The Autumn Statement made by Chancellor George Osborne to the House of Commons on 5 December contained only one surprise for individual tax payers.
Unexpected by most pundits was the proposed change affecting individuals who own one or more properties in which they have lived at any time as their main residence. The background is the relief from Capital Gains Tax (CGT) on the disposal of what we know as the 'principal private residence' means that there is no CGT payable on the disposal of a property which has been the only or main residence throughout the period of ownership. A taxpayer can only have one principal private residence at any given time. That said, it is recognised that people sometimes still need sufficient time to sell a previous main residence after moving to a new one and until now there has an exception for the last 36 months of ownership. So if, after buying a new main residence, the previous one was still owned up to 36 months later, there would still be no CGT.
It is now proposed that the final period of ownership for which the relief still applies be reduced to 18 months. The 18 month period will have effect where contracts for the sale of the property are exchanged on or after 6 April 2014. For sales where contracts are exchanged on or before 5 April 2014 and completed on or before 5 April 2015, the 36 month period will still apply. For those moving from their principal private residence into care, the period will remain a 36 month final period.
The intention is apparently to make the tax system fairer by reducing the incentive of those with more than one property to attempt to exploit the relief.
Staying with CGT, we were not surprised to see what was expected by many - the proposal to subject the gains on sales of UK residential property (and shares and interests in such property) by non-UK residents to the CGT regime. Currently, non-residents do not pay CGT on the disposal of UK assets. The perception of many is that this is unfair. Why should UK residents pay CGT on disposals of their second homes and non-residents be exempt? So non-residents will now face a CGT bill on disposals of their UK homes.
The details of the rules affecting this will be published in the consultation paper due in the next three months or so. We might guess that there will be some sort of rebasing provisions so that gains up to, for example, April 2015, from when it is expected that the proposals will bite, will be exempt. UK residents do not pay CGT on disposals of their principal private residences but the very nature of non-residence means that it is relatively unlikely that a UK residential property owned by a non-resident will be his only or main residence so that relief will probably not apply
It seems that the regime will apply to all residential properties owned by non-residents, not just those of at least £2m in value which is the lower limit for escaping the Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings (ATED). And, thinking of ATED - which applies only to residential properties of that value or more owned by 'non-natural persons', meaning, broadly, corporate entities - how will the charges on gains of ATED-affected properties interact with these new provisions? And will the rate of CGT be the same as those which apply for other purposes, being 18% for basic rate taxpayers and 28% for higher rate taxpayers?
So, there are many questions to be answered as the consultation proceeds and we will keep you informed over the next few months. Some property agents are hoping for a rush to sell before the measures come into effect but there should be enough time to assess the impact of the rules and make measured judgments about whether or not to sell.
In the meantime, the annual exempt amount for CGT for individual taxpayers is to be increased to £11,000 for the tax year 2014/15.
Turning to inheritance tax (IHT), the nil-rate band, being the amount below which no IHT is charged, is frozen at £325,000 until 2017/18.
There are proposals to simplify the IHT charges on trusts, for example, by aligning the due dates for filing and payment. There are also to be new rules clarifying the status for IHT anniversaries of long-accumulated income in trusts. These points are of more interest to us, as your professional advisers who deal with IHT returns, calculations and payments on your behalf.
Income tax: there was some press excitement before and after the Autumn Statement about the proposal to take effect in 2015/16 to allow a spouse or civil partner to transfer £1,000 of their personal allowance to their spouse nor civil partner. The option is to be available only where neither spouse or civil partner is a higher rate taxpayer. So the ability to make use of this will be very limited.
The basic rate limit for income tax will be £31,865 for 2014/15.
All in all, not much excitement but, as always, the devil will be in the detail.