From April 2017, each individual spouse or civil partner will be offered a residence nil rate band (RNRB), which is designed to help pass on a home to ‘direct descendants’, including children or grandchildren, tax-free after their death. The rules governing the inheritance tax (IHT) nil rate band are complex and it is always recommended that prior professional advice is considered.
Phasing in of RNRB
The RNRB is being phased in over a four-year period as follows:
- £100,000 in 2017-2018
- £125,000 in 2018-2019
- £150,000 in 2019-2020
- £175,000 in 2020-2021
Broadly, the new RNRB will be added to the existing £325,000 IHT threshold, meaning the total tax-free allowance for a surviving spouse or civil partner will be up to £850,000 in 2017-18, and up to £1 million in 2020-21.
For the purposes of the new nil-rate band, ‘direct descendants’ include the spouse or civil partner, children, step children, adopted children, foster children, and any lineal descendants.
The property in question must be a ‘qualifying residence’. This means it must be a property where a person held an interest and had occupied the property as their residence at some point. HMRC may require evidence of this, so it is essential to maintain proper records to help substantiate a claim. Where a person has more than one property, an election can be made so that the exemption is offset. For the purpose of the exemption, there is no requirement for the property to be the main residence at death.
The new allowance will be tapered away from those leaving an estate of more than £2 million, so that those leaving more than £2.35m will not benefit from it.
For estates (broadly, assets less liabilities) exceeding £2 million, the RNRB (£100,000 for 2017-18) is reduced by £1 for every £2 over the £2 million threshold. The effect of tapering is an extremely important planning point, particularly where the whole of an estate is being left to a surviving spouse or civil partner – whilst no IHT will be charged on first death, the amount of RNRB that may subsequently be transferred to the surviving person may be affected by the taper.
If there is no qualifying residence or the residence is left to someone who is not a direct descendant, upon the first death of one spouse or civil partner, the RNRB will not be available. However, the surviving spouse or civil partner may be able to benefit from the unused RNRB when they subsequently die. On the death of the surviving spouse or civil partner, they will be entitled to two times the RNRB. Note that for this to happen, a claim would need to be made within two years of the death of the second spouse or civil partner.
There is an additional benefit to this exemption which will naturally affect a number of people whom in their old age may wish to, or require to, either downsize or dispose of their residence (move in with family or into a care home). Provided that the sale of the property occurred on or after 8 July 2015, the RNRB will not be lost. Instead, the exemption can be maintained and used against either the remaining value of their smaller residence or equivalent value of assets (provided it has been left to a direct descendant).
In the event that the property was given away, the RNRB can be available, provided the gift was made on or after 8 July 2015, and assets of a similar value have been left to a direct descendant.
The calculations for the RNRB where a residence has been downsized, sold, or gifted are extremely complex and careful planning is required to ensure the exemption is not lost. It is extremely important that proper records of sales and/or purchases of residential property are maintained.