also monitors the funds in each sector to ensure they do not stray from the relevant criteria. The Association’s goal is to enable investors and their advisers to compare like with like, which to some extent explains the proliferation of sectors.

Changes to sector definitions are rare and usually occur after much consultation because of the disruption which they can cause. However, in April 2020 the IA announced a near instant revision to two popular sectors: UK Equity Income and Global Equity Income.

Unsurprisingly, prior to the IA’s announcement both these funds had definitions which required them to produce a minimum level of dividend income. Broadly speaking these were:

  • 90% of the last year’s dividend yield for the relevant index (FTSE All-Share Index for UK Equity Income and MSCI World Index for Global Equity Income); and
  • 100% of the average yield for the relevant index on a rolling three-year basis.

Both these requirements have now been suspended, the first for twelve months and the second pending review “as the markets settle and the outlook clears”. The reason for the IA’s rapid suspension is the market’s reaction (and in some cases regulators’ reactions) to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many companies have decided – or, for example, in the case of major UK banks, been told – to stop dividend payments. Conservation of cash in the face of such a dramatic change to the economic environment makes financial sense from a corporate viewpoint, but for investors it means a sudden loss of income.

If you hold any of the 144 funds within the two affected equity income sectors, you are likely to see a drop in the dividends paid, albeit often with a few months lag. That fall is not necessarily a reason to sell: before taking any action in this type of situation, make sure you seek professional advice.

Credit: Tax Briefs

This content is for information purposes and should not be treated as advice.

The value of an investment and the income from it could go down as well as up. You may not get back what you invest. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future performance.

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