Cultural property

The National Archives is asked to give advice when the government or grant funders are considering spending money on the purchase, conservation or cataloguing of archives.  This cultural property advice draws on our knowledge of:

  • the strategic direction of services
  • preservation and access standards
  • collections, collecting policy and practice
  • the manuscripts market – knowledge gained through our sales monitoring service

We synthesise this expertise into clear advice that enables tax incentive schemes and grant funders to make informed decisions offering the greatest sustained impact and value for money.

Taxation     Sales monitoring     Advice to grant-awarding bodies     Export



Acceptance in lieu (AIL)

This tax exemption scheme enables owners to realise the full value of important cultural property transferred to public ownership. Offers in lieu of inheritance tax (or its predecessor taxes), are made to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which refers the application to the Acceptance in Lieu Panel. The panel consults independent experts and assesses its pre-eminence and open market value, before making a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (or the appropriate Minister in the Scottish and Welsh governments).

If archival material is offered without a condition of it being allocated to a specific institution, it is provisionally allocated to a repository and institutions are invited to make an application to The National Archives for the permanent allocation of the material. We advertise archives offered in lieu on the Archives-NRA list on Jiscmail and on our website. The Historical Manuscripts Commissioner (The Chief Executive and Keeper of The National Archives) then considers applications concerning the final allocation of the collection and advises Arts Council England (or the appropriate Scottish or Welsh Minister) who formally makes the decision.

If the offer is conditional on allocation to a particular institution, the Historical Manuscripts Commissioner is asked if the condition is acceptable before the offer can proceed and decisions about pre-eminence and valuation are made. In both cases, this helps ensure a sustainable public benefit in the form of research access in return for the tax incentive offered.

Cultural Gifts Scheme (CGS)

Created in 2012, the Cultural Gifts Scheme enables UK taxpayers to donate important heritage material to public institutions during their lifetime. In return, donors receive a reduced liability for Income Tax, Capital Gains Tax or Corporation Tax based on a set percentage of the donated material’s value. The allowance can be spread over five years. The procedure is similar to the Acceptance in Lieu scheme: applications are sent to HMRC and referred to the Arts Council’s AIL Panel to assess the material’s pre-eminence, with The National Archives advising on where the collection is allocated.

Private treaty sales

Private treaty sales to specified public bodies also attract tax concessions where the vendor is liable to capital gains tax or inheritance tax. These tax charges are not incurred if the owner sells material that qualifies for conditional exemption by private treaty to one of the designated bodies listed in the 1984 Inheritance Tax Act. This allows owners of heritage assets of suitable quality to transfer them to public bodies in a financially beneficial way and to prevent the dispersal of collections at auction.

Conditional exemption

The Conditional Exemption Scheme exempts cultural material from inheritance or capital taxes in exchange for making them accessible to the public and keeping them in a state of preservation that allows for public access. The application procedure is similar to that of the AIL scheme with applications submitted to HM Revenue and Customs. These applications are also referred to the AIL Panel to assess the material’s pre-eminence culturally.  If an archive collection is judged pre-eminent, The National Archives advises HM Revenue and Customs about the accessibility and care of the collection.

The owners must agree to:

  • preserve the manuscripts or archives and keep them in the UK
  • ensure that there is reasonable public access to them, either at home or by depositing them in a suitable record repository
  • publicise the availability of such access

More information about conditional exemption, including details of material that is available for the public to see or consult under the scheme, can be found at HM Revenue and Customs.


Sales monitoring

The strength of our advice on price and our place at the table when cultural property issues are discussed rests on our systematic monitoring of the market in archives. Over the last ten years, sales monitoring has tracked the rise of the amateur and non-specialist market. A decade ago, we monitored 250 catalogues a year from 50 professional dealers and specialist auctioneers. Now we monitor 400 sales from 130 mostly non-specialist and amateur sellers, almost entirely online. We monitor using search terms through online portals. We send around 500 sales notifications to repositories, which result in around 110 reported bids. We monitor the sale of controlled classes of records, including manorial, tithe and stray public records, and advise the Arts Council on export cases involving them.

We have produced the checklist below for archive services who are considering buying archives or manuscripts. It outlines the main issues that need to be considered before making a decision to buy.


Advice to grant-awarding bodies

Our overall aim is to provide strategic advice on the discretionary spend on archives to support long-term access and preservation in line with Archive Service Accreditation and the principles of Archives Unlocked. Our cultural property work supports the wider resilience of the archives sector to continue to acquire pre-eminent and other significant collections and protect them from dispersal and possible export. The grant awarding bodies that we advise on applications relating to manuscript purchases, conservation and cataloguing include:



Export licensing

The export-licensing unit at Arts Council England issues licences on behalf of the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to export cultural goods. Certain cultural objects more than 50 years old and valued above specified amounts need an individual licence for export out of the UK, whether on a permanent or temporary basis.

The National Archives is represented on the Documents Working Party and the Advisory Council of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art. Through these bodies, we contribute to advice on export policy as it affects archives.

The Reviewing Committee advises:

  • on the principles which should govern the control of the export of objects of cultural interest and the operation of the export control system generally
  • the Secretary of State on all cases where refusal of an export licence for an object of cultural interest is suggested on grounds of national importance
  • in cases where a special exchequer grant is needed towards the purchase of an object that would otherwise be exported

Report: Export of digital cultural assets – Are we ready?

The evolution of digital presents the possibility that digital archives will soon be available on the public market and exported from the UK. But are we ready for the export of digital cultural assets? Export policies and supporting mechanisms are designed to retain items of national importance in the UK, but how do they need to be revised for digital? This report by Rhian Addison explores what the UK needs to do in light of digital cultural assets being intangible items which could be exported over the internet.