Renting out a property at a rate below the commercial level might sound like a great idea – but it might cost you dearly if you try to seek tax relief for your expenses!

Properties not let at a commercial rent

There may be a number of reasons why a property is occupied rent-free or let out at rent that is less than the commercial rate. This may often occur where the property is occupied by a family member in order to provide that person with a cheap home. For example, a parent may purchase a house in the town where their student son attends university and let it to the student, and maybe even his housemates, at a low rent to help them out. While the parents’ motives are doubtless philanthropic, their generosity may cost them dearly when it comes to obtaining relief for the associated expenses.

Wholly and exclusively rule

Expenses can only be deducted in computing taxable rental profits if they are incurred wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the property rental business. Unfortunately, HMRC take the view that unless the property is let at full market rent and the lease imposes normal conditions, it is unlikely that the expenses are incurred wholly and exclusively for business purposes. So, where the property is occupied rent-free, there is no tax-relief for expenses.

If the property is let at a rent that is below the market rent, a deduction is permitted, but this is capped at the level of the rent received from the let. This means that where a property is let at below market rent, it is not possible for a rental loss to arise, or for expenses in excess of the rent to be offset against the rent received from other properties in the same property rental business.
Periods between lets

Where there are brief periods where the property is occupied rent-free or let out cheaply, it may be possible to obtain full relief for expenses. For example, if the landlord is actively seeking a tenant and a relative house sits while it is empty, relief will not be restricted as long as the property remains genuinely available for letting. In their guidance HMRC state, that ‘ordinary house sitting by a relative for, say, a month in a period of three years or more will not normally lead to loss of relief’. However, if a relative takes a month’s holiday in a country cottage, relief for expenses incurred in that period will be lost.

Commercial and uncommercial lets

Where a property is let commercially some of the time and uncommercially at other times, expenses should be apportioned on a just and reasonable basis between the commercial and non-commercial lets. Any excess of expenses over rents in the period when commercially let can be deducted in the computing the profit for the rental business as a whole. However, an excess of expenses over rent when the property is let uncommercially are not eligible for relief.
Timing must also be considered – expenses relating to uncommercial lets cannot be deducted simply because they are incurred when the property is let commercially.

Partner note: HMRC Property Income Manual PIM 2130.

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This blog explains what qualifies for relief for finance costs, the limit on eligible borrowings, and how capital repayments work with a quick example.

Allowable finance costs

Although the way in which landlords obtain relief for finance costs on residential properties is changing, there is no change to the type finance costs that are eligible for relief.

What qualifies for relief

The basic rule is that relief is available for expenses that are incurred wholly or exclusively for the purposes of the property rental business, and this rule applies equally to finance costs. Relief is available for eligible finance costs where they meet this test.

The definition of finance costs includes mortgage interest and interest on loans to buy furnishing and suchlike. Relief is also available for the incidental costs of obtaining finance, as long as the interest on the loan is allowable. Incidental costs of loan finance include items such as arrangement fees, and fees incurred when taking out or repaying loans or mortgages.

Limit on eligible borrowings

A landlord can obtain relief for the costs of borrowings on a loan or mortgage up to the value of the property when it was first let. Buy-to-let mortgages are often more expensive than residential mortgages with interest charged at a higher rate. The loan does not have to be secured on the let property. Where a landlord wishes to buy a rental property and has sufficient equity in their own home, it may make commercial sense to release capital from the home by borrowing against it and using the money to purchase the rental property. Interest on the loan is eligible for relief, despite the fact the loan is not secured on the rental property.

No relief for capital repayments

Capital repayments, such as the capital element of a repayment mortgage or loan repayments, are not eligible for relief. Where the borrowings are in the form of a repayment mortgage, it will be necessary to split the payment between the interest and capital when working out the relief. The lender should provide this information on the statement.

Example

Mervyn wishes to invest in a buy to let property. As he only has a small mortgage on his home, he remortgages to release £150,000 of equity.
Following the remortgage, he has a mortgage of £200,000 on his own home. Using the released equity, he buys a property to let for £150,000. He spends some time renovating the property in his spare time before letting it out. When the property is first let, it has a value of £160,000.

