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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Property Tax

Jointly-owned property – who pays the tax?

Where property is jointly-owned, the way in which the rental income can be split between the joint owners for tax purposes depends on whether the joint owners are married or in a civil partnership or not.

Married couples and civil partners

Where a property is jointly owned by a married couple or civil partners, the basic rule is that the rental income is split equally, regardless of the actual underlying ownership.

Example

Tom and Richard are married. They jointly own a flat in which Tom has a 70% stake and Richard has a 30% stake. The flat is let out. The rental profit is £8,000 a year.

Despite owning the property in unequal shares, Tom and Richard are both taxed on 50% of the rental income (£4,000).

However, where the beneficial ownership is unequal, the couple can elect (on Form 17) for the income to be assessed for tax purposes in accordance with their actual beneficial shares. In the above example, were Tom and Richard to make a Form 17 election, Tom would be taxed on rental profits of £5,600 (70%) and Richard would be taxed on £2,400 (30%).

For married couples and civil partners, the only permissible allocations are 50:50 (the default position) and, on the making of a Form 17 election, in accordance with actual ownership where the property is owned in unequal shares.

Joint owners who are not married or in a civil partnership

Where a property is owned jointly by individuals who are not married or in a civil partnership, it is usual for the rental income to be allocated in accordance with the ownership share. However, the joint owners can agree to a different division of profits and losses – the allocation for tax purposes does not have to mirror the actual ownership of the property. However, where a different allocation is agreed, the split for tax purposes must match the actual allocation of rental profits.

Example

Jake and his girlfriend Jade jointly own a flat which they let out. Jake owns 20% of the property and Jade owns 80% of the property. The rental profit is £10,000 a year.

Jade has £3,000 of her basic rate band available, whereas Jake has £9,000 of his basic rate band available. Therefore, to minimise the tax payable on the rental income, they agree that it will be shared so that Jade receives 30% (£3,000) and Jake receives 70% (£7,000).

Where joint owners are not married or in a civil partnership it is possible to agree an actual allocation that minimises tax. However, depending on the relationship between the owners, the tax considerations may be secondary as each owner may be keen to receive a share of rental profits proportionate to their actual stake in the property.

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