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Ethical Stocks and Shares ISAs

Ratings for some of the most popular investment platforms for Stocks & Shares ISAs, with who to avoid and recommended buys. We look at fossil fuel investments, transparency, market performance, the ISAs on offer, fees, and risks. 

About Ethical Consumer

This is a shopping guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when considering a Stocks & Shares ISA

  • Is it transparent? The more that a company lets you know, the easier it is to judge its ethical credentials. Look at whether it’s publishing detailed criteria for its ethical options and lists all of the companies or funds invested in.

  • Is the whole company ethical? Some companies offer one ethical Stocks & Shares ISA but are investing the majority of their money into areas like arms and fossil fuels. Use our table to find a company that applies a robust ethical policy to all its investments.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when investing in a Stocks & Shares ISA:

  • Is it funding fossil fuels? Check whether the platform or fund excludes fossil fuels. If not, go for a truly transparent option so that you can exclude them yourself.


Subscribe to see which companies to avoid and why

Score table

Updated live from our research database

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Brand Score(out of 100) Ratings Categories

Our Analysis

What is an ethical Stocks & Shares ISA?

An ISA, or Individual Savings Account, is an account which allows you to save or invest without ever paying any tax on the interest or dividends that you may receive. The amount of money you can save each tax year is capped, currently at £20,000, but this allowance renews annually.

There are different types of ISA, the simplest being the Cash ISA which is like an ordinary savings account, paying you interest on the cash you deposit.

A Stocks & Shares ISA is a bit more complicated. The money you pay in is invested in stocks and shares, bonds, gilts, and property. Stocks & Shares ISAs may have the potential for higher returns than Cash ISAs, and with UK inflation currently at around 10% and interest rates on Cash ISAs still relatively low, that may be an attractive prospect at the moment, even for people who have never invested before. But as Stocks & Shares ISAs are based on the stock market there’s always a risk that the amount you invest could go down as well as up.

Most of the ISAs we looked at had minimum terms of five years. Some had the right to cancel with no questions asked within a certain period, e.g. 30 days with Circa5000. Others allowed you to cancel with the understanding that they would then sell your investments, and would not be responsible for any losses.

For those that allowed cancellation anytime, they did recommend having the account for a minimum of three years. So, if a longer-term investment pot isn’t for you right now, it might not be the best time to open a Stocks & Shares ISA account.

Which Stocks & Shares ISA providers are in this guide?

We’ve included some of the most popular investment platforms for Stocks & Shares ISAs. About 35% of holders of Stocks & Shares ISAs have an ISA with Hargreaves Lansdown or Fidelity.

Nutmeg, Vanguard, Wealthify, and AJ Bell provide ISAs for between 5 and 10% of holders. We’ve also included the smaller, explicitly ethical platforms Circa5000, and The Big Exchange.

The big banks provide Stocks & Shares ISAs to around half of holders and we’ve included Halifax, NatWest and Santander – for ratings of other big banks, see our ethical current account guide. We’ve also included specialist ethical bank Triodos.

Mutual societies are also quite popular options and we’ve included the reader suggestion Scottish Friendly as well as OneFamily, Shepherds Friendly and Wesleyan.

How well do ethical Stocks & Shares ISAs perform?

We looked at the latest figures for the claimed three-to-five-year average return (depending on what we could find) of the “ethical” ready-made funds from the 20 brands we rated.

In the table below we’ve only included brands for which this information was straightforward to find. Some brands had multiple ethical funds, with an ESG or “socially responsible” focus, while some only had one. And if you’re going for a ready-made plan, performance can vary according to the level of risk chosen for a given portfolio. We’ve included the performance range.

Performance figures are sometimes reported differently, with some only mentioning growth rather than returns, and others provide calculators for estimating potential returns. These figures should be used as a guideline only, and you should check the exact terms and conditions for the ISA you’re interested in before opening an account.

