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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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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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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Property Business – What SIC code should I use for my property Company ?

A SIC code stands for Standard Industrial Classification code, and classifies your business activity at Companies House. SIC code for a company can be changed at any time and be amended when you file your next  Confirmation Statement. While forming a company to run your property business, you will be asked to provide SIC code which closely describes your business activities. There are various reasons to choose an appropriate SIC code so as to avoid any complexities later on with tax authorities and Lenders.

Practically, there are only four: 68100, 68209, 68320 and 68310, and here’s a brief explanation of their classification.

1. SIC code 68100 is for the buying and selling of own real estate; so, if you’re going to be flipping and trading,  this would be the code for you. So if you intend to buy properties to resell, then this is the appropriate SIC code.

2. SIC code 68209 is for the letting and operating of own or leased real estate. In other words, for buying and holding property and renting it out. So if you are buying a property to hold as an investment (single BTLs or HMOs) or if you are using Rent to Rent strategy this will be the SIC code for  your company.

3. SIC code 68320 is for the management of real estate on a fee or contract basis. So, for example if you’re going to set up your own management company, then this would be the right classification for you.

4. SIC code 68310 is for real estate agencies. So, for all the deal sourcers/packagers who act as an agent for investors.

As you can see, these codes effectively tell Companies House what a business is going to be doing from a tax point of view. You can choose up to a maximum of four SIC codes for one company. SIC codes also play a crucial role with lenders/Finance providers – again, these codes let lenders know what activity a property company is going to undertake, and will help lenders assess whether they want to lend to you or not.There are issues however with having multiple property activities running through the same company, and it would be wise to seek professional advice to ensure your company structure is correct and efficient from the outset, with particular consideration to Capital Gain Tax and business property relief.

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Interest relief for renovation or development costs

Often, when a property is purchased there is work to be done before it can be let out or sold. Where this work is financed by a mortgage or other loan, the way in which and the extent to which relief is available for the interest costs depends whether it falls with the property income or trading income tax rules.

The following case studies illustrate the different approaches.

Case study 1: Buy-to-let investment

Simon buys a property as an investment, with the intention to let it out long term. The property has been neglected and needs doing up before he can put it on the rental market. The property costs £250,000 and Simon has budgeted £40,000 to renovate it. The purchase and refurbishment work are financed with savings of £70,000 and a mortgage of £220,000. Interest on the mortgage is £800 per month.

The purchase completes on 1 May 2018. The renovation work takes six months and the property is let from 1 November 2018. At the time the property is let, it is valued at £280,000.

Under the property income rules interest is allowed as a deduction or tax reduction (as appropriate) to the value of the property when first let. In this case the value of the property when first let (£280,000) is more than the mortgage of £220,000, so relief for the full amount of the interest is allowed in computing the rental profit. For 2018/19, 50% of the interest costs are deductible from the rental income, with relief for the remaining 50% being given as a basic rate tax reduction. For 2019/20, 25% of the interest costs are eligible as a deduction, with relief for the remaining 75% being given as a basic rate tax reduction.

Relief for the interest incurred in the renovation period before the property was first let is available under the pre-commencement provisions. These allow relief to the extent that it would be available had the interest been incurred while the property was let. The interest in the pre-letting period (i.e. that relating to the period from 1 May 2018 to 31 October 2018 of £4,800) is treated as incurred on the day that the property rental business commences, i.e. 1 November 2018.

Case study 2

David also buys a property to do up. However, his intentions are different to Simon in that he wishes to do the property up as quickly as possible and sell at a profit, buying a further property to do up with the proceeds. David is a property developer rather than a landlord and any interest costs incurred in funding the development are deductible under the trading provisions in computing his trading profit. This would be the case regardless of whether David operates as a sole trader or other unincorporated business or forms a company through which to carry out his property development business. Availability of the interest deduction depends on the ‘wholly and exclusively’ rule being satisfied.

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