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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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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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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Inspired by Grand Designs? You are entitled for a VAT refund if you build your own home.

VAT refunds for DIY builders

If you build your own house or convert an existing property into a home, you may be eligible to apply for a VAT refund on building materials and services. You do not need to be VAT registered to claim a refund.

What qualifies?

Refunds can be claimed in respect of building materials that are incorporated into the building and which cannot be removed without tools or without damaging the building. Refunds are available for materials used to build both new homes and for certain conversions.

A new home will qualify if it is separate and self-contained and you build it for you and your family to live in. The property must not be used for business purposes, although you are permitted to use one room as a home office.

Conversions will qualify if the property was previously used for non-residential purposes and is converted for residential use. Conversions of residential building will only qualify if they have not been lived in for at least 10 years.

Where you use a builder, the builder’s services will normally be zero-rated where they work on a new home. However, you can claim a refund for VAT charged by a builder working on a conversion.

What does not qualify?

Refunds are not available in respect of:

  • materials or services on which no VAT is payable because they are zero-rated or exempt;
  • professional fees, such as architects’ fees or surveyors’ fees;
  • costs of hiring machinery or equipment;
  • building materials which are not permanently attached to or part of the building;
  • fitted furniture, some gas and electrical appliances, carpets and garden ornaments.

A refund is also denied if the building is not capable of being sold separately, for example, as a result of planning restrictions.

How to claim

The claim is made on form 431NB where it relates to a new build and on form 431 where it relates to a conversion. The forms are available on the Gov.uk website. The claim must be made within three months of the date on which the building work was completed.

You must include all the relevant supporting documentation with your claim, such as valid VAT invoices to support the amount claimed. The refund will normally be issued within 30 days of making the claim.

Partner note: www.gov.uk/vat-building-new-home/eligibility.

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If you use the property rental toolkit, do you think it’s useful?

Using the property rental toolkit to avoid common errors in returns

HMRC’s property rental toolkit highlights errors commonly found in tax returns in relation to property income. The toolkit can be used to help avoid those errors, some of which are discussed briefly below.

Computation

For unincorporated property businesses, the default basis is the cash basis where the qualifying conditions are met and the landlord does not elect to use the accruals basis. Where the business has moved into or out of the cash basis, transitional adjustments may be needed.

In some circumstances, a trade of providing services may be carried on in addition to the let of the property; and in some cases, the letting may amount to a trade.

It is important the correct computational rules are used.

Record keeping

Poorly-kept records may mean that things are overlooked – income may not be taken into account and allowable expenses not claimed. Property disposals may also be missed.

Property income receipts

All income which arises from an interest in land should be included as receipts of the property rental business. Receipts can include payments in kind (maybe work done on the property in lieu of rent). It should be noted that casual or one-off letting income is still treated as income from a property rental business.

Profits and losses from overseas lets, from furnished lettings and from properties let rent-free or below market rent should be dealt with separately. For other UK lets owned by the same person or persons, income and expenses are combined to work out the overall profit or loss for the property rental business.

Deductions and expenses

Expenses incurred wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the property rental business can be deducted in the computation of profits. Problems may arise where an expense has both a business element and a private element (for example, a car or phone used both privately and for the business). A deduction can be claimed only for the business part where this can be identified and meets the wholly and exclusively test.

The way in which relief for finance costs is being given is shifting from relief by deduction to relief as a basic rate tax reduction. Ensure that the split is correct for the tax year in question and relief given in the right way.

Allowances and reliefs

There are various reliefs that may be available to those receiving rental income.

Rent-a-room relief is available where a room is let furnished in the taxpayer’s own home, enabling receipts of £7,500 a year to be enjoyed free of tax.

The property income allowance of £1,000 means that rental income below this level does not need to be returned to HMRC. Where income exceeds this level, the allowance can be deducted instead of actual expenses where this is beneficial.

