Tax Glossary

Company Share Option Plan (CSOP)

White Arrow
Last updated on:
March 17, 2024

Company Share Option Plans (CSOPs) offer a tax-efficient way for companies to grant shares to employees and directors. Designed primarily for businesses too large to be eligible for the Enterprise Management Incentive (EMI) scheme, CSOPs enable participants to acquire shares at a predetermined price, potentially benefiting from the company's growth without immediate tax implications on acquisition.

Tax Benefits of CSOPs

Under a CSOP, the critical tax advantage is the absence of Income Tax and National Insurance contributions on the difference between the exercise price (or "strike price")—the cost to purchase the shares—and their market value at the time of purchase. This exemption provides a significant incentive for employees and directors, allowing them to participate in the company's success in a tax-efficient manner.

Key Features of CSOPs

  • Market Value Pricing: The options must be granted at the market value to qualify for tax benefits.
  • £30,000 Limit: Participants can be granted options up to a value of £30,000, offering a substantial opportunity for investment.
  • Three-Year Holding Period: To benefit from the Income Tax exemption, the shares acquired through a CSOP must be held for at least three years.
  • Discretionary Allocation: Companies can offer different terms to different employees, allowing for flexibility in rewarding and incentivizing staff.

Tax Considerations

While CSOPs provide a way to acquire shares without incurring Income Tax or National Insurance, they are not entirely tax-free. Selling the shares, especially if their value has increased, may result in a Capital Gains Tax (CGT) liability if the profit exceeds the annual CGT allowance (currently set at £12,300 for the 2020/21 tax year, not £3,000 as mentioned). It's important for participants to manage their shares and be aware of potential tax obligations upon disposal.

Managing Capital Gains

To mitigate CGT liabilities, individuals should:

  • Keep track of their annual CGT allowance and plan disposals accordingly.
  • Consider spreading sales over multiple tax years to maximize use of the CGT allowance.
  • Report and pay any due CGT through a Self Assessment tax return, ensuring compliance with HMRC requirements.


CSOPs represent an attractive option for employees and directors to engage in the ownership and success of their company, with significant tax advantages under certain conditions. Understanding the rules and tax implications of these share option plans is crucial for maximizing their benefits while adhering to tax obligations.

By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.

Arrange your free initial consultation today.

Book Free Consultation
UK's best rated accountant 2021
Rated Excellent
5 Stars
on Trustpilot