During the 2019/20 tax year, Mervyn pays mortgage interest of 10,000and makes capital repayments of £10,800. The property is let throughout.
Mervyn can claim relief for 80% of the interest costs – this is attributable to the borrowings of £160,000 (80% of the loan of £200,000), being the value of the let property when first let. The interest eligible for relief is therefore £8,000 (80% of £10,000). For 2019/20, 25% (£2,000) is relieved by deduction with the balance giving rise to a deduction from the tax due of £1,200 (75% x £8,000 x 20%).

No relief is available for the capital repayments.

Partner note: ITTOIA 2005, ss. 272A, 272B, 274A, 274B

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In essence, it’s all about the ‘wholly and exclusively’ test – could it be time to invest in some branded sweatshirts?

Dual purpose expenditure – can landlords claim a deduction?

Landlords are able to claim tax relief for expenses that are incurred wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the property rental business. However, some expenses have both a private and a business element. Where this is the case, is any relief available?

Business element separately identifiable

If it is possible to separate the business and the private expenditure, a deduction can be claimed for the business element. This may be the case, for example, in relation to a car which is used for both private journeys and for the purposes of the property rental business, to visit tenants or to check on the properties. Likewise, a landlord may use his or her mobile phone for private calls and also for business calls. From the call log, it will be possible to identify the business calls and to apportion the bill between business and private calls.

Business element cannot be separately identified

If the expenditure is dual purpose in nature and it is not possible to identify the business element, no deduction is allowed. The expenditure does not meet the ‘wholly and exclusively’ test, and as such is not deductible in computing the profits of the property rental business. An example of expenditure that may fall into this category is clothing, even if only worn for working in the property rental business. The clothing fails the wholly and exclusively test as it also provides the landlord with warmth and decency (a private purpose). However, it should be noted that a deduction is allowed for clothing that bears a conspicuous advert for the business, such as a sweatshirt featuring the name of the property rental business and the logo.

Example

Dave is a landlord and has a number of properties that he rents out to students. He uses the same car for the purposes of the property rental business as for private journeys.

Dave undertakes the decorating and much of the maintenance on the properties himself. He has purchased overalls specifically for this purpose, which he wears only when undertaking work on the let properties. In the tax year, he spends £80 on overalls.

In the tax year in question, Dave drove 6,800 miles of which 4,200 were for the purposes of his property rental business.

A deduction is allowed for the business mileage. Dave uses the simplified mileage system, claiming a deduction of £1,890 (4,200 miles @ 45p per mile).

However, although he only wears the overalls when working on his let properties, the private benefit cannot be distinguished from the business use. Consequently, the ‘wholly and exclusively’ test is not met, and the £80 which Dave spent on overalls cannot be deducted in computing the taxable profit for his property rental business.

Partner note: ITTOIA 2005, s, 34.

 

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In this blog we set out the three conditions property must meet to be considered a furnished holiday let and to access all the advantages they bring, and top tip – letting to family or friends at a reduced rate doesn’t count! 

Many Airbnb lets are used as holiday accommodation. From a tax perspective, furnished holiday lettings enjoy some tax advantages over other lets. So, is it possible for an Airbnb let to benefit from these advantages and what conditions must be met?

Qualifying conditions

Simply letting a property as furnished holiday accommodation is not in itself sufficient to qualify for the furnished holiday letting (FHL) treatment. As with other lets, Airbnb lets must meet the conditions set out in the legislation.

The first point to note is that the FHL treatment is only available to properties which are in the UK or the EEA and which are let furnished.

Occupancy conditions

There are three occupancy conditions which must be met for a property to be treated as FHL.

Condition 1 – the pattern of occupancy condition

The pattern of occupancy condition is met if the total of all lettings in the tax year exceeding 31 days is 155 days or less. The nature of holiday letting is multiple short lets rather than longer lets and this condition seeks to recognise this.

Condition 2 – the availability condition

To meet this condition the accommodation must be available for letting for at least 210 days in the tax year. Days where the owner stays in the property do not count as days when the property is available for letting.

