These haven’t been the best of times for UK Landlords. You may recall, early this year, the chancellor announced a new stamp duty surcharge of 3% on all buy-to-let properties worth more than £40,000 -which is almost all buy-to-let property assets. This means a significant cut into long-term returns on buy-to-let property investments. For example, stamp duty on a £500,000 property for buy-to-let will cost £30,000, or 6% of the cost price.
Another law, announced not long afterwards, states that tax relief for landlords will be cut to a fixed rate of 20%. This is a massive reduction from the 40% to 45% some landlords enjoy at the moment.
In a bid to counter this, a group representing 250 landlords launched an appeal against the tax relief changes on buy-to-let properties, which will take effect from April next year. They had accused the chancellor, George Osborne of victimising them, claiming the tax laws breach human rights legislation and European Law.
Unfortunately, the landlords with their representative Cherie Booth QC, have lost their court case against the imminent government tax increase on buy-to-let properties.
At the high court, Mr Justice Dingemans had admitted it was a case that was bound to fail. The landlords’ legal representative Booth, who owns at least 10 houses and 27 flats with her husband, Tony Blair and three children, was previously lauded for speaking out when she accused the government for “singling” out individual buy-to-let landlords for detrimental tax treatment while some still enjoyed the perks.
However, her statement was countered by Timothy Brennan QC, legal counsel for HM Revenue & Customs and the Treasury. He labelled it as unarguable, stating there were cases that justified courts looking in the interest of the public, and the landlords’ appeal was not one of them.
Booth and her team were not deterred. Speaking outside the court, she maintained that they would continue to challenge the government to ensure the message is received about the “inherent unfairness” of the buy-to-let tax. “It’s (the battle) not over yet”, she concluded.
Although the landlords’ group have 7 days to appeal the ruling, it is understood that they are unlikely to take it up any further.
The Outcome of the Tax Law
The scheduled tax changes will prevent buy-to-let investments -mainly mortgage interest payments- from being a claimable business expense.
The changes only affect landlords who own buy-to-let properties in their names. Corporate bodies that own rental properties, wealthy cash investors and landlords of holiday lets are exempted.
According to Axe the Tenant Tax group, speaking for 150,000 landlords, and represented in court by Steve Bolton and Chris Cooper, the tax law has failed to protect tenants, landlords and the housing markets from the disastrous consequences of Section 24.
People will lose their homes because many landlords will have no choice but exit the property market. While big corporations continue to enjoy special tax reliefs, hardworking landlords will see their pension plans ruined, says Bolton and Cooper.
No doubt the ruling has left many disappointed. Although the case was not believed solid enough to overturn the chancellor’s decision, it was hoped that the courts would at least be prepared to listen to their arguments, said Richard Lambert CEO of National Landlords’ Association.