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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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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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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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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Are you prepared for the dividend allowance cut on your January 2020 tax return?

Dividend complexities

The dividend allowance, which was originally introduced from 6 April 2016, was cut from £5,000 a year to £2,000 from 6 April 2018. The cut is likely to have a significant impact on employees and directors of small businesses who receive both salary and dividend payments.
Many family-owned companies allocate dividends towards the end of their financial year and/or the tax year, so it was not until March/April 2019 that the impact of the reduction first started to hit home. Unfortunately, many other taxpayers may not become aware of the change until they complete their 2018/19 tax return, which in most cases, will be due for submission to HMRC by 31 January 2020.
How much tax is paid on dividend income is determined by the amount of overall income the taxpayer receives. This includes earnings, savings, dividend and non-dividend income. The dividend tax will primarily depend on which tax band the first £2,000 falls in.

The tax rates on dividend income, above the allowance, remain at 7.5% for basic rate taxpayers, 32.5% for higher rate taxpayers and 38.1% for additional rate taxpayers.
For a basic rate taxpayer, the reduction in the allowance means an increase in tax paid on dividends of £225. For a higher rate taxpayer, the reduction increases the annual tax bill on dividends by £975, and for additional rate taxpayers, the increase is £1,143. Note that if dividend income falls between multiple tax bands, these figures will be different.
Dividend income is taxed at the taxpayer’s highest rate. This can often work in the taxpayers favour, particularly where a mixture of salary and dividends is received. For example, if a director receives a salary of £40,000 and a dividend of £12,000, their tax liability for 2019/20 will be as follows:

 

In this example, personal allowances are deducted first against the salary, leaving £27,500 of other income falling within the basic rate tax band (£37,500 for 2019/20). Dividend income falling within the basic rate band is £10,000 (£37,500 minus £27,500 used), with the remaining £2,000 falling above the basic rate limit. The dividend nil rate is allocated to the first £2,000 of dividend income, falling wholly within the basic rate band, leaving £8,000 within the basic rate band and taxable at the lower 7.5% rate. The remaining £2,000 of dividend income is taxable at the dividend upper rate of 32.5%.

Individuals who are not registered for self-assessment generally do not need to inform HMRC where they receive dividend income of up to £2,000. Those with income between £2,000 and £10,000 will need to report it to HMRC. The tax can usually be paid via a restriction to the PAYE tax code number, so that it is deducted from salary or pension. Alternatively, the taxpayer can complete a self-assessment tax return and the tax can be paid in the usual way (generally 31 January following the end of the tax year in which the income was received). Those receiving more than £10,000 in dividends will need to complete a tax return.

The allocation of various rate bands and tax rates can be complicated, even in situations where straight-forward dividend payments are made. Family business structures may be particularly vulnerable to the impact of the reduction in the dividend allowance, especially where multiple family members take dividends from the family company. A pre-dividend review may be beneficial is such cases.
Partner Note: ITA 20017, s 8 and s 13A

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