Money Advice Service

All enterprises need money to start, grow, and be sustainable. However, it can be difficult for local businesses or enterprises to find the capital they need. Community Shares (also known as Withdrawable Share Capital) allow you to invest in an enterprise that aims to benefit your community. You might come across them because you’ve been invited to support a venture, or you might be looking for a different way to invest some spare cash.

How Community Shares work

Since 2009, more than 230 societies have raised more than £50m in share capital to support local, member-owned businesses, including shops, pubs, piers, community halls, renewable energy developments, care homes and youth clubs.

If a local organisation or business wants to raise money for an enterprise they think will benefit the community, they can put together a proposal (known as a Share Offer document) and register as a :

  • Co-operative society,
  • Community benefit society, or
  • Charitable community benefit society.

This allows them to issue Community Shares to help raise the money they need.

Community Shares aren’t traded on the stock market – you buy them directly from the society that’s offering them.

When you want to cash in your shares, the society will repay the money you invested (unless it is having financial difficulties).

This might be subject to a notice period and other restrictions, stated in the offer document.

The share offer document contains all of the details of the offer, including the minimum and maximum amounts you can invest.

This short animation explains Community Shares.

What are the benefits of investing in Community Shares

There are three main benefits:

  1. The main reason for investing in Community Shares is to support the enterprise, and the benefits it brings to you and your community through its products and services. If the venture is successful you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you have played a part in making it work.
  2. You become a member of a community enterprise, with a democratic say in its social aims and future success.
  3. You might also be offered a financial return on your investment, together with the scope to cash in your shares at some point in the future.

However, it is important to remember that this is a social investment and not a financial investment.

If the society makes a profit, it might pay you interest on your shares, but the amount of interest a society can pay is restricted.

What are the risks of investing in Community Shares?

Buying any type of shares involves risk. Community Shares can’t go up in value, but they can go down if the society is making losses.

As a shareholder you could lose some or all of the money you invest.

You should only take these risks with money you can afford to lose.

What to think about before you invest in Community Shares

There are some important things you need to think about before you decide to invest in Community Shares:

  • Is your money safe?
  • Is it a good business idea?
  • How much should you invest?
  • What will your money be spent on?
  • Is it realistic to expect a financial return?
  • Can you afford to lose your investment?
  • Who else is putting money into the organisation?
  • How can you get your money back when you need it?
  • Do you support the social purpose of the organisation?
  • Do you know and trust the people who are running the project?
  • How comprehensive is the Share Offer document? Does it carry the Standard Mark?

The Community Shares Standard Mark is shown only on share offers that have met best practice guidelines, so look out for it when you’re considering investing.

Further guidance can be found in the Investors’ Guide.

Using the Community Shares Standard Mark to assess a Community Share offer

The Community Shares Standard Mark is awarded to Societies whose share offers meet national standards of good practice.

It has been developed by the Community Shares Unit, a government-funded body that promotes community shares.

Specifically the Mark is awarded to share offer applications that are:

  • Easy to understand.
  • Not misleading or unfair.
  • Explain the purpose of the offer.
  • Provide all the main facts about the offer.

You can find exactly what should be in a share offer in the Community Shares handbook.

You can also check that the community share offer is genuine, and means that the share offer has been reviewed and meets national standards of good practice.

Accessing the money you’ve invested in Community Shares

Most societies will repay your shares on demand, but others need prior notice – sometimes several months in advance of your withdrawal.

They might also limit how much you can withdraw in any one year.

It’s important to read the terms and conditions for withdrawal in the share offer document.

Charges for Community Shares

There might be charges such as annual membership fees or an administration charge if you make a withdrawal.

Check with the scheme to ensure you fully understand the charges that might apply.

Is the money I’ve put into Community Shares protected?

The money you put into withdraw-able share capital is not protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

If the society collapses, you could lose all the money you’ve invested.

Do I have to pay tax on Community Shares?

Societies don’t deduct tax before paying out interest.

So if you get interest payments, you must declare the income and pay any tax owed.

If things go wrong with Community Shares

While Co-ops and Community Benefit Societies are registered by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), withdrawable share capital itself is not regulated.

So if there’s a problem, you can’t make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service or get your money back from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme – you’ll need to sort out the problem directly with the society.

Advertisements for community share offers are also outside the FCA’s scope, so they might not provide all the risk information you need to make an informed choice.

If you have concerns about a share offer bearing the Community Shares Standards Mark, you can Contact the Community Shares Unit which will investigate your concerns.

Find out more about Community Shares

Find out more about community shares or setting up your own share offer on the Community Shares website.

Check whether the society is registered on the FSA website.

This article is provided by the Money Advice Service.