Average performance of ethical Stocks & Shares ISAs over time


Claimed 3, 4 or 5-year average return

 A J Bell 6%
Halifax 6% average (-2.59% to 14.29%)
Moneyfarm 5%
Nutmeg 9.9%
Shepherds Friendly 3%
Triodos 5.48% to 8.22%

How to get a Stocks & Shares ISA

When investing in an ISA, most people invest in pre-selected bundles of investments called funds (see our guide to ethical investment funds). The most popular way to do so is through an investment platform.

These provide easy and relatively cheap access to a broad range of funds. Some of these, the so-called “robo-advisors”, guide you towards a choice of funds based on your answers to questions about why you’re saving and your attitude to risk. They’re not the same as getting advice from an ethical financial advisor as the process is generally automated, but they’re popular with novice investors.

Other platforms allow you to take a more DIY approach to choosing the funds you invest in and, to do this, you’ll need to do your own research to make sure the funds meet your needs and that you understand the risks.

It’s also possible to buy individual company shares on some of these platforms to hold in a Stocks & Shares ISA. To do this you’ll need considerable financial expertise, or professional advice, so we’re not covering this approach to investing in this guide.

As well as the platforms, you can also get a Stocks & Shares ISA from many banks and building societies, and some of them now provide platform-type services. Insurers and friendly societies offer ISAs too but they’re likely to have a smaller choice of funds to invest in.

What makes an ISA ethical?

There are several core elements which we think make an ISA ethical.

1. Company practices

You can start by looking at the practices and policies of the company providing the ISA. Our score table and other information further below shows you how we’ve rated them for actions they’re taking to address their environmental and climate impacts and for their financial practices such as tax conduct and directors' pay. Our ratings also take into account each company's approach to the following three key issues for investment companies.

2. Transparent ethical policy

When you invest in a Stocks & Shares ISA, at least some of your money is likely to be used to buy shares in companies. This means that you’re funding and potentially profiting from the activities of those companies, be they good or bad.

An ethical ISA provider should make it easy for you to know which activities you’re funding.

They can do this by having a transparent ethical policy which either excludes certain activities or sectors, such as fossil fuels, gambling or tobacco, or seeks to include certain companies through which it aims to make a positive impact, for example those that are providing alternatives to fossil fuels or prioritising re-use and recycling of materials. Some ISA providers do a combination of both.

Alternatively, a company can have fewer exclusion criteria – for example, allowing fossil fuels – but demonstrate exemplary transparency, enabling customers to make their own decisions.

The argument for this approach is that some multinationals remain involved in problem sectors but are genuinely in the process of transitioning away from them: for example, many of the largest green energy generators also have some remaining fossil fuel involvement. In these cases, a company should be engaging with investors or the companies themselves to understand the transition process and ensure this is being followed. The Big Exchange does this.

The big banks and platforms are likely to have a policy that only covers a few of their products whereas those with a wholly ethical focus will have policies that apply to all of their activity.

3. Transparent shareholdings

As well as having a transparent policy, you should be able to find the names of all the companies that you’ll be investing in through your ISA. In this way, you’re not only reliant on the policy but can make up your own mind about whether you want to invest in the chosen companies. This matters because many funds that are marketed as ethical, or more commonly “sustainable”, are invested in companies with very low Ethical Consumer Ethiscores.

For example, funds that exclude fossil fuels are often heavily invested in Big Tech companies or finance companies: Vanguard’s ESG Developed World All Cap Equity Index Fund fully restricts fossil fuel investments but holds shares in Amazon, which has an Ethiscore of 0, and JP Morgan Chase, which has an Ethiscore of 2.

Full lists of investments aren’t yet common in the UK, and some providers publish no information at all, but those that are trying to be ethical should be publishing some, if not all of their investments.

4. Are they funding fossil fuels?

We think that most people investing in an ISA marketed as “sustainable”, “responsible” or “ethical” will assume that it avoids fossil fuels – not least because much of the advertising material features pictures of forests and people looking at wind farms.

