Today’s blog covers the serious curtailment to letting relief for landlords coming April 2020 – read more here.

Curtailment of letting relief

Landlords have been hit with a number of tax hikes in recent years, and this trend shows no signs of abating. From 6 April 2020, lettings relief – a valuable capital gains tax relief which is available where a property which has at some point been the owner’s only or main residence is let out – is seriously curtailed.

Now

Under the current rules letting relief applies to shelter part of the gain arising on the sale of a property which has been let out as residential accommodation and which at some time was the owner’s only or main residence. The amount of the letting relief is the lowest of the following three amounts:

  • the amount of private residence relief available on the disposal;
  • £40,000; and
  • the gain attributable to the letting.

Under the current rules, periods of residential letting count regardless of whether or not the landlord also lives in the property.

From 6 April 2020

From 6 April 2020, letting relief will only be available where the owner of the property shares occupancy with a tenant. From that date, lettings relief is available where at some point the owner of the property lets out part of their main residence as residential accommodation and shares occupation of that residence with an individual who has no interest in the residence.

To the extent that a gain that would otherwise be chargeable to capital gains tax because it relates to the part of the main residence which is let out as residential accommodation, the availability of lettings relief means that it is only chargeable to capital gains tax to the extent that it exceeds the lower of:

  • the amount of the gain sheltered by private residence relief; and
  • £40,000.

Example 1

Tom owns a property which he lives in as his main residence. He lived in it for a year on his own, then to help pay the bills he let out 40% as residential accommodation.

In June 2020 he sells the property realising a gain of £189,000. He had owned the property for five years and three months (63 months).

The final nine months of ownership are covered by the final period exemption – this equates to £27,000.

For the remaining 54 months, private residence relief is available for the first 12 months and 40% of the remaining 48 months – a total of 31.2 months (12 + (40% x 48)). This is worth £93,600. (31.2/63 x £189,000).

Private residence relief in total is worth £120,600 (£27,000 + £93,600).

The gain attributable to the letting is £68,400 (£189,000 – £120,600). This is taxable to the extent that is exceeds £40,000 (being the lower of £40,000 and £120,600).

Thus the letting relief is worth £40,000 and the chargeable gain is £28,400.

Example 2

Lucy buys a flat for £300,000 which she lives in for one year as her main residence. She then buys a new home which she lives in as her main residence and lets the flat out for three years, before selling it and realising a gain of £96,000.

If she sells it before 6 April 2020, she will be entitled to private residence relief of £60,000 (30/48 x £96,000). The final 18 months are exempt as she lived in the flat for 12 months as her main residence. The gain attributable to letting is £36,000, all of which is sheltered by lettings relief (as less than both private residence relief and £40,000).

If she sells the property after 6 April 2020, the final period exemption only covers the last nine months, reducing the private residence relief to £42,000 (21/48 x £96,000). The remainder of the gain of £54,000, which is attributable to the letting, is chargeable to capital gains tax as letting relief is no longer available as Lucy does not share her home with the tenant.

Consider realising a gain on a let property which has also been a main residence prior to 6 April 2020 to take advantage of the letting relief available prior to that date where a landlord does not share the accommodation with the tenant.

Partner note: TCGA 1992, s. 224; Draft legislation for inclusion in Finance Bill 2019—20 (see https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/816196/Changes_to_ancillary_reliefs_in_Capital_Gains_Tax_Private_Residence_Relief_-_Draft_legislation.pdf).

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Make sure to share this article with anyone you know who runs a family business – so they can take advantage of the many ways to lower their tax bill!

Optimising tax-free benefits in family companies

Making use of statutory exemptions for certain benefits-in-kind offers an opportunity to extract funds from a family company without triggering a tax charge.

The essential point to note is that to make the tax saving, the benefit itself, rather than the funds with which to buy the benefit, must be provided.

Mobiles

No tax charge arises where an employer provides an employee with a mobile phone, irrespective of the level of private use. The exemption applies to one phone per employee.

A taxable benefit will however, arise if the employer meets the employee’s private bill for a mobile phone or if top-up vouchers are provided which can be used on any phone

Example

John and Jan Smith are directors of their family-owned company. Their two children also work for the company. The company takes out a contract for four mobile phones and provides each member of the family with a phone. The bills are paid directly to the phone provider by the company. The bills are deductible in computing profits. Each family member receives the use of a phone tax-free, which means they do not need to fund one from their post-tax income.

Pension contributions

Pensions remain a particularly tax-efficient form of savings since nearly everyone is entitled to receive relief on contributions up to an annual maximum regardless of whether they pay tax or not. The maximum amount on which a non-taxpayer can currently receive basic rate tax relief is £3,600. So an individual can pay in £2,880 a year, but £3,600 will be the amount actually invested by the pension provider. Higher amounts may be invested, but tax relief will not be given on the excess. Any tax relief received from HMRC on excess contributions may have to be repaid.

Pension contributions paid by a company in respect of its directors or employees are allowable unless there is an identifiable non-trade purpose. Contributions relating to a controlling director (one who owns more than 20% of the company’s share capital), or an employee who is a relative or close friend of the controlling director, may be queried by HMRC. In establishing whether a payment is for the purposes of the trade, HMRC will examine the company’s intentions in making the payment.

Pension contributions will be viewed in the light of the overall remuneration package and if the level of the package is excessive for the value of the work undertaken, the contributions may be disallowed. However, HMRC will generally accept that contributions are paid ‘wholly and exclusively for the purposes of the trade’ where the remuneration package paid is comparable with that paid to unconnected employees performing duties of similar value.

