Mike Tombs's Blog

This blog provides information about tax, accounting and other issues affecting small owner-managed businesses in the UK. It is intended as a general source of information but you should not assume that everything applies to your specific circumstances. We are always happy to discuss providing tailor-made solutions to suit your individul needs. Visit www.tlaservices.co.uk to sign up for our free monthly Tax Tips and News newsletter.

Category Archives: Tax

SDLT on second homes

Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) is payable on the purchase of residential property in increasing portions of the property price above £125,000.

Current rates of SDLT on individual and additional properties are as follows:

  • Purchase price up to £125,000 – SDLT rate Zero; additional property rate 3%
  • The next £125,000 (portion from £125,001 to £250,000) – SDLT rate 2%; additional property rate 5%
  • The next £675,000 (portion from £250,000 to £925,000) – SDLT rate 5%; additional property rate 8%
  • The next £575,000 (portion from £925,000 to £1.5m) – SDLT rate 10%; additional property rate 13%
  • The remaining amount (portion above £1.5m) – SDLT rate 12%; additional property rate 15%

Note that SDLT no longer applies in Scotland, where a Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) is charged instead.

Additional property

A higher rate of SDLT will be charged on purchases of additional residential property which completed on or after 1 April 2016.

If contracts were exchanged after 25 November 2015, then the higher rates apply if the purchase was completed on or after 1 April 2016. However, if contracts were exchanged on or before 25 November 2015 but not completed until on or after 1 April 2016, the higher rates will not apply.

The amount of the additional charge will be 3% on top of the normal SDLT charge.

Example

Leo buys a second residential property on 25 July 2017 costing £300,000. This transaction will attract SDLT as follows:

£125,000 x 3% = £3,750

£125,000 x 5% = £6,250

£50,000 x 8% = £4,000

Total SDLT due £14,000

Broadly, the higher rates will not apply if at the end of the day of the transaction an individual owns only one residential property, irrespective of the intended use of the property.

If a main home is sold after a new home is purchased, the higher rate will be payable. However, a refund can be obtained is the old home is sold within three years of buying the new one.

Exceptions

The higher rates are not payable on the purchase of a new property if the chargeable consideration is less than £40,000.

In addition, the charge is not payable where:

  • someone else holds a lease on the property with more than 21 years to run;
  • a lease is purchased that has less than 7 years to run.

The higher rates will not be applicable if an individual’s other residential properties meet either of the two criteria above, or each have a value of less than £40,000 when the new property is purchased.

Finally, the higher rates will not apply to purchase of mobile homes, caravans or house boats; or to purpose built student accommodation.

Mileage rates for electric and hybrid cars

Some confusion has been reported over how businesses should calculate mileage expenses rates for electric and hybrid company cars. This confusion has arisen largely because HMRC’s advisory fuel rates, or approved mileage allowance payments, only cover petrol and diesel cars. There are no separate ‘approved’ rates for electric or hybrid vehicles.

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Currently, whilst HMRC do recognise that employees should be reimbursed for costs incurred for business travel, they do not currently recognise electric charging costs as a ‘fuel’ expense and do not therefore, currently publish separate rates.

HMRC’s advisory fuel rates can be used to work out mileage costs in certain situations, for example, where an employer reimburses an employee for fuel they have used on business travel in a company car, or where an employee is required to repay the cost of fuel used for private travel. Where the employer uses the advisory fuel rates (or lower rates) then no liability to tax or NICs will arise on the payments and they do not need to be report to HMRC.

The treatment of mileage rates is relatively straight-forward for hybrid cars – they are treated as either petrol or diesel for the purpose of the advisory fuel rates, so employers can just use the appropriate current rates.

The situation is more difficult for employers with employees who drive electrics car as company vehicles. Such employers could use the advisory fuel rate based on the lower of the petrol or diesel tariff, or the calculated cost of the electricity used from a domestic supply to charge the car. Another option would be to pay a rate that can be calculated accurately as a true cost to the employee. Whichever method is used to reimburse mileage, it is imperative that the employer maintains adequate records to substantiate that the correct amount has been paid. Failure to keep adequate records may lead to additional tax and NIC liabilities, and penalties.

VAT: zero-rating of adapted motor vehicles

Finance Act 2017 introduced legislation designed to end perceived abuse of the VAT relief on substantially and permanently adapted motor vehicles for disabled wheelchair users.

