Skip to main content

The Resurgence of the Guernsey Property Unit Trust

As UK real estate continues to be an attractive investment, a Guernsey Property Unit Trust (GPUT) offers great flexibility and a host of benefits for larger investors. Kees Jager, head of Funds, Guernsey, and Amit Taylor, head of Corporate Services, Guernsey, tell us more.

Real estate investment in the UK continues to boom. Prices are attractive—and the post-pandemic rise of working from home, along with an increase in demand for eCommerce (and the supporting infrastructure, such as data and logistics centers)—have created a strong appetite for investment and redevelopment.

This is bringing about some great opportunities, both for developers and private equity capital, and we’re seeing a massive deployment of capital aimed primarily at the UK commercial real estate sector. This includes office blocks, pre-booked student accommodation, and logistics and commercial development properties.

Meanwhile, managers who invest in logistic and distribution services are investing in assets such as warehouse space with an expectation of continued and increasing demand. And as more employers switch to hybrid working, they’re looking for smaller, open-plan offices, and collaborative workspace environments. This new approach has driven investment in both new and existing developments, as investors look for returns outside the private and public equity markets. And all these factors are contributing to a real estate boom.

The increase of private capital investment into commercial property and infrastructure comes against a backdrop of slower growth in the real estate market over the past couple of years. Now we are seeing some investors acquire an initial asset or portfolio of seed assets with the intention of investing over a five-year-plus horizon and a view to exit by selling their developments either as a package, a portfolio of real estate, or individual assets. An increasingly popular and flexible way of structuring such investments is the Guernsey Property Unit Trust (GPUT).

What are GPUTs?

GPUTs are a popular vehicle for holding UK real estate assets. Changes to capital gains tax have created a level playing field between onshore and offshore structures, which has helped renew interest in the use of GPUTs when structuring investments into UK real estate.

GPUTs also offer the attractiveness of Guernsey as a base for a real estate structure. This is an ideal jurisdiction in which to base an investment structure: it’s politically stable, geographically close to London, and in the same time zone. It also has an excellent financial, legal, and administrative infrastructure, and a strong network of experienced advisors and service providers.

Historically, GPUTs were popular because they enabled investors to transfer assets without paying stamp duty. When the regulations changed in 2006, demand was dampened to an extent, but over the years, flows into GPUTs have remained steady. And over the past 18 months, they’ve become increasingly popular thanks to a number of features.

What are the features and benefits of GPUTs?

  • No stamp duty is payable in Guernsey or the UK on transfers of units in a GPUT.
  • No income tax or capital gains tax (CGT) is payable in Guernsey by a GPUT trustee.
  • GPUTs offer the potential to be transparent for UK income tax purposes. When structured as Baker Trusts, the income accrues directly to unit holders as it arises, rather than forming part of a trust fund for later distribution by the trustees.
  • It’s a legally and regulatorily compliant structure that’s recognized and accepted by lending banks in the UK and elsewhere.

The flexibility of the GPUT structure and the ease of exit when it’s time to divest the investment—as well as the ecosystem of advisors, legal firms, and tax experts in Guernsey—combine to make it a very attractive option. Another advantage is its speed to market. The path to incorporation is simple—and the resulting GPUT is a trust instrument, which has no legal personality, so does not appear on the beneficial owner register. The trust instrument also sets out the powers of the trustees and the role of the unit holders.

In the case of a regulated fund, where there are multiple investors, there will need to be a regulatory application process with the Guernsey Financial Services Commission. This is a straightforward and well-established process that can be completed in a matter of weeks. Thanks to its flexibility and ease of exit, the GPUT option is usually favored by investors with several hundred million pounds to invest in this asset class. For smaller investors, a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) might be considered as an alternative.

How CSC can help with GPUTs

Administering a GPUT is a specialist area, so investors should consider a firm with multi-jurisdiction reach and expertise. These firms can assist with legal and regulatory compliance, incorporation, accounting and bookkeeping, and other essential administrative services for the entity.

Setting up a GPUT requires liaison with tax and legal advisers, the appointment of trustees as well as considerations around how to structure any external financing—usually from a debt fund or bank financing. GPUTs typically have two corporate trustees, which is why it’s important to consider an administrator with sufficient size to provide the requisite number of directors and trustees required.

Expertise is needed to coordinate client onboarding and provide guidance across multiple jurisdictions, as the GPUT normally sits within a wider investment structure that can often also involve UK and Luxembourg entities. CSC has the experience to provide Trustee and Director services, Tax Compliance services, incorporation, accounting and bookkeeping, and Administration services for GPUTs, as well as the other entities in the overall structure.

Why CSC?

CSC provides knowledge-based solutions for every phase of the business life cycle, helping businesses form entities, maintain compliance, execute transaction work, and support real estate, M&A, and other corporate transactions in hundreds of U.S. and international jurisdictions.

We work with some of the world’s largest banks and commercial lenders to reduce risk in their lien portfolios, improve their transaction speeds, and create a secure environment for their financial processing needs. We also provide solutions for secure real estate document preparation and recording.

We are the trusted partner for 90% of the Fortune 500®, nearly 10,000 law firms, and more than 3,000 financial organizations. Headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, USA, since 1899, we are a global company capable of doing business wherever our clients are—and we accomplish that by employing experts in every business we serve.

Missed this webinar? Watch it on demand and register for the full series here.