Condition 3 – the letting condition

The letting condition is met if the property is let commercially as furnished accommodation to the public for at least 105 days in the tax year. Only commercial lets count towards this total – any days when the property is let to family or friends at a reduced rate or where they are allowed to use the property for free are ignored.

Longer term lets of more than 31 days are also ignored (unless a let which was supposed to be less than 31 days is extended due to unforeseen circumstances, such as a delayed flight or the holidaymaker becoming ill).

Averaging election

If a person has more than one property let as holiday accommodation (whether via Airbnb or similar or otherwise), an averaging election can be made where the letting condition of 105 days is not met. As long as the average let across all properties is at least 105 days in the tax year, the condition is treated as met. Thus, if a person has three holiday properties which were let commercially for periods of 31 days or less for at least 315 (3 x 105) days in the year, the average let would pass the test.

Period of grace election

A second election, a period of grace election, can be made if the landlord genuinely intended to meet the letting condition but was unable to do so, as long as the condition was met in the previous tax year. This will allow the property to continue to be treated as a FHL. If the condition is not met the following year, a second period of grace election can be made. However, if the condition is not met in the fourth year after two consecutive period of grace elections, the property will no longer qualify as a FHL.

Advantages

Qualifying as a FHL offers a number of advantages. It opens the door to various capital gains tax reliefs for traders, including entrepreneurs’ relief. The landlord is also eligible to claim plant and machinery capital allowances if the cash basis is not used. Profits also count as earnings for pension purposes.

Partner note: ITTOIA 2005, Pt. 3, CH. 6 ss. 322 – 328B).

 

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Property Tax

Landlords – you must file your self-assessment tax return by 31 January 2020 to avoid a late filing penalty. Here’s what you need to know:

The self-assessment deadline is looming. Self-assessment tax returns for the year to 5 April 2019 must be filed online by 31 January 2020 if a late filing penalty is to be avoided.

Landlords will need to complete the property income pages. Particular care should be taken where the landlord has a loan or a mortgage as the way in which relief is given for financing costs is changing and the position for 2018/19 is different to that for 2017/18.

The way in which relief for finance costs is given is moving from relief by deducting the finance costs when computing profits to giving relief in the form of a basic rate tax reduction. The 2018/19 tax year is a transitional year.

What costs are eligible for relief?

Interest payable on loans to buy land or property which is used in the rental business is eligible for relief, as is interest on loans to fund improvements or repairs. It should be noted that it is not necessary for the loan to be secured on the let property – the rule is that interest is allowable on borrowings up to the value of the property when first let. Thus, if a landlord borrowed against their main home to fund a buy-to-let investment property, the interest on that loan would be allowable on the loan up to the value when the property was first let. If the mortgage on the residential property is more, the allowable interest is proportionately reduced.

Relief is also available for the costs of getting a loan.

It should be noted that it is only the interest and other finance costs which qualifies for relief – no relief is available for any capital repayments which may be made.

The position for 2018/19

For 2018/19, relief for 50% of eligible finance costs is given as a deduction in computing the profits of the property rental business and relief for the remaining 50% is given as a basic rate tax reduction. This makes completing the property pages of the tax return slightly tricky as the information must go in two places.

The first box which needs to be completed is Box 26. This is where allowable loan interest and other financial costs need to be entered. Amounts entered in this box are deducted in computing rental profits. Therefore, as only 50% of the allowable finance costs for 2018/19 are relieved in this way, only 50% of the costs for that year should be entered in this box.

The remaining 50% is entered in Box 44, helpfully titled ‘Residential finance costs not included in box 26’. The amount entered in this box is used to calculate a reduction in the landlord’s tax bill. The reduction is equal to 20% (the basic rate of income tax) of the amount entered in Box 44.

If you have any unrelieved finance costs from earlier years, these should be entered in Box 45. Any balance of residential finance costs which is unrelieved may be carried forward to future years for relief by the same property business.

Partner note: Self-assessment UK Property notes (SA105); see www.gov.uk/government/publications/self-assessment-uk-property-sa105.

 

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It can pay off to keep track of your business mileage you incur for your rental properties – here’s why.