The amended rules, which took effect from 1 April 2017, now specify a limit on the number of vehicles within a specified period of time that an individual can purchase under this relief.

An eligible individual will be able to purchase one vehicle every three years. There are some instances when this limit can be exceeded, so if an individual’s car is written off or stolen or if the vehicle has ceased to be suitable for the disabled person’s use because of changes in the person’s condition.

In addition to the new limitations above, there is now a mandatory requirement for eligibility declaration forms to be submitted to HMRC. This form clarifies exactly what information an individual needs to provide to support their claim to a zero rated supply.

Motor dealers are also required to send information regarding these zero-rated sales to HMRC.

Individuals in breach of these new requirements may be denied the benefit of the zero rate, or may be subject to a penalty (under VATA 1994, s 62) if the declaration they make is incorrect.

August 2017 Q & A

Q. My wife has a part time job but doesn’t earn enough to pay tax. Can she get tax relief on contributions made to a pension scheme?

A. Yes, even if you are not earning enough to pay income tax, you still qualify to have tax relief added to any contributions you make to a pension plan. However, the maximum you can pay in is £2,880 a year, or 100% of your earnings, subject to the ‘annual allowance’ restrictions.

Tax relief is added to the contributions at the basic rate of tax (currently 20%), so if you pay in £2,880 net, tax relief of £720 will be added, meaning that the gross contribution into the pension will be £3,600 (£2,880 x 100/80).

Q. I am a qualified doctor and pathologist. I have recently registered for VAT as my turnover has exceeded the current VAT registration limits. In addition to my regular doctor’s practice, which I understand is still exempt for VAT, I also write medical reports for insurance companies. I understand that this service is standard rated. However, I have also recently been requested to carry out post mortems. I am statutorily obliged to carry out this work, but I am paid for it. Should I charge VAT on my invoices for this service?

A. As you state, some services will be taxable or exempt, depending on their primary purpose. This is particularly the case in the area of medical reports and certificates, and in these cases, it is necessary to establish their principal purpose, before liability can be determined. Where the service is principally aimed at the protection, maintenance or restoration of health of the person concerned, the supply is exempt. However, where a medical report is done solely to provide a third party with a necessary element for taking a decision for insurance or legal purposes, the supply is taxable at the standard rate.

Where a doctor is compelled by statute to perform a statutory service and charges a fee for it then the supply is outside the scope of VAT (see VAT Notice 701/57, para 4.13). Under Section 19 of the Coroners Act 1998 a coroner can appoint a doctor (pathologist) to carry out a post mortem if necessary. As this is a statutory requirement and the doctor must provide the service, any payment received will be outside the scope.

Q. I started my own business as a sole trader on 1 December 2016. Although it has been quite a slow start, my profits are slowly going up and I am hopeful that they will continue to rise steadily over the next few years. Should I use 30 November or the tax year-end as my accounting year-end?

A. As a general rule of thumb, choosing a year-end earlier in the year, will generally give a business longer to pay its annual tax bill. This, in turn, can help considerably with the business cash-flow.

Taxpayers are generally required to make two equal payments of their income tax liabilities including any Class 2 and Class 4 NIC liability) on account:

  • by 31 January in the tax year; and
  • by 31 July following the tax year,

based on the total income tax payable directly in the previous tax year.

The balance, together with any capital gains tax, is normally payable (or repayable) by 31 January after the tax year.

Rent a room scheme

Although Budget 2017 announced that the Government intends to review the rent-a-room scheme, it currently remains a tax-efficient way of letting out a spare room. Broadly, HMRC’s rent-a-room scheme is an optional exemption scheme, which allows individuals to receive up to £7,500 of tax-free gross income (income before expenses) from renting out spare rooms in their only or main home. The exemption is halved where the income is shared with a partner or someone else. Broadly, as long as income is below the annual threshold, it does not need to be reported to HMRC. If income exceeds the threshold, it needs to be reported to HMRC via the self-assessment system.

In order to qualify under the rent-a-room scheme, the accommodation must be furnished and a lodger can occupy a single room or an entire floor of the house. However, the scheme doesn’t apply if the house is converted into separate flats that are rented out. The scheme cannot be used if the accommodation is in a UK home which is let whilst the landlord lives abroad.