Capital allowances can be claimed in certain circumstances. They are available on certain items that belong to the landlord and which are used in the business, for example, tools, ladders, vehicles, etc. However, they are not available for domestic items in a residential property for which a replacement relief is available instead. Capital allowances are similarly not available for plant and machinery in a residential property unless it is a furnished holiday let.

Losses

Property rental losses must be treated correctly. They can only be carried forward and set against future property profits of the same property rental business.

Checklist

The checklist within the toolkit can be used to ensure that everything has been taken into account and that nothing has been overlooked.

Partner note: HMRC’s property rental toolkit (see www.gov.uk/government/publications/hmrc-property-rental-toolkit).

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The letting of a jointly-owned property in itself does not give rise to a partnership, so what does?

Property partnerships

A person may own a property jointly that is let out as part of a partnership business. This may arise if the person is a partner of a trading or professional partnership which also lets out some of its land and buildings. A less common situation is where the person is in a partnership that runs an investment business which does not amount to a trade, but which includes or consists of the letting of property.

When is there a property partnership?

The letting of a jointly-owned property in itself does not give rise to a partnership – and indeed a partnership is unlikely to exist where joint owners simply let a property that they own together. Whether there is a partnership depends on the degree of business activity involved and there needs to be a degree of organisation similar to that in a commercial business. Thus, for there to be a partnership where property is jointly owned, the owners will need to provide significant additional services in return for money.

Separate rental business

A partnership rental business is treated as a separate business from any other rental business carried on by the partner. Thus, if a person owns property in their sole name and is also a partner in a partnership which lets out property, the partnership rental income is not taken into account in computing the profits of the individual’s rental business – it is dealt with separately.

Further, if a person is a partner in more than one partnership which lets out property, each is dealt with as a separate rental business – the profits of one cannot be set against the losses of another.

Example

Kate has a flat that she lets out. She is also a partner in a graphic design agency, which is run from a converted barn. The partnership lets out a separate barn to another business.

Kate has two property rental businesses. One business comprises the flat that she owns in her sole name and lets out, and the partnership rental business consisting of the barn which is let out as a separate rental business. This is a long-term arrangement.

Kate must keep her share of the profits or losses from the partnership property business separate from those relating to her personal rental business. She cannot set the profits from one against losses from the other. They must be returned separately on her tax return.

Partner note: HMRC’s Property Income Manual at PIM1030.

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Do you own a holiday cottage? You could get favourable tax treatment.

Furnished holiday lettings – is it worth qualifying?

When it comes to taxing rental income, not all properties are equal. Different rules apply to properties which meet the definition of ‘furnished holiday lettings’ (FHLs). While the rules now are not as generous as they once were, they still offer a number of tax advantages over other types of let.

Advantages

Properties that count as FHLs benefit from:

  • capital gains tax reliefs for traders (business asset rollover relief, entrepreneurs’ relief, relief for business assets and relief for loans for traders); and
  • plant and machinery capital allowances on items such as furniture, fixtures and fittings.

In addition, the profits count as earnings for pension purposes.

What counts as FHLs?

For a property to count as a FHL it must meet several tests. It must be in the UK or the European Economic Area (EEA), it must be furnished and it must be let commercially (i.e. with the intention of making a profit).

The property must also pass three occupancy conditions. The tests are applied on a tax year basis for an ongoing let, the first 12 months for a new let and the last 12 months when the let ceases.

The pattern of occupancy condition

The total of all lettings that exceed 31 continuous days in the year cannot exceed 155 days. If continuous lets of more than 31 days total more than 155 days in the tax year, the property is not a FHL.

The availability condition

The property must be let as furnished holiday accommodation for at least 210 days in the tax year. Periods where the taxpayer stays in the property are ignored as during these times the property is not available for letting.

The letting condition

The property must be commercially let as furnished holiday accommodation for at least 105 days in the year. Periods where the property is let to family or friends at reduced rate or free of charge are ignored as they do not count as commercial lets. Lets of longer than 31 days are also ignored, unless the let only exceeds 31 days as a result of unforeseen circumstances, such as the holidaymaker being unable to leave on time as a result of a delayed flight or becoming too ill to travel.

