For UK landlords, the taxman has morphed into the bogeyman in recent years, hiking stamp duty and reducing the tax breaks available for buy-to-let owners as part of the government’s uphill battle to make homes available for first-time buyers and thus soothe the housing crisis.
First HM Revenues and Customs came for the Wear and Tear Allowance that it switched out in favour of Replacement Relief in the 2016/17 tax year. Then the following year it introduced a phased reduction in mortgage interest tax relief on rental mortgages before the benefit is totally eradicated in 2020/21. And more recently in late 2018, the government launched plans to also eradicate tax breaks on capital gains when certain properties are sold. This will affect people who once lived in a now-rented-out property and will reduce returns when the home in question is sold.
Fun in the sun? In a turn up for the books, though, news emerged from the corridors of power this week to finally put a smile on the face of many buy-to-let investors.
In a Westminster debate discussing steps to help regenerate dilapidated seaside resorts, a House of Lords committee suggested that, along with measures like improving transport links, boosting digital connectivity and reviewing flood defence investment, government should consider introducing tax breaks for landlords in these areas.
More specifically peers recommended “the introduction of stronger incentives for private landlords to improve the quality and design of their properties,” measures that “might include tax relief for making improvements to properties.”
Don’t break out the bubbly yet Clearly these are just suggestions and remain a long way off from being signed off by the Treasury. And what’s more, these proposed changes would only benefit those investors whose properties are (or would be) located on the coast, individuals who comprise a very small slice of the overall pie.
This news is a much-needed step in the right direction for the sector, though, given that recent tax changes have solely served to penalise landlords. The committee’s findings were certainly celebrated by the Residential Landlords Association, which “welcome[d] the recognition this report gives to supporting landlords to invest in raising the standard of housing for their tenants” and which added that “we call on the government to accept this proposal.”
Let’s hypothesise for a moment and imagine that those recommended tax breaks do indeed come into force. Can it be argued that they would make buy-to-let investment in holiday resorts that much better on balance, given the raft of adverse tax changes I mentioned at the top of the piece? Certainly not, I would say. In fact, irrespective of this week’s news, legislative changes in the months and indeed years ahead are likely to remain mostly detrimental to landlords as the government takes action to solve the housing shortage. This is why I’m giving buy-to-let a wide berth and will continue to do so.