Flexible ISA rules: Some ISAs are more flexible than you think

These lesser-known rules of a flexible ISA mean you can withdraw money and return it in the same tax year, without it counting towards your current allowance.

| 5 min read

Saving or investing in an ISA has long been an important way to save tax. Less widely-appreciated are the ‘flexible’ ISA rules that mean you can withdraw money from an ISA and return it in the same tax year, without it counting towards your current ISA allowance, currently £20,000.

At Charles Stanley Direct we are proud to be in the small minority of providers that offer a Stocks & Shares flexible ISA. Allowing customers to temporarily withdraw funds, without detriment in terms of losing accumulated ISA allowances, can be a valuable facility for shorter-term business purposes or to plug a short-term need.

What is an ISA?

ISAs, or Individual Savings Accounts, are a valuable shield against tax for UK investors. You can currently put away up to £20,000 a year in ISAs, and any income or investment gains are free from income tax or capital gains tax – no matter how much money you make.

ISAs are available either as “Cash”, which is like having a tax-free bank or building society account, or “Stocks & Shares” where your money can be invested in a variety of assets in search of higher returns – albeit you could face losses as well as gains, especially in the short term. Over time you can build up a substantial sum in ISAs and shelter it from tax. Follow the link to learn about the key differences between a cash ISA and an investment ISA.

Flexible ISA rules explained

A ‘flexible ISA’ gives you the freedom to withdraw your money and, crucially, put it back again without affecting your annual allowance, provided you pay it back in the same tax year.

For example, let’s say you currently have £50,000 in your ISA accumulated from previous tax years. If you then withdraw £10,000, you can pay this back into the ISA during this tax year and still use your full £20,000 annual allowance before 5 April 2023.

It is even possible to withdraw the entire balance from your ISA, potentially worth several hundred thousand pounds, and replace it by 5 April. This can be done at no cost with your Charles Stanley Direct ISA as we don't charge for electronic BACs payments. It is important to note that if you fail to replace it by the end of the tax year, you will lose the ability to return the balance to your ISA without impacting your annual allowance.

Flexible ISA rules also cover any dividend payments withdrawn to a bank account during the tax year. You’ll be able to pay such amounts back into a flexible ISA if you want to by 5 April, without affecting your allowance.

It is possible to have a Cash ISA or Stocks & Shares flexible ISA as long as your provider supports it – Charles Stanley only offers Stocks and Shares ISAs. The flexible ISA rules do not apply to Lifetime ISAs. Bear in mind that you can’t subscribe to more than one of the same type of ISA in a single tax year, and you can only repay withdrawals to the same ISA they were taken from.

Charles Stanley Direct’s flexible ISA

Flexible ISA rules were introduced in April 2016, but relatively few providers support them – if you withdraw from a provider that doesn’t support them, then that amount of ISA allowance will be lost for good.

Charles Stanley Direct’s Stocks & Shares ISA can be a useful facility for some individuals to fund a short-term need or business opportunity in the expectation that the money can be reinstated later in the tax year. It is very important that you are able to replace the money before the end of the tax year so to ensure you maintain the full value of your ISA, as well as your annual allowance.

Investors do also need to bear in mind the potential disadvantages of using a flexible ISA facility. Withdrawing cash from a Stocks & Shares ISA may mean selling holdings and investments that should be for the longer term, usually a minimum of five years. If you dispose of investments to withdraw cash, you may be more likely to incur a loss. Being ‘out of the market’ for a period of time could mean you miss out on a period of growth, plus you will not benefit from any income earned such as dividends from shares or interest on bonds.

What our clients had to say

Mr H, an Investment Manager from London, has made use of the Charles Stanley Direct flexible ISA facility. He explains, “Being self-employed, the flexible ISA rules have been extremely useful to me this tax year, allowing the drawdown of cash on a temporary basis without any loss of the allowances built up over the years. Happily, my use of the facility coincided with a period when I was somewhat cautious on markets, so I was not too worried about my money not being invested through the year.”

Another longstanding client, Mr C, noted, “The flexible ISA facility is invaluable. It has been useful to me in my financial planning, allowing me to draw down funds for a property project.”

Nothing on this website should be construed as personal advice based on your circumstances. No news or research item is a personal recommendation to deal.

Flexible ISA rules: Some ISAs are more flexible than you think

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