Second bite at the cherry

If seeking to secure FHL status, but the property does not meet the letting condition, all is not lost. Where the landlord has more than one property let as a FHL and the average rate of occupancy across the properties achieves the required 105 let days in the year, the condition can be met by making an averaging election.

A property may also be able to qualify if there was a genuine intention to meet the letting condition but this did not happen and the other occupancy conditions are met by making a period of grace election.

Further details on making averaging and period of grace elections can be found in HMRC helpsheet HS253 (see www.gov.uk/government/publications/furnished-holiday-lettings-hs253-self-assessment-helpsheet).

Is it worth it?

While FHLs do enjoy favourable tax treatment, these are only available if the associated conditions are met. While FHLs, particularly in prime tourist locations, may be able to command high rental values in high season, the properties may lay empty for several weeks in the off season. By contrast, a longer term let will offer an element of security that multiple short lets may not provide. The decision as to whether striving to meet the conditions is worth it, is, as always, a personal one.

Partner note: ITTOIA 2005, Pt. 3, Ch. 6.

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Make sure you take into account stamp duty if you’re looking to buy a commercial property.

Stamp duty land tax on non-residential properties

Stamp duty land tax (SDLT) is payable in England and Northern Ireland on the purchase of property over a certain price. It applies equally to residential and non-residential properties, although the rates are different. Stamp duty land tax is devolved with land and buildings transaction tax (LBTT) applying in Scotland and land transaction tax (LTT) applying in Wales.

Non-residential property

As the name suggests, non-residential property is property other than that which is used as a residence. This includes commercial property, such as shops and office, agricultural land and forests. The non-residential rates of SDLT also apply where six or more residential properties are brought in a single transaction.

Mixed use properties

The non-residential rates of SDLT also apply to mixed use properties. These are properties which have both residential and non-residential elements. An example of a mixed use property would be a shop with a flat above it.

Rates

SDLT is charged at the appropriate rate on each ‘slice’ of the consideration. No SDLT is payable where the consideration is less than £150,000, or on the first £150,000 of the consideration where it exceeds this amount.

The rates of SDLT applying to non-residential properties are shown in the table below. They also apply to the lease premium where the property is leasehold rather than freehold.

Consideration SDLT rate
Up to £150,000 Zero
The next £100,000 (i.e. the ‘slice’ from £150,001 to £250,000) 2%
Excess over £250,000 5%

Example

ABC Ltd buys a commercial property for £320,000. SDLT of £5,500 is payable, calculated as follows.

On first £150,000 @ 0% £0
On next £100,000 @ 2% £2,000
On remaining £70,000 @ 5% £3,500
Total SDLT payable £5,500

New leasehold sales and transfers

The purchase of a new non-residential or mixed use leasehold property triggers a SDLT liability on the purchase price (the lease premium) and also on the annual rent payable under the lease (the net present value). The two elements are calculated separately and added together.

The lease premium element is calculated using the rates above, while the rent element is payable at the rates in the table below. No SDLT is payable on the rent if the net present value is less than £150,000.

Net present value of the rent SDLT rates
£0 to £150,000 Zero
£150,001 to £5,000,000 1%
Excess over £5,000,000 2%

Existing leases

SDLT is only payable on the lease price where an existing lease is assigned.

SDLT calculator

HMRC have published a handy calculator on the Gov.uk website which can be used to work out the SDLT payable on a commercial transaction. It can be found at www.tax.service.gov.uk/calculate-stamp-duty-land-tax/#/intro.

Scotland and Wales

The rates of LBTT payable on the purchase of non-residential properties in Scotland can be found at www.revenue.scot/land-buildings-transaction-tax/guidance/calculating-tax-rates-and-bands and the rates of LTT payable on the purchase of non-residential properties in Wales can be found at https://gov.wales/land-transaction-tax-rates-and-bands.

Partner note: FA 2003, s. 55, 56.

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