It isn’t always the case. Only Triodos clearly excludes fossil fuels across its entire investment portfolio and many of the supposedly sustainable ISAs we looked at held investments in fossil fuel companies, although this information was often hard to find.

We think that any company providing an ethical ISA should at the very least make its position on fossil fuels clear and easy to find and ideally, they should be avoiding investing in fossil fuels altogether.

Platforms offering ethical ISAs should ask customers during the account-opening process whether they want to avoid fossil fuel investments and, depending on the answer, only offer appropriate investments. The Big Exchange does this.

Last year, Ethical Consumer published ground-breaking research on Fossil Free Funds. This ranked the climate policies and fossil fuel divestment criteria of more than 100 of the largest “sustainable” UK funds and trusts, giving them a score between 0 and 5. The Fossil Free Investment Funds report is freely available on our research website.

When reviewing the ISAs in this guide, we found that funds which held investments in fossil fuel companies often made it on to platforms’ lists of sustainable funds.

For example, the iShares Dow Jones Global Sustainability Screened Fund scored 0.5 out of 5 and was found to be invested in fossil fuel companies such as Anglo American, Royal Dutch Shell and TotalEnergies. This fund was included in the Freetrade and Interactive Investor lists of sustainable investment options.

We’re not suggesting that Freetrade or Interactive Investor are trying to mislead their customers with their recommendations, rather that the sector needs to agree on standards for what counts as sustainable and improve its transparency and fossil fuel policy disclosure.

We looked at how easy companies make it to find the information you need to invest ethically. We summarise what we found in the table below, listed by A to Z of brand reviewed in this guide.

Ethical questions about the Stocks & Shares ISA providers

The table shows for each ISA provider:

  • Does it have an ethical policy covering all its investments?
  • Do the company’s sustainable ISAs or funds clearly exclude fossil fuels?
  • Is the company transparent about its criteria and methodology for selecting sustainable investments?
  • Is the company transparent about fund portfolios prior to purchase?
Stocks & Shares ISA providers and ethical policies
   Ethical policy  Fossil fuels Criteria & methodology Fund portfolios
AJ Bell No No Partially – selects funds which focus on company ESG rating and screens out certain sectors Partially – funds and top 10 companies only
Bestinvest No No No Partially – top 10 companies or funds only
CIRCA5000 Yes No Partially – invests in themes influenced by UN SDGs but exact criteria not clear Partially – only a few named companies
Fidelity No No Partially – allows customer to filter for different types of sustainable fund Partially – top 10 companies only, full list available on request
Freetrade No No No Partially - publishes full list of shares available but no portfolio data for ETFs
Halifax No No Partially – ratings provided by MSCI and described on their website Partially – top 10 companies only
Hargreaves Lansdown No No Yes Partially – top 10 companies only
interactive investor No No Yes No
Moneyfarm No No Partially – selects funds with high ESG rating Partially – funds and top 10 companies only
Natwest No No No Partially – top 10 funds only, available via Coutts website
Nutmeg No No Partially – scores funds on ESG criteria but how it does so is not clear Partially – funds but not companies
OneFamily No Partially – excludes thermal coal and states “the less the better” on companies with fossil fuel reserves Partially – scores companies on environmental issues but exact criteria not clear Partially – top 10 companies only
Santander No No No Partially – top 10 companies only, via investment hub (login needed)
Scottish Friendly No Yes Yes No
Shepherds Friendly No No Yes No
Triodos Yes Yes Yes Yes
The Big Exchange Yes No but gives customer option to exclude Yes Yes
Vanguard No No Yes Yes
Wealthify No No Partially – provides some information about funds’ exclusions Partially – funds but not companies
Wesleyan Yes No Yes Partially – funds and top 10 companies only

See our jargon buster below for terms like 'ESG', or the full jargon buster in our ethical investments funds guide.

Are there any ISAs which avoid animal exploitation?

