UK landlords will continue to fight tax change
It has been an interesting week for the buy-to-let sector in the UK with a landmark High Court ruling preventing an action group from challenging tax changes due to come into force next year.
The legal application for a review of Section 24 of the Finance Act 2015 which will restrict the way landlords can offset certain costs such as mortgage interest payments was halted, but campaigners are now set to carry on trying to get the change overturned.
They will now target Parliament in the hope that something can be done to persuade Chancellor Philip Hammond to abolish the planned tax changes and also do a U-turn on the stamp duty on additional homes that came into effect earlier this year.
There is a perception out there that Hammond’s predecessor George Osborne was particularly hard on landlords and his policies were aimed at helping first-time buyers, while ignoring the fact that the UK has a thriving private rental sector.
The main concerns within the sector currently is that changes will result in rents increasing, landlords quitting the market or not increasing their portfolios, while new entrants are discouraged and that investment in the rental sector will plummet.
So, let’s have a look at the evidence. A similar tax change was introduced in Ireland and it resulted in rents increasing by 50% over a three year period. Research suggests there could be a similar trend in the UK and Susan Emmett of Savills believes that fewer buy to lets means more competition for rental properties, resulting in rising rents.
Last week, a survey by the Residential Landlords’ Association found that 56% of landlords plan to increase rents within the next year to cope with the tax changes.
Of course, higher rents make it harder for potential first-time buyers to save for a deposit. Even though Osborne introduced the famous flagship Help to Buy schemes to help first-time buyers get on the housing ladder, many still struggle to save for a deposit and the mortgage guarantee scheme will finish at the end of this year.
Landlords with a number of properties have been setting themselves up as limited companies in the hope of avoiding paying higher rates of tax. On paper this looks like a good option, but at the recent Association of Short Term Lenders (ASTL) conference tax adviser Nick Cartwright of Smith & Williamson warned that putting buy-to-let properties into a limited company could result in double taxation.
It comes down to what a landlord wants to do with his income. Cartwright explained that incorporation works better with what he called a roll-up strategy where money is built up in the business, but not if you want to live off income earned as many landlords do.
He also pointed out that another change coming in, tougher test from lenders for buy-to-let mortgages, means that landlords will face these affordability stress tests regardless of whether they are an individual or a limited company.
All of this comes at a time when new landlords and those expanding their portfolios are needed. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has warned that 1.8 million new rental homes are needed urgently as the housing market is experiencing a sharp drop in the number of available properties to rent.
The figures from RICS show that the rental sector also cannot keep up with demand and head of UK policy Jeremy Blackburn said that sales of buy-to-let properties have dropped sharply since stamp duty changes were introduced in April.
The RICS research also shows that 86% of landlords say they have no plans to increase rental portfolio this year and RICS believes that this trend is set to remain for the next five years. Blackburn added that the problem is expected to be exasperated next year when landlords’ right to deduct their mortgage interest from their income tax bill is removed.
RICS is urging the Government to reverse the 3% additional homes stamp duty rate and to take a much bolder long term approach and pioneer a new build-to-rent sector with the private sector encouraged to build properties specifically for residential letting.
By implementing policies that will increase rents and reduce the supply of homes to rent, the Government is making it more difficult for aspiring home owners to get on the housing ladder, that much is clear.
However, landlords could find themselves wrong footed. There has been a lot of lobbying going on to persuade the Government to introduce tax benefits for larger investors in the build-to-rent sector. Indeed, RICS is also advocating such a move. It could be that come the Autumn Statement, Hammond goes big on build-torent and leaves smaller landlords out to dry.