Britain's wealthiest people are donating a larger proportion of their wealth than at any other time in the past 11 years.
But campaigners warned yesterday that the Government's plans to cap tax relief on charitable donations will reverse this growing generosity from major philanthropists.
Figures released yesterday by the annual Giving List, which details the country's top donors, reveal that the 100 wealthiest people in Britain gave away more than 1 per cent of their wealth last year, the highest proportion in more than a decade. The Yorkshire artist David Hockney has shot to the top of the list after he donated £78.1m worth of paintings for charitable causes. His donations are more than double his estimated £34m wealth.
The figures will be hailed as a success by those who have been pushing for Britain's elites to become more philanthropic and more in line with the American model where wealthy people who give away vast fortunes are publicly praised for their good work.
But charities have now expressed concerns that many of the advances made in the past few years in encouraging the rich to give away more cash risks being rolled back by the Government's determination to cap the tax relief on charitable donations.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who gave a speech last year in which he called of the creation of what he called a US-style culture of philanthropic giving, is reported to be unhappy with the cap.
Under proposals unveiled by Chancellor George Osborne at the last Budget, the Treasury announced that it would cap the tax relief available on donations at £50,000.
Ministers have recently begun to portray wealthy donors as tax dodgers who need to be reined in, while at the same time promoting the idea of its Big Society where people become more involved in their local communities.
Charitable umbrella groups such as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) are vigorously campaigning for a reversal of capped tax relief.
John Low, the chief executive of CAF, which compiled the Giving List alongside The Sunday Times, said he had major concerns about whether philanthropists will be as generous in the coming years.
"The figures we see were generated in a tax regime that was stable and benevolent, when philanthropists were not being vilified as tax avoiders," he said. "I worry that this will be the last decent year."
The latest Giving List provides a detailed portrait of Britain's most generous people. The list is ranked in order of the amount of wealth given away as a proportion of their overall income.
Despite Britain now being home to 77 billionaires – four more than the previous year – only three appear on the Giving List.
The most generous is Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson who gave away £358m last year and is thought to be worth £3.4 billion. The billionaire businessman was one of the first to sign up to the Legacy 10 initiative, encouraging wealthy people to pledge 10 per cent of their estate to charitable causes. The next most generous billionaire is Syrian-Saudi businessman Said Wafic followed by the British financier Alan Parker.
Millionaires feature on the list much more prominently. After Hockney, the second-most generous philanthropist in Britain is City financier Christopher Cooper-Hohn who gave away £72.1m of an estimated £90m wealth.
Much of his money goes to the Children investment Fund Foundation, which runs projects across Africa and the developing world and his headed by his wife.
Rich get richer (except for Lakshmi Mittal)
The combined wealth of Britain's richest 1,000 people has reached record levels despite the continuing economic slump.
It rose by 4.7 per cent to £414bn in the last year, according to The Sunday Times Rich List, published yesterday.
For the seventh year running, steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal heads the list despite his wealth falling by £4.8bn to £12.7bn this year – a 27 per cent drop.
He was £385m ahead of second-placed, Alisher Usmanov, whose Metalloinvest is Russia's biggest iron ore producer.
Third-placed Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, has seen his wealth fall by £800m to £9.5bn this year.
Rich list: In numbers
£78.1m The most generous philanthropist was artist David Hockney, who gave away more than twice his residual wealth of £34m by donating works valued at £78.1m, together with £730,000 in cash through the David Hockney Foundation
£414bn Total fortune of all 1,000 Rich Listers combined – a 4.7 per cent rise on last year
£5.7bn Combined loss of wealth of the top three on the list – Lakshmi Mittal, Alisher Usmanov and Roman Abramovich
7 The position on the list of the richest British-born person, the Duke of Westminster, worth £7.35 billion.
£186.5bn Increase in the combined wealth of the top 200 Rich Listers since 2003 – from £102bn to £288.5bn in 2012.
£1.2bn Increase in wealth of inventor Sir James Dyson to £2.65 billion
77 Number of billionaires in the list, two more than the previous record of 75 in 2008
27% Steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal has topped the list since 2005, but for the second year running is also the biggest loser, his wealth down 27% to £12.7bn