The rent-a-room tax break does not apply where part of a home is let as an office or other business premises. The relief only covers the circumstance where payments are made for the use of living accommodation.

Sometimes additional services are provided, for example, cleaning and laundry. The payments for such services must be added to the rent to work out the total receipts. If income exceeds £7,500 a year in total, a liability to tax will arise, even if the rent itself is less than that.

Accounting for tax

Where the annual threshold is exceeded, there are two options available:

  • the first £7,500 is counted as the tax-free allowance and income tax is paid on the remaining income; or
  • the landlord opts to treat the renting of the room as a normal rental business, working out a profit and loss account using the normal income and expenditure rules.

In most cases, the first option will be more advantageous. The principal point to bear in mind is that those using the rent-a-room scheme cannot claim any expenses relating to the letting (e.g. insurance, repairs, heating).

To work out whether it is preferable to join the scheme, the following methods of calculation should be compared:

  • Method A: paying tax on the profit from letting worked out in the normal way for a rental business (i.e. rents received less expenses).
  • Method B: paying tax on the gross amount of receipts (including receipts for any related services they provide) less the £7,500 exemption limit.

Method A applies automatically unless the taxpayer tells their tax office within the time limit that they want method B.

Once a taxpayer has elected for method B, it continues to apply in the future until they tell HMRC they want method A. The taxpayer may want to switch methods where the taxable profit is less under method A, or where expenses are more than the rents (so there is a loss).

Example

During 2016/17, Flo lets out a room in her home. She receives total income of £11,000 (£10,800 rent plus £200 towards bills). She incurs expenses of £3,000. If she uses method A to calculate her tax liability she will pay tax on £8,000 (£11,000 less £3,000). If she uses method B, she will pay tax on £3,500 (£11,000 less £7,500). Flo is better off using method B.

Even though the tax rules for the rent-a-room scheme are different to the general property income tax rules, a resident landlord will still have certain responsibilities towards tenants, particularly in relation to safety. For further information, see the GOV.UK website at https://www.gov.uk/rent-room-in-your-home.

Working from home

Over recent years, it has become increasingly popular for employers to allow their employees to work from home, and in doing so, pay an amount to cover any additional household costs incurred. What are the tax implications of such expenses for the employee?

Broadly, no tax liability will arise where an employer makes a payment to an employee for reasonable additional household expenses, which the employee incurs in carrying out duties of the employment at home under ‘homeworking arrangements’.

‘Homeworking arrangements’ are arrangements between the employee and the employer under which the employee regularly performs some or all of the duties of the employment at home. There is no requirement for any part of the employee’s home to be used exclusively for the purposes of the employment – in fact, if any part of the home is used exclusively for work, problems could arise on the future sale of the house as part of the capital gains tax exemption on private residences may be lost.

HMRC have stated that they will accept that homeworking arrangements exist where:

  • there are arrangements between the employer and the employee; and
  • the employee works at home regularly under those arrangements.

The HMRC guidance also advises that:

‘the arrangements need not be in writing but usually will be. They do not need to apply to all employees. The exemption does not apply where an employee works at home informally and not by arrangement with the employer. For example, it will not apply where an employee simply takes work home in the evenings. It applies where an employee works at home by arrangement with the employer instead of working on the employer’s premises.’

HMRC accept that the ‘regularly’ condition is met if working at home is frequent or follows a pattern. The fact that the days spent at home vary from week to week is not a bar to claiming the exemption.

‘Household expenses’ are defined as expenses connected with the day-to-day running of the employee’s home. The exemption applies to additional household expenses, and HMRC have given the following guidance:

‘Typically this will include the additional costs of heating and lighting the work area or the metered cost of increased water use. There might also be increased charges for Internet access, home contents insurance or business telephone calls. Where working at home leads to a liability for business rates the additional cost incurred can also be included.

The additional household costs must be reasonable and must be incurred in carrying out the duties. This excludes costs that would be the same whether or not the employee works at home, for example mortgage interest, rent, council tax or water rates. It also excludes expenses that put the employee into a position to work at home, for example building alterations or the cost of furniture or office equipment.’

Amount of exemption

To minimise the need for record-keeping, employers can pay up to £4 per week (£208 per year) without supporting evidence of the costs the employee has incurred. If an employer pays more than that amount, the exemption will still be available but the employer must provide supporting evidence that the payment is wholly in respect of additional household expenses incurred by the employee in carrying out his duties at home.