Other tax-free benefits

Subject to certain conditions being satisfied, other tax-free benefits that a family company may consider include:

  • bicycles or bicycle safety equipment for travel to work
  • gifts not costing more than £250 per year from any one donor
  • Christmas and other parties, dinners, etc, provided the total cost to the employer for each person attending is not more than £150 a year
  • one health screening and one medical check-up per employee, per year
  • the first £500 worth of pensions advice provided to an employee (including former and prospective employees) in a tax year
  • medical treatments recommended by employer-arranged occupational health services. The exemption is subject to an annual cap of £500 per employee

Employing family members, and providing them tax-free benefits, often enables a family-owned company to take advantage of the lower tax rates, personal allowances and exemptions that may be available to a spouse, civil partner, or children. In turn, this arrangement can help reduce the household’s overall tax bill.

Partner Note: ITEPA 2003, s 244, s 308C, s 319; BIM46035, BIM47105

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Don’t lose out on tax reliefs for start-ups

Just starting out
As long as HMRC can be satisfied that a business is being run on a commercial basis with a view to making a profit, they will usually allow taxpayers to claim tax relief for a trading loss in one tax year against other taxable income (for example PAYE income or a pension) from the same year, or the preceding year. This can be quite beneficial as the claimant can choose which year to claim the losses against. However, HMRC will usually restrict loss relief claimed by individuals who carry on a trade but spend an average of less than ten hours a week on commercial activities.
Early days
The provisions for tax relief on business losses can be particularly useful in the early years of trading. Broadly, this is because a loss incurred in any of the first four tax years of a new business may be carried back against total income of the three previous tax years, starting with the earliest year. Therefore, if tax has been paid in any of the previous three years, the taxpayer should be entitled to a repayment of tax, which may be especially welcome in those often difficult first few years of running a business.
The rules for this carry back stipulate that the maximum amount of the loss must be offset each year – it is not permissible to offset just a proportion of the loss in order to spread the loss across three years to take advantage of beneficial tax rates. Again, relief will not be available unless the taxpayer was trading on a commercial basis with a view to making a profit within a reasonable timescale. In practice, this requirement may be difficult to prove in the case of a new business and the taxpayer may need a viable business plan to support a claim.
Cap on relief
A cap now restricts certain previously unlimited income tax reliefs that may be deducted from income. Trade loss relief against general income, and early trade losses relief, as outlined above, are two areas where this restriction might apply. The cap is set at £50,000 or 25% of income, whichever is greater. ‘Income’ for the purposes of the cap is calculated as ‘total income liable to income tax’. This figure is then adjusted to include charitable donations made via payroll giving and to exclude pension contributions – the adjustment is designed to create a level playing field between those whose deductions are made before they pay income tax, and those whose deductions are made after tax. The result, known as ‘adjusted total income’, will be the measure of income for the purpose of the cap.
The cap applies to the year of the claim and any earlier or later years in which the relief claimed is allocated against total income. The limit does not apply to relief that is offset against profits from the same trade or property business.
No need to lose out
Where a loss is made in a tax year, but the trader does not have any other income against which it can be set, the loss can be carried forward indefinitely and used to reduce the first available profits of the same business in subsequent years.
Finally, losses arising from a business may be set off against any chargeable capital gains. Relief may be claimed for the tax year of the loss and/or the previous tax year. However, the trading loss first has to be used against any other income the taxpayer may have for the year of the claim (for example, against earnings from employment) in priority to any capital gains.

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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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Which childcare scheme is best for your family?

Employees who joined their employer’s childcare voucher or employer-supported childcare scheme before 4 October 2018 can remain in that scheme and benefit from the associated tax relief for as long as the employer continues to offer it. However, this may not always be the best option for the employee – depending on their circumstances they may be better signing up to the Government’s top-up scheme instead.

Tax relief for employer-provided vouchers

Employees who joined an employer childcare voucher scheme or directly contracted childcare scheme prior to 4 October 2018 can continue to receive the associated tax relief. Vouchers or directly-contracted childcare are tax and National Insurance free up to the exempt amount. This depends on when the employee joined the scheme and, where the employee joined the scheme on or after 6 April 2011, the rate at which they pay tax.

The exempt amount is set at £55 per week where the employee joined prior to 6 April 2011; for employees joining after that date, the exempt amounts are £55 for basic rate taxpayers, £28 per week for higher rate taxpayers and £25 per week for additional rate taxpayers (ensuring the relief is worth £11 per week to all taxpayers).

Each employee is only entitled to one exempt amount to cover childcare vouchers and directly-contracted care, and regardless of how many children they have. However, each parent can benefit from their own exempt amount.

Childcare vouchers and directly-contracted care can be provided via a salary sacrifice or other optional remuneration arrangement without triggering the alternative valuation rules. This means that the tax exemption is preserved where provision is made in this way.

Government scheme

Under the Government scheme, parents can open an online account and receive a tax-free top up of 20p for every 80p that they deposit into the account. The maximum top up is £2,000 per child per tax-year. The Government scheme cannot be used in conjunction with universal credit or tax credits.

Which scheme is best?

Parents cannot benefit from both the employer scheme and the Government scheme, so must choose which is best for them.

Where the employee joined the employer scheme on or after 6 April 2011, the tax relief from employer scheme is worth £11 per week (£583 per year (based on 53 weeks) if one parent receives the vouchers and £1166 if two parents do.

Under the Government scheme, the parents would need to contribute £2332 to receive a top-up of £583 and £4664 to receive a top up of £1166. To benefit from the maximum £2,000 top-up, the parents would need to contribute £8,000.

There is no substitute for crunching the numbers – parents should consider both options and decide what is best for them.