You can invest in property in two ways – directly or indirectly. Both ways involve some complicated financial issues, and one of those is tax. You should do your best to minimise tax to get the most out of your investment.
Property investment explained
- Direct property investment means you buy all or part of the property yourself. Property tends to increase in value over time, and, in the meantime, you can rent it out or live in it.
- Indirect property investment means you don’t directly own the property, but you do get a share of the profits. You buy into a property fund or company and get dividends and/or capital growth when the fund makes a profit.
Direct property investments – Tax on buying and selling
For most things you buy, if you sell them again at a profit you need to pay Capital Gains Tax (CGT).
Whether or not you pay CGT on the money you make from a property depends on whether it’s your home – the property you live in for most of the time, or have lived in within the last three years.
- If you sell your home you’re generally not liable to pay CGT – this is because you can claim Private Residence Relief on any profit. If you have let out some or all of your home during the period of ownership, you might need to pay CGT.
- If you sell another property – for example, a holiday let, a rental property or a property you bought for someone else to live in – you can’t claim Private Residence Relief and might need to pay CGT.
If you’re buying property, you might have to pay a tax called Stamp Duty Land Tax.
This tax applies if you’re buying a residential property that is more than £125,000, or a non-residential property that is more than £150,000.
There are different rates of tax depending on how much the property is worth.
In other words, the more expensive the property is, the higher the rate of tax you have to pay.
From 1 April 2016, you’ll have to pay an extra 3% on top of each Stamp Duty band when you buy an additional home or a residential buy-to-let property.
Property investment for your family – Leaving a property as a legacy
You might choose to invest in property so you can have something valuable to leave to your family. If so, you might need to think about estate planning.
Direct property investments – Tax on rental income
If you’re renting out a property to someone, there are different ways the rental income might be considered for tax purposes – residential letting, furnished holiday lets or the Rent a Room relief scheme.
With residential letting and furnished holiday lets, you can claim back expenses to reduce your tax bill.
With the Rent a Room relief scheme, you get a tax-free allowance. Read on for a little more explanation of each.
Residential letting as a property investment
If you rent out some or all of a property for someone to live in, you pay tax on the profits you make on the rental income.
You treat these profits just like a normal part of your income, so you’ll pay tax at your normal rates.
You can reduce the tax you pay by making sure you calculate the profits correctly.
This involves working out what you can deduct as allowable expenses – things like letting agents’ fees, Council Tax and buildings insurance.
If you’re renting out furnished accommodation, you also get either a wear and tear allowance, or a renewals allowance for renewing furnishings or fixtures that are already there (you choose one or the other - once you’ve chosen you can’t change year on year).
You can’t claim any allowance for furnishing the property in the first place.
Holiday letting as a property investment
If you have a property you rent out as a furnished holiday let, and it meets certain conditions – it must be in the UK or European Economic Area (EEA), you can’t let it to anyone for more than 31 days at time.
It must also be available for let for at least 210 days a year and actually let for at least 105 days.
You claim allowable expenses as discussed above.
You also get either a renewals allowance for renewing furnishings and fixtures OR capital allowance for furnishing the property.
(You choose one or the other. Once you’ve chosen you can’t change year on year.) You can’t claim wear and tear allowance.
The Rent a Room relief scheme
If you rent out rooms in your house to lodgers, you can either treat this as a residential property letting or you can claim Rent a Room relief.
You can only do this if it’s just a room accessible from your house, not a separate flat, and the lodger shares common areas like your kitchen.
The Rent a Room Scheme has tax advantages or disadvantages depending on your situation.
The rules are that:
- You don’t pay tax on the first £7,500 of your rental income.
- You can’t deduct any expenses or wear and tear allowances.
- If you make a loss, you can’t deduct it from your other taxable income.
If your house is jointly owned, each of you can claim £3,750 of tax relief.
The combined claim adds up to the £7,500 tax relief allowed under the scheme.
For example, if you’re the sole owner of the house and get £7,900 in rent, you won’t have to pay income tax on £7,500.
But you’ll have to pay tax on the £400 that is over the threshold.
You’d need to pay this tax even if the cost of maintaining the room is more than what you earn in rent.
As a very rough rule of thumb, if it costs you more than around £4,000 to maintain the room, then you’re probably better off not claiming the relief.
Indirect property investments
Instead of buying and managing your own property investments, you can invest in property through a fund or by buying shares in property companies or schemes.
There are a few different types of property fund.
Some have special tax arrangements.
Real estate investment trusts (REITs)
A REIT has two separate elements for tax purposes: a ring-fenced property letting business which is exempt from corporation tax; and non-ring-fenced activities like property management services which are not.
If the REIT you invest in does well, you’ll receive a distribution of the profits.
- Payments from the tax-exempt element are treated as UK property income for the investor and are paid net of basic rate tax - non-tax payers can re-claim this and if the REIT is held in an ISA investors receive payments gross.
- Payments from the non-exempt element are treated the same as any UK dividend and paid with a tax credit.
Property Authorised Investment Funds (PAIFs)
PAIFs are a newer form of property investment fund, very similar to REITs.
They also have tax breaks, which are passed on to you.
Other property investment funds
If you think you’ve been mis-sold something – whether it’s a mortgage or a property fund – you can get help from the Financial Ombudsman Service but only if the firm was regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) so always check.
There are plenty of property funds that are neither REITs nor PAIFs and so don’t come with any special tax breaks.
Most of these are reasonably stable but some are risky.
Always check if a property fund is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) before you consider investing.