If an employer wishes to pay more than the guideline rate per week tax-free, then it is recommended that the employer should agree in advance with HMRC a scale rate. Failing that, records will need to be kept of the actual additional costs incurred by each employee.

IHT: main residence nil-rate band

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.

Tapering

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.

Reform of landlords’ taxation?

The government’s plans to allow landlords to use the cash basis for tax purposes were confirmed in the 2017 Spring Budget, but although the proposed legislation was included in Finance Bill 2017, it did not appear in the much reduced Finance Act 2017, which received Royal Assent on 27 April 2017. It is likely that the proposals have been temporarily shelved, pending the outcome of the General Election, and are expected to reappear in a second Finance Bill later this year. If the provisions are subsequently enacted, they are expected to apply retrospectively from 6 April 2017, i.e. for the current tax year.

Up to and including 2016-17, profits of a property business must be calculated in accordance with generally accepted accounting practice (GAAP), commonly referred to as the accruals basis. Although this remains the case for certain landlords (including companies, LLPs, corporate firms, and trustees of trusts), if the Finance Bill 2017 provisions are enacted, the position for 2017-18 onwards will be more complicated. The general rule is that the cash basis must be used. However, this is subject to some exceptions and there will be scope for the individual to elect to continue using the accruals basis if they so wish. The new property allowance will remove some landlords from income tax, whilst for others, it will provide a deduction from profits of £1,000.

Property allowance

The property allowance works as follows:

  • Full relief: if income from a property business for the tax year is equal to or less than £1,000, no income tax will payable in respect of that property business for that year. Individuals may elect to use the rules normally applying to calculate profits.
  • Partial relief: if income from a property business for the tax year exceeds £1,000, the individual may elect to deduct £1,000 from his income – rather than the expenditure actually incurred – in arriving at the profits of the property business.

A number of restrictions apply. The property allowance will not apply:

  • to income on which rent-a-room relief is given; or
  • where the ‘alternative method’ is not elected, but instead the actual allowable expenses are deducted.

Cash basis

The cash basis operates by reference to the tax year. This means that profits are calculated for the tax year by adding or subtracting:

  • all income received in connection with the property business in the tax year;
  • any income that is not taxable and for expenses which are not allowable.

Reform of capital expenditure rules

To date, the cash basis rules have prohibited a deduction for expenditure of a capital nature unless such expenditure would qualify for plant and machinery capital allowances under the ordinary tax rules. However, if the Finance Bill 2017 proposals are enacted this general disallowance of capital expenditure rule will be replaced from 2017/18 onwards with a more limited disallowance of capital expenditure incurred in relation to assets which are not used up in the business over a limited period.

So, if enacted, from 2017/18 onwards, relief will be prohibited only in relation to costs incurred in relation to the provision, alteration or disposal of:

  • any asset that is not a ‘depreciating asset’ (to be defined as having a useful life of up to 20 years);
  • any asset not acquired or created for use on a continuing basis in the trade;
  • a car (but of course business mileage-based relief is available);
  • land (as defined);
  • a non-qualifying intangible asset, (as per Financial Reporting Standard 105) including education or training; and
  • a financial asset.

Costs in relation to the acquisition or disposal of a business, or part of a business, will also be excluded.

On entering the cash basis, which many taxpayers will do for 2017-18, it will be necessary to adjust for:

  • amounts which, applying the cash basis, would have been brought into account for a period before the change and were not brought into account; and
  • amounts which, applying the cash basis, should be brought into account for a period after the change and were brought into account for a period before the change.

These adjustments are designed to ensure that no amounts are either left out of account or double counted. The adjustment income/expense is brought into account on the last day of the first period of account under the cash basis.

Similar rules apply where a taxpayer leaves the cash basis with the exception that adjustment income is automatically spread over six years unless an election is made to accelerate the charge.

Given the uncertainty of the current situation, clients are encouraged to ensure that all income and expenditure is recorded, particularly where clients are intending to make use of the property allowance. If the proposals are not enacted, or are delayed to a future tax year, the client will need to report their actual income and expenditure and so it is important that adequate records are kept.

CGT annual exemption: use it or lose it!

Capital gains tax (CGT) is normally paid when an item is either sold or given away. It is usually paid on profits made by selling various types of assets including properties (but generally not a main residence), stocks and shares, paintings, and other works of art, but it may also be payable in certain circumstances when a gift is made.