Using your car in your property rental business

Landlords will often use their car for the purposes of their property rental business. Where they do so, they are able to claim a deduction for the costs that they incur.

Using mileage rates

Where a landlord uses their car for business purposes, the easiest way to work out the amount that can be deducted is to make use of the simplified expenses system and use the relevant mileage rates to claim a deduction based on the business mileage undertaken.

For cars (and also vans) the rate is set at 45p per mile for the first 10,000 business miles in the tax year and at 25p per mile for any subsequent business mileage.

Example

Karen is an unincorporated landlord and has three properties that she lets out. During the tax year, she undertakes 712 business miles in her own car in respect of her property business.

She claims a deduction of 45p per mile, a total deduction for the year of £320.40.

Deduction based on actual costs

The use of simplified expenses, while generally easier from an administration perspective, is not compulsory. The landlord can instead claim a deduction based on the actual costs. However, in practice this will be time consuming. Further, where the car is used for both business and private travel, a deduction is only permitted for the business element. Separating actual costs between business and private travel can be very time consuming and will only be worthwhile where it gives rise to a significantly higher deduction than that obtained by using the mileage rates.

Capital allowances

Capital allowances cannot be claimed where mileage allowances are claimed. Where a deduction is based on actual costs, capital allowances can be claimed in respect of the car. However, the claim must be adjusted to reflect any private use. So, for example, if a car is used for the purposes of the property business 20% of the time and for private use 80% of the claim, any capital allowance claim must be restricted to 20%.

Other travel

The costs of travel on public transport or by taxi can be deducted in computing the profits of the property rental business to the extent that it constitutes business travel for the purposes of that business.

Partner note: ITTOIA 2005, s. 94D

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HMRC have given new guidance on how stamp duty is applied to residential property which has land. Take a look at our short blog if you’re thinking of purchasing a property that has features such as farmland, stables or orchards.

Grounds and gardens for SDLT

Stamp duty land tax (SDLT) on residential property also applies to land that form the garden or grounds of the property. To ensure that the right rate of SDLT is applied, it is therefore important to ascertain whether any land purchased with a property constitutes its garden or grounds. The rules here are not the same as those applying for capital gains tax private residence relief.

HMRC have recently updated their guidance in this area.

Status of the building

The first step in determining whether land is residential land is to determine the status of the associated building. If the building is a residential property for SDLT purposes, all land forming part of the ‘garden or grounds’ is residential property. Consequently, if at the time of purchase the property is not capable of being used as a dwelling, or is in the process of being constructed or adapted for residential use, the building is not residential property for SDLT purposes and any associated land is also not residential property.

Status of the land

Land that constitutes the ‘garden or grounds’ of a building which counts as residential property for SDLT purposes will also be residential property, and therefore subject to SDLT residential property rates, even if it is sold separately from the building.

The key date is the date of the transaction. However, past use of the land is taken into account by HMRC is order to establish the relationship between the land and the building. Future or planned future use is not relevant, although where use changes over time, the status of the land may also change.

No single factor

In deciding whether land counts as ‘garden or grounds’ a range of factors will come into play – there is no single determining factor. However, not all factors will carry equal weight. It is necessary to consider how the land is used.

Questions to ask include:

  • Is there evidence that the land has been actively and substantially exploited on a commercial basis?
  • If the activity could be for leisure or commercial purposes, such as beekeeping or equestrian use, is there evidence of commercial use?
  • Has a lease been granted to a third party for exclusive use of the land? This would suggest that the land is unlikely to be ‘garden or grounds’.
  • Is the land of a type which would be expected to be ‘garden or grounds’ unless commercial use is established, such as land used as a paddock or orchard?
  • Is the land agricultural land which is sitting fallow? Such land is unlikely to be regarded as ‘garden or grounds’.

Outbuildings

The nature and layout of any outbuildings can be significant in determining whether land is ‘garden or grounds’. The presence of domestic outbuildings, areas laid out for hobbies, small orchards or stables and paddocks suitable for leisure use would indicate that the land is ‘garden or grounds’. However, the presence of commercial farming, commercial woodland, commercial equestrian use or other commercial use would suggest the contrary.