Most of the companies we looked at discuss climate issues or have fund filters related to climate, but it was hard to find policies on animal use.

For those not able to do their own research by looking at the companies inside a fund, and who would prefer a ready-made fund, Triodos has quite comprehensive policies on animal use covering animal testing, factory farming and animal welfare, fisheries and aquaculture, trade in endangered species, fur and specialty leather, and biodiversity. You can read these in full on its website, and see if they fit your values.

Wesleyan’s policy also covers animals used in testing and in agriculture but with much less detail than Triodos. It only excludes companies which do not have “good standards for breeding, rearing, transport, housing and slaughter”. This is vague and doesn’t mean much. The Big Exchange also flags animal use in the “Potential issues you may want to know” section of each fund on its platform.

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Practical details for each Stocks & Shares ISA in the guide

We looked into the terms and conditions for each ISA we rated, and found a lot of variation in things like fees, minimum investment, and lock-in period.

You could open a Wealthify account for £1, whereas Vanguard required at least £100 monthly. Most asked for at least £25 monthly. At the more expensive end, Fidelity and Wesleyan ask for a lump sum of £1,000 if not paying a regular monthly amount.

The standard lock-in period was around five years for most companies, with a few allowing cancellation anytime.

In the table below we’ve summarised the terms and conditions for each ISA we rated, where this information was available, for:

  • minimum investment
  • annual and monthly charges, trading fees
  • fund management fees
  • lock-in periods

The trading fees found don’t include overseas charges. Prices can also vary depending on whether you’re buying and selling funds or shares, and whether you’re choosing a managed portfolio or not. Some of the websites we looked at detailed fees more clearly than others, with others referring consumers to their individual account details to check. So, it’s worth looking at the small print before you commit to an account, so you know exactly what to expect depending on your investment choices.

For more information on the practicalities of a Stocks & Shares ISA, the Unbiased website has a helpful article. Most companies also have their own general guides to Stocks & Shares ISAs, what they involve, and whether they’re right for you.

Practical details of Stocks & Shares ISAs
Brand Minimum investment Annual service charge Trading fees/fund management fees Lock-in period
AJ Bell £25 monthly 0.25% £1.50 to £9.95 per deal Not stated
Bestinvest £50 0.2% to 0.4% £4.95 per deal Not stated
CIRCA5000 £5 0.45% + £1 monthly None found Cancel anytime
Fidelity £25 monthly or £1,000 sum 0.35% or £90 Variable** Not stated
Freetrade £4.99 or £9.99 monthly None found 0.45% Not stated
Halifax £50 monthly or £500 sum £36 £3 monthly (fund) plus £9.50 per deal 5 years
Hargreaves Lansdown £100 0.45% £5.95 to £11.95 per deal Not stated
interactive investor £25 monthly £4.99 to £19.99 monthly £3.99 to £5.99 per deal Not stated
Moneyfarm £500 0.35% to 0.75% None found Not stated
Natwest £50 0.15% 0.4% (fund) plus 0.07% per deal 5 years
Nutmeg £500 Up to 0.75%* Individually calculated Cancel anytime
OneFamily £25 monthly or £250 sum 1.1% None found 12 months
Santander £500 0.1% to 0.35% Need to be a customer to login to see these 5 years
Scottish Friendly £10 monthly or £100 sum 0.5% - 1.5% 0.42% to 0.52% per deal 5 years
Shepherds Friendly £30 monthly or £100 sum 1.5% None found 5 years
Triodos £25 monthly or £250 sum 0.45% 0.75% to 1.1% 5 years
The Big Exchange £25 monthly or £100 sum 0.25% 0.5% to 1.8% p/a 3 years
Vanguard £100 monthly or £500 sum 0.15% 0.42% to 0.52% per deal 5 years
Wealthify £1 0.6% 0.7% for ethical plan Not stated
Wesleyan £50 monthly or £1,000 sum 1.2% None found 5 years

*This is the standard fee for its “Socially responsible” portfolios. Other portfolios vary, with fees also changing according to how much money you have invested. For more information see its fees page.
**This depends on charges set by companies managing your chosen funds, with additional charges for dealing shares. This will depend on your chosen fund. 