The most common method for minimising a liability to capital gains tax is to ensure that the annual exemption is fully utilised wherever possible. Whilst this is relatively straight-forward where only capital gains are in question, the computation can be slightly more complex where capital losses are also involved.

Where a loss arises on the sale of assets it can be offset against any other gains made in the same year or in the future. However, a strict order applies for setting-off losses.

Firstly, losses arising in the tax year are deducted from any other chargeable gains for the same year. All losses for the year must be deducted, even if this results in chargeable gains after losses below the level of the annual exempt amount. If the allowable losses arising in the tax year are greater than the total chargeable gains for the year, the excess losses can be carried forward to be deducted from chargeable gains in future years. In this situation, the annual exemption for the year in question may be lost.

If chargeable gains remain after deducting the allowable losses arising from the same year, unused allowable losses brought forward from an earlier year may then be deducted. It is only necessary to deduct sufficient allowable losses brought forward to reduce the chargeable gains after losses to the level of the annual exempt amount. Any remaining losses brought forward are carried forward again without limit, to be deducted from chargeable gains in future years.

Plan ahead

For 2017/18, most individuals will be entitled to an annual exemption of £11,300, which means that no CGT will be payable on gains up to that amount for that tax year. Since spouses and civil partners are each entitled to the exemption, for jointly held assets, there is scope for exempting £22,600 worth of gains in 2017/18.

The annual exemption is good only for the current tax year – it cannot be carried forward or taken back to an earlier year – so anyone planning to make a series of disposals, may want to consider the timing of sales between two or more tax years to use up as much and as many annual exemptions as possible.

HMRC launch consultation on employee expenses

As confirmed the Spring Budget 2017, HMRC have launched a consultation on the use of the income tax relief for employees’ business expenses, including those that are not reimbursed by their employer. The main objectives of the consultation, which will run until 12 June 2017, are to understand:

  • if the current rules or their administration can be clearer and simpler;
  • whether the tax rules for expenses are fit for purpose in the modern economy; and
  • why the cost to the exchequer of the tax relief for expenses which are not reimbursed has increased.

Expenses form an integral part of the tax system as tax relief can be claimed on eligible expenses. However, the cost of providing this relief is significant – HMRC state that the tax relief on expenses which employers do not reimburse and employees then claim from HMRC costs the Exchequer £800m per year, and there has been a 25% increase in claims between 2009-10 and 2014-15.

The current rules

It is important that employees and employers are both clear on what tax reliefs employees are entitled to claim. Broadly, tax relief is available when expenses are incurred ‘wholly, exclusively and necessarily in the performance of the duties of the employment’. Expenses which put an employee in a position to do their job (such as the cost of ordinary commuting) are not eligible for tax relief. There are also provisions for relief for specific expenses, such as professional fees and subscriptions, and travel and subsistence.

When employers pay for or reimburse expenses that are eligible for tax relief, the payment is not taxed. For example, if an employee pays for a train ticket to travel from their permanent office to another office for a business meeting, and their employer reimburses the cost of the train ticket, the reimbursement is not liable to income tax or National Insurance contributions. However, if an employer pays a round sum cash allowance to cover potential expenses, such payments will be taxable in full.

Simplified expenses

The administration of the tax relief for expenses paid for or reimbursed by the employer was simplified from April 2016 with the introduction of an exemption for paid or reimbursed expenses. Under this exemption, qualifying expenses can be paid by employers free of tax without the need for an employer to apply to HMRC for a dispensation. These expenses do not need to be returned to HMRC at the end of the tax year on form P11D, and employees no longer need to make a claim to HMRC for a corresponding tax relief.

When employers do not reimburse expenses that employees have incurred, the employee can deduct them from his taxable income and subsequently claim tax relief at his marginal tax rate on costs incurred.

For some expenses which are not reimbursed, employees can claim a flat rate expense allowance. HMRC have agreed allowances based on the amount typically spent each year by employees in a wide range of industries and occupations to remove the burden for employers and employees of calculating a large number of small claims and retaining evidence for these. For example, employees who need to pay for the cost of repairing and maintaining tools and specialist clothing for work can apply for tax relief in this way.

The future

Although the consultation document states that the government has no plans to remove the relief on employee expenses, changes to current procedures may be expected in the future.