Size and proximity to dwelling

Physical proximity to the dwelling makes it more likely that the land is ‘garden or grounds’. However, land separated from the building may also fall into this category.

The size of the land in relation to the size of the building will also be relevant – a small cottage is unlikely to have a garden and grounds of many acres but a stately home may do.

The overall picture

In deciding the character of the land for SDLT purposes, it is necessary to look at the overall picture that emerges at the transaction date.

Partner note: FA 2003, s. 116(1)(a); HMRC’s Stamp Duty Land Tax Manual SDLTM00440ff.

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Joint tenants v tenants in common – Which you choose will depend on whether you’d like flexibility in allocating property income, and how you want your property to be passed on.

Joint tenants v tenants in common – Does it matter?

There are two different ways of owning property jointly – as joint tenants or as tenants in common. The way in which the property is owned determines exactly who owns what and also what happens when one of the joint owners dies and how any income is taxed.

Joint tenants

Where two or more owners own a property as joint tenants, they jointly own the whole property rather than owning individual shares. Each owner has equal rights to the whole property. When one of the joint owners dies, the remaining joint owners own the whole property. The deceased is not able to pass his or her share on to someone else.

Example

Helen and Harry are married and own their family home as joint tenants. The couple have three children. If, for example, Harry dies first, his share of the property automatically passes to Helen. Harry cannot leave his share of the property to his children.

Where a property that is owned as joint tenants is rented out, the income is treated as arising in equal shares as all owners have an equal stake in the property. For spouses and civil partners this is the default position; however, there is no possibility of making a Form 17 election (see below) as the property owned as joint tenants can only be owned equally.

Tenants in common

Tenants in common own individual shares in the property and have more flexibility than joint tenants as to what they do with their stake in the property. On death, their stake does not automatically go to the other joint owners; rather it will follow the provisions of the will (or, if there is no will, the intestacy provisions).

It will be beneficial to own property as tenants in common if you want to leave your share of the property to someone other than the other joint owner.

Example

Jack and Jane are married. Each have children from previous relationships. They own a holiday cottage as tenants in common. In their wills, they have each made provision for their share to pass to their own children.

Where the property is let out, owing the property as tenants in common provides more flexibility as to how the income is allocated for tax purposes. Where the joint owners are spouses or civil partners, the income is treated as arising equally. However, where the actual beneficial ownership is unequal, they can elect (on Form 17) for the income to be taxed in accordance to their ownership shares where this is beneficial. If the tenants in common are not married or in a civil partnership, the income is taxed by reference to their actual stake in the property.

Changing ownership status

It is relatively easy to change the type of ownership, for example, if the property is owned as joint tenants it may be desirable to own it as tenants in common to enable each owner to leave their share to someone else. A property can also be changed from sole ownership to joint ownership – ether as tenants in common or joint tenants.

Partner note: Law of Property Act 1925, ss. 34, 36;. ITA 2007 ss. 836. 837.

 

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Failing to take your record keeping obligations seriously as a landlord could mean that you pay more tax than necessary, or worse that you could be on the receiving end of a penalty from HMRC.

Buying a property to let – the importance of keeping records from day one

For tax purposes, good record keeping is essential. Without complete and accurate records, it will not be possible to provide correct details of taxable income or to benefit from allowable deductions. Aside from the risk of paying more tax than is necessary, landlords who fail to take their record keeping obligations seriously may also find that they are on the receiving end of a penalty from HMRC.

Recording expenses

A deduction is available for expenses that are incurred wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the rental business. A deduction is available for qualifying revenue expenses regardless of whether the accounts are prepared on the cash basis or under the traditional accruals basis.

Revenue expenses are varied and are those expenses incurred in the day to day running of the property rental business. They include:

  • office expenses
  • phone calls
  • cost of advertising for tenants
  • fees paid to a managing agent
  • cleaning costs
  • insurance
  • general maintenance and repairs

A record should be kept of all revenue expenses, supported by invoices, receipts and suchlike.

The treatment of capital expenditure depends on whether the cash or the accruals basis is used. For most smaller landlords, the cash basis is now the default basis.