What are the risks with Stocks & Shares ISAs?

ISAs are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme up to £85,000 per person, per firm – but only if your fund manager goes bust, not if your investments take a nose-dive. If your stocks and shares perform badly, you won’t be compensated for your losses. So only invest what you can afford to lose.

Getting independent financial advice

When making complex decisions around investing, seeking professional advice is recommended, particularly if you’re looking to invest larger amounts.

Finding someone who will respect your ethical principles and take them seriously is easier than it used to be. Financial Advisors (FAs) tend to operate as small businesses, partnerships or sole traders and there are more than 5,000 in the UK. FAs used to focus on a specific region, but nowadays many will advise nationally.

See our guide on how to find an ethical financial adviser who aligns with your principles.

How well do the Stocks & Shares ISA brands score on our ethical ratings?

We assess brands and their parent companies for a number of ethical issues. Here we highlight areas of transparency, pay, tax, carbon management and environmental reporting.

Investment policy and transparency

We looked at the companies’ ethical investment policies and how much information they published about their portfolios, their engagement with companies and their voting records. The only company we didn’t rate was The Big Exchange. This is because it didn’t directly invest in companies itself, and it didn’t advertise any of its funds using its own brand.

Ideally, a company should have a clear policy which excludes unethical practices such as fossil fuel extraction, deforestation, and animal testing. It should also disclose its full portfolio and provide information on how it engages with companies on ethical issues and votes on company resolutions.

Only Triodos got our best rating and met all of our criteria.

12 companies got a middle rating: Hargreaves Lansdown, Aviva (Wealthify), Evelyn Partners (Bestinvest), Family Assurance Friendly Society (OneFamily), abrdn (Interactive Investor), JP Morgan Chase (Nutmeg), Wesleyan, FIL Limited (Fidelity), Freetrade, NatWest, Lloyds Banking Group (Halifax), and Vanguard.

They had some disclosure or some investment policies, but they weren’t detailed or only named a small proportion of the companies invested in. Companies with this middle rating lost half marks across six of our categories to show their likely impacts.

Where we could find no or very minimal information, companies got a worst rating. This was the case for: Circa5000, AJ Bell, Shepherds Friendly, MFM Holding (Moneyfarm), Santander, and Scottish Friendly. We penalised their lack of transparency by deducting half marks across most of our categories. This does not mean that they are definitely investing in all the sectors for which we deducted marks, but it is likely and they aren’t transparent enough for us to know with certainty.


Companies getting a worst rating, with executive directors receiving over £1 million in pay, were Hargreaves Lansdown, Aviva (Wealthify), Evelyn Partners (Bestinvest), abrdn (Interactive Investor), AJ Bell, Santander, NatWest, JPMorgan Chase (Nutmeg) and Lloyds (Halifax).

In 2021, JPMorgan Chase’s CEO received over $84 million in total compensation. Directors of UK companies receive peanuts in comparison: NatWest’s director received £4.3 million and the highest-paid director at Lloyds Banking Group received £4.6 million. The director at Hargreaves Lansdown received just under £2 million.

Scottish Friendly, FIL Limited (Fidelity), MFM Holding (Moneyfarm), Shepherds Friendly, Wesleyan, Family Assurance Friendly (OneFamily), and Triodos got middle ratings, with their executives earning over £250,000.

No disclosure of executive pay was found for Vanguard, but its turnover was over £1 billion, so it lost a half mark for lack of transparency.

Read more about high pay in the finance industry in our separate article.


Lloyds (Halifax), Santander, NatWest, FIL Limited (Fidelity), JPMorgan Chase (Nutmeg), abrdn (Interactive Investor), Aviva (Wealthify), and Evelyn Partners (Bestinvest) got worst ratings for tax conduct.

