Cultural property

Archives have value to nations and regions, organisations, communities and individuals. In ensuring their preservation it is essential to protect these wider interests and those of the worldwide cultural heritage. On this page, we highlight some key topics for archives.


Acceptance in lieu

The Acceptance in lieu scheme enables taxpayers to transfer important works of art and other important heritage objects into public ownership while paying inheritance tax, or one of its earlier forms. The taxpayer is given the full open market value of the item, which then becomes the property of a public museum, archive or library. Arts Council England manages the scheme and The National Archives provides expert advice on archival material.

Conditional exemption

Pre-eminent manuscripts and archives may be exempted from inheritance tax if certain conditions are met. The pre-eminence experts assess:

  • association with our history and national life
  • artistic or art-historical importance
  • importance for the study of some particular branch of art, learning or history
  • association with a particular historic setting

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.

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 Inheritance Tax Act 1984. This allows owners of heritage assets of suitable quality to transfer them to public bodies in a financially beneficial way and that prevents the dispersal of collections at auction.


Sales of certain classes of records are controlled. These include manorial records, tithe records, parochial registers and records measure, and public records. Further information on these classes of records can be found in legislation and regulations. For Scottish public records see the Public Records Act (Scotland).

We operate a sales catalogue monitoring service which serves two functions. It allows us to:

  • keep up-to-date on the movement and the market value of historical manuscripts
  • notify British archivists of manuscript sales which may be of interest to them

The sales team monitors catalogues from the main London auction houses, specialist manuscript auctioneers and dealers, and international auction houses that sell manuscripts relating to British history. The team also regularly monitors sales only available on the internet.

Information on manuscript sales is stored on a database and is used to underpin our advice to grant awarding bodies. We have produced the checklist below for archivists who are considering buying archives or manuscripts. It outlines the main issues which need to be considered before making a decision to buy.

Purchasing archives and manuscripts (PDF, 0.07Mb)


Export licensing

The export licensing unit issues licences, on behalf of the Secretary of State for Culture, 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.

Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art

The Reviewing Committee advises:

  • on the principles which should govern the control of 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

The dedicated website Cultural Property Advice is a guide to buying, selling and collecting art, antiques and antiquities. It aims to address the needs of the trade, including individual dealers and auction houses, private individuals and museums, archives and libraries.

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.