When companies have more cash on hand than they need, they may decide to hand some of it back to shareholders. In recent years, some firms have done this through what are known as special purpose share schemes. These schemes usually work by issuing new types of shares, typically called B shares and C shares, that are given to existing shareholders. Each shareholder gets the choice of which type of share they receive.
Shortly after issue, the company repurchases and cancels the B shares, handing the B share owners a profit taxed as a capital gain. Meanwhile, the C share owners get paid an equivalent dividend, taxed as income. The C shares then become worthless and are cancelled.
These schemes allowed shareholders to choose between receiving their payment as income or capital. Higher-rate taxpayers with an unused capital gains allowance could reduce their tax liability by choosing the capital alternative. But HMRC takes an increasingly dim view of this kind of dodge.
So from 6 April 2015, both alternatives have been treated as income for tax purposes, eliminating the reason to offer these schemes.