JPMorgan Chase (Nutmeg) and NatWest stood out for having subsidiaries in high numbers of tax havens – 15 and 10 countries respectively. These include Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, Switzerland, Mauritius, and Malta, amongst others. 

Our article on tax avoidance in the finance industry has more information about this topic.

Carbon Management and Reporting

18 of the 20 companies got a worst rating in this category, demonstrating how far the finance sector still has to go on this issue.

Most had some discussion of carbon, but the majority lacked substance and detail. The exceptions were Triodos which got a best rating and Circa5000 which got a middle rating.

Environmental Reporting

Only Triodos got a best rating in this category as it discussed the environmental impacts of its own operations as well as of its financed activities.

Six companies got middle ratings: The Big Exchange, Aviva (Wealthify), JPMorgan Chase (Nutmeg), Wesleyan, Santander, and Lloyds (Halifax).

The remaining 13 companies had very little information on their wider environmental impacts, if any. This included Circa5000. Although some of its funds are thematically aligned with environmental issues, such as clean water and the sustainable future of food, it had no discussion of its own impacts as a company and very limited information about the impacts of its financed activities.

Gender, diversity and inclusion policies

We didn’t rate companies on these policies, but we did look at what companies were saying and doing on these issues. We wanted to see to what extent the companies were demonstrating meaningful awareness of the inequalities which exist in the workplace and what they were doing about them. For example, whether any had commitments or policies on flexible working, child care, menopause, other unpaid care, mental health, and training programmes for staff, among other issues.

Only 4 out of 20 companies mentioned anything about diversity and inclusion on the main page of their websites. Triodos, Shepherds Friendly, and Fidelity were the only companies to go into any kind of detail about their policies and commitments towards their staff as well as customers.

Although all companies with over 250 employees must report on their gender pay gap data, only Fidelity published its gender pay gap reporting on its main page, along with Bestinvest which published the pay gap report of its parent. It’s currently not required for companies to publish ethnicity pay gap data.

The Big Exchange, Circa5000, Hargreaves Lansdown, Wealthify, OneFamily, Interactive Investor, Nutmeg, Wesleyan, AJ Bell, Moneyfarm, Freetrade, NatWest, Santander, Halifax, Vanguard, and Scottish Friendly said nothing about diversity, equity, and inclusion on the main pages of their websites.

Junior Stocks & Shares ISAs

A parent or guardian can open a Junior Stocks & Shares ISA for their child as a tax-free way to save on their behalf. The money in the account belongs to the child, but they can’t withdraw any of it until they’re 18. The Junior ISA limit is £9,000 for the tax year 2022/23 – meaning that is the maximum amount you can save in this way for that year.

What does all the jargon mean?

ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance. The term ‘ESG investing’ is increasingly being used by financial institutions to highlight responsible investment, and can encompass a variety of ethical considerations. It can also be used very broadly to include investments which aren’t particularly ethical.

ETF stands for Exchange-Traded Fund and is a type of investment fund traded on the stock exchange. Rather than being actively managed, most ETFs track the performance of a stock or bond index (such as the FTSE100 or Dow Jones Sustainability Index often investing in all the shares in an index).

For a full list of de-coded jargon, see our ethical investment funds guide.

Additional research for the guide by Louisa Gould.

Companies behind the brand

Hargreaves Lansdown was founded in 1981 by Peter Hargreaves and Stephen Lansdown and is one of the largest companies we rated in this guide.

Peter Hargreaves is worth over £2 billion according to Forbes, making him one of Britain’s richest men. Shortly before the 2019 general election, he donated £1 million to the Conservative Party.

In late 2022, the company was in the headlines after being sued for recommending the Woodford Equity Income Fund which was later wound up leaving over 2,300 investors with losses. According to claimants, they did so despite knowing that the fund was facing difficulties.

Want more information?

See detailed company information, ethical ratings and issues for all companies mentioned in this guide, by clicking on a brand name in the Score table.  

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