First we had the OTS Property Income Review dated 25th October 2022, since then the Policy Paper has been issued (1st November 2022) so it looks like we will see the adoption of at least some of the recommendations in Autumn Statement on 17th November 2022.
Key findings and priority recommendations
Furnished holiday lettings
- Short-term rentals meeting the conditions fall into the furnished holiday lettings regime. This regime provides more favourable tax treatment than the main property income rules, with more tax relief for costs, including interest, and potentially a reduced Capital Gains Tax bill on disposal.
- The OTS recommends that the government consider whether there is continuing benefit to the UK in having a separate tax regime for furnished holiday lettings.
- If the furnished holiday lettings regime is abolished the OTS recommends that the government consider whether certain property letting activities subject to Income Tax should be treated as trading and whether it would be appropriate to introduce a statutory ‘brightline’ test to define when a property trading business is being carried on.
- If the regime is retained, the introduction of a private use restriction may allow for relaxation of other requirements to enter the regime, making it simpler to understand and predict whether one is in scope.
- Should the government conclude that the furnished holiday lettings regime be retained, the OTS recommends that the government then consider:
- removing the current distortion of allowing the regime for properties in the European Economic Area, either by permitting worldwide properties to qualify, or by limiting the regime to UK properties
- restricting the regime to properties used for commercial letting by removing the potential for personal occupation. This would permit a simpler approach to defining the regime
Repairs, replacements, and improvements
- A long-standing area of complexity for taxation of property is whether costs are allowable straight away as repairs and replacements, or represent capital expenditure as improvements and should be disallowed for Income Tax.
- The OTS recommends that HMRC should enhance the guidance in respect of the boundary between repairs and improvements to include clear examples of common situations, perhaps using flow-charts to lead towards case-by-case answers.
- The OTS recommends that the government consider introducing a broader immediate Income Tax relief for all property costs – other than where work is part of the capital cost of the building, such as the initial fit-out of properties bought in a dilapidated state or structural work such as extensions to the property.
Jointly owned property
- HMRC data indicates that almost half (1.5 million) of all taxpayers renting out property do so jointly, mainly with a spouse or civil partner, or with others.
- Those not married nor in civil partnership will by default declare the split of income based on beneficial ownership, but can instead choose any other split they like without any form of election.
- Conversely, spouses and civil partners, (providing they are living together) default to equal 50:50 shares for property other than furnished holiday lets, and respondents made very clear that the process to instead use a split based on beneficial ownership (using form 17) is complex and burdensome even for advisers, and taxpayers themselves are normally unaware of the need. This creates an unnecessary complexity and burden, and potentially accidental non-compliance.
- The OTS recommends that the government should consider removing the anachronistic 50:50 rule for spouses and civil partners and aligning treatment to that of other joint owners and to the position for spouses under Capital Gains Tax and Inheritance Tax. To prevent abuse, the default beneficial ownership position should not be capable of being displaced.
- The government may also wish to consider removing the ability for joint owners to decide on a split other than beneficial ownership.
Making Tax Digital for Income Tax
- From April 2024, landlords in scope of Making Tax Digital (MTD) for Income Tax will need to keep digital records and file updates quarterly using compatible software. There was a very high level of concern common to all respondents about how the rules would apply to landlords.
- The OTS recommends that HMRC should establish a system to deal with MTD for Income Tax for jointly owned properties, for example by making a jointly owned property the MTD filing entity.
- Landlords may rely on multiple parties to provide information and potentially to support submitting reports.
- HMRC needs to be able to authorise MTD for Income Tax filing agents alongside tax agents. This is needed because letting agents and bookkeepers will maintain digital records and may support quarterly submissions on behalf of some landlords. Specific professional standards and responsibilities will be needed for MTD for Income Tax filing agents.
- The gross rental limit for being required to adopt MTD for Income Tax has been set at £10,000. The evidence suggests that a landlord with such low gross rentals will have a modest net profit, if any. The OTS acknowledges that, although there would be an Exchequer impact on raising the threshold, this could be outweighed by lower customer costs, higher levels of compliance and better taxpayer and agent engagement.
- The OTS recommends that HMRC give consideration to increasing the minimum gross income threshold for MTD for Income Tax for landlords above £10,000, at least for the medium term.
- As is clear from the points above there are unresolved complexities within MTD for Income Tax.
- The OTS recommends that MTD for Income Tax should not apply to landlords until these major points have been dealt with by HMRC and by a range of software providers. Time will be needed to test new systems before adoption.
These changes are huge, if implemented there will be widespread confusion about how to report property income, this is already a complex area of tax, most of these changes will probably mean property owners end up paying more tax!