Under the cash basis, capital expenditure can be deducted unless the disallowance is specifically prohibited (as in the case in relation to cars and land and property). Under the accruals basis, a deduction is not given for capital expenditure, although in limited cases capital allowances may be available. Capital expenditure would include improvements to the property and new furniture or equipment which does not replace old items.

Records should identify whether expenditure is capital or revenue and also whether it relates to private expenditure so that it can be excluded.

Records should also be kept of replacement domestic items and the nature of those items. A deduction is available on a like-for-like basis.

Start date

Although the property rental business does not start until the property is first let, records should start as soon as expenditure is incurred in preparation for the letting.

As well as allowing relief for expenses incurred while the property is let, relief is also available for expenses which are related to the property rental business and which are incurred in the seven years prior to the start of the business. Relief is given on the same basis as for expenses incurred after the start of the property rental business; expenses can be deducted as long as they are incurred wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the property rental business. Capital expenditure is treated in accordance with rules applying to the chosen basis of accounts preparation.

Relief is available under the pre-trading rules, as long as:

  • the expenditure is incurred within a period of seven years before the date on which the rental business started
  • the expenditure is not otherwise allowable as a deduction for tax purposes
  • the expenditure would have been allowed as a deduction has it been incurred after the rental business had started

Relief is given by treating the expenses as if they were incurred on the first day of the property rental business.

Expenses incurred in getting a property ready to let can be significant. It is important that accurate records are kept of all expenditure incurred wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the let from the outset so that valuable deductions are not overlooked.

Partner note: ITTOIA 2005, s. 57; CTA 2009, s. 61.

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The delayed start date for the domestic reverse VAT charge has given businesses an extra year to prepare for the charge. We explain what you can do to prepare.

Domestic reverse VAT charge for building and construction services

The domestic reverse VAT charge for building and construction services was due to come into effect from 1 October 2019. However, in early September it was announced that the start date had been put back one year. As a result, the charge will now apply from 1 October 2020.

Who is affected?

The charge will affect individuals and businesses who are registered for VAT in the UK and who supply or receive specified services that are reported under the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS).

Nature of a reverse charge

The reverse charge means that the customer receiving the specified supply has to pay the VAT rather than the supplier. In turn, the customer can recover the VAT under the normal VAT recovery rules.

Supplies within the scope of the charge

The reverse charge will apply to supplies of building and construction services which are supplied at the standard or reduced rates that also need to be reported under the CIS. These are called specified supplies.

However, where materials are included within a service, the reverse charge applies to the whole amount. By contrast, where deductions are made from payments to subcontractors under the CIS, no deductions are made from any part of the payment that relates to material.

Move to monthly returns

The introduction of the reverse charge will mean that some businesses may become repayment traders claiming VAT back from HMRC rather than paying it over to HMRC. To aid cashflow and reduce the delay in claiming the VAT back, repayment traders can move to monthly returns.

Planning ahead

The delayed start date has given businesses an extra year to prepare for the charge. In order to be ready for its introduction, businesses within the CIS should:

  • check whether the reverse charge will affect their sales, their purchases or both
  • update their accounting systems and software to deal with the reverse charge from 1 October 2020
  • consider whether the change will impact on cashflow
  • ensure that staff who are responsible for VAT accounting are familiar with the reverse charge and how it will operate

Contractors should review their contracts with subcontractors to determine whether the reverse charge will apply to services received under the contract. Where it does, they will need to notify their suppliers.

Subcontractors will need to contact their customers to obtain confirmation from them as to whether the reverse charge will apply, and also whether the customer is an end user or intermediary supplier.

Impact of change of start date

HMRC recognise that the start date was changed at short notice and that businesses may have changed their invoices to meet the needs of the reverse charge and cannot easily change them back. Where errors arise as a result, HMRC will take the change of date into account.

Partner Note: The Value Added Tax (Section 55A) (Specified Services and Excepted Supplies) Order 2019 (SI 2019/892); The Value Added Tax (Section 55A) (Specified Services and Excepted Supplies) (Change of Commencement Day) Order 2019 (Si 2019/1240).

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