Wednesday, 14 September 2016

A Clearer View - September edition

Since the government implemented its Stamp Duty Land Tax ('SDLT') reforms in April of this year, applying an additional 3% levy to buy-to-let ('BTL') properties, many landlords are scrutinising their portfolios to ensure that their investments are maximised.

Navigating SDLT reforms, however, is a sensitive and complex manoeuvre, and often calls for expert advice. In this edition of Clearer View, we have invited the Tax Team at Price Bailey Property to share key advice for buy-to-let investors.

Company ownership for buy to let properties
Many of the country’s landlords are starting to question the fairness of the UK tax system following the introduction of tax changes in the buy-to-let market in April.

Despite the financial implications of the reforms, many landlords have not considered how they hold their interests in property and what this means for their investment. While owning property personally is simple and requires minimum fuss, for many individuals, it isn’t very tax efficient, and we are anticipating that post-tax returns on property investments could be lower under the new legislation.

Potential tax advantages
Income Tax on rental profits can be anything up to 45%, which seems a significant imbalance given that companies currently pay Corporation Tax at 20%. This already favourable rate will reduce progressively to 17% over the next four years and may even drop as low as 15% - a figure previously quoted by George Osbourne, the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, following the result of the EU referendum.  Therefore, if a landlord does not require rental profits on which to live, or if they are not being used to repay loan capital, establishing a private company to manage lettings portfolio starts to look attractive.

Furthermore, from 2017, loan interest will be restricted to Income Tax, but not Corporation Tax, further enhancing the appeal of the company model.

When residential properties are sold, individuals pay Capital Gains Tax (‘CGT’) of up to 28%, whereas on residential property gains, other than in limited circumstances, companies pay Corporation Tax at the lower rates mentioned above. In addition, companies are often taxed on a lower gain because they can claim an inflation allowance (known as indexation).

Shareholding and future planning
Corporate ownership allows a wide range of investors to participate as shareholders, rather than having direct interest in the properties. This also benefits Inheritance Tax planning, as assets can be passed to the next generation without having to transfer the property. For example, landlords can introduce their adult children as minority shareholders, or with generous grandparents, grandchildren can become shareholders, and dividends can be paid to them to fund school fees or other expenses, rather than grandparents paying out of their taxed revenue. Dividends can also be paid to the wider family group, which is likely to improve overall tax efficiency.

In summary, prospective and existing landlords should consider their ownership structure before making any further property purchases.

For those BTL landlords who own portfolios personally, it may be possible to move them into a new company structure; however, inadequate or poor advice could increase the risks of triggering high CGT and Stamp Duty Land Tax liabilities with no cash to settle them.

Price Bailey are a firm of chartered accountants and tax advisors who are experienced in this area, having successfully assisted clients reorganise BTL landlord property portfolios without incurring ‘dry’ CGT and SDLT charges.

Price Bailey are happy to give clients a free initial portfolio review to assess whether benefits can be had from the recent tax changes, as discussed above. Contact details can be found below.

Price Bailey Property Tax Team
Jay Sanghrajka
Partner, Head of Property
T: +44(0) 207 7382 7431

Chris Hammond
Senior Tax Consulting Manager
T: +44(0) 1223 507 632

Lisa Simon, 
Partner Head of Residential Lettings
T: 020 7518 3234 

Friday, 9 September 2016

New agri-environment agreements

Farmers and landowners need to get their skates on now the government has pledged to honour existing and new agri-environment agreements beyond the UK’s departure from the EU.

This is on condition applications to the new scheme are submitted before the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement - and the application deadline for the Countryside Stewardship Scheme is September 30.

Countryside Stewardship provides financial incentives for land managers to look after their environment through activities such as:

•    Conserving and restoring wildlife habitats
•    Flood risk management
•    Woodland creation and management
•    Reducing widespread water pollution from agriculture
•    Keeping the character of the countryside
•    Preserving features important to the history of the rural landscape
•    Encouraging educational access

The scheme is open to all eligible farmers and landowners but it is competitive with points awarded on how well the application enhances local targets to maximise environmental benefit.

There are three main elements to the scheme - the Mid Tier, Higher Tier and Capital Grants.  The Higher Tier is primarily available to those farmers who are leaving an existing Higher Level Stewardship e but the Mid Tier is of interest to farmers more widely, as is the Capital Grant scheme.

Last year was the first year of this scheme and a disappointing number of applications were received because the rules are relatively complicated and the level of financial support is lower than predecessor schemes.  However, possibly because of this, all the applications my firm submitted on behalf of clients in the South West were accepted.

In making an application obviously you must focus on the priority targets for your area and these can be found on line here.

Natural England are tasked with running the scheme and if anyone wants to find out more about it, their contact details are: Natural England, County Hall, Spetchley Road, Worcester WR5 2NP. Email and phone 0300 060 3900.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Compensation for dairy farmers

The EU are proposing to compensate dairy farmers for cutting milk production in a bid to boost its price.
Indications are that payments of 12p/litre may be paid to farmers who commit to reducing milk production over a three-month period compared to the previous year. However funds will be limited and are likely to be paid on a first come first served basis, so farmers are advised to get prepared for the application period.

This could be a real opportunity for some farmers here because, as I reported a couple of weeks ago, milk production in the UK fell by around 10 per cent in July compared to a year ago. Some farmers will have already “pre-qualified” for this particular scheme without having to change anything.

Applications will be made to the Rural Payments Agency and will need to be accompanied by written proof of 2015 production levels which should be relatively easily achieved through the provision of last year’s milk cheques and estimated revised production levels.  

The total pot of money available across the whole of the EU will be £125m and I expect there will be four application periods until the money runs out. But with UK production having already fallen sharply, this money could be used very quickly and farmers are advised to apply at the first opportunity.

According to NFU chief dairy adviser Sian Davies: “When the application window is opens there will be a form made available on the RPA website which farmers can download ready to submit along with their milk cheques.”

It is believed the first application period will relate to reduced milk production from October 1 to December 31, 2016 and any potential applicants should consider what level of production they think they will have during that period in order to be ready to submit the form.

This EU initiative is clearly welcome but if the EU had not abolished its milk quota system in 2015, when world markets were falling in the face of rising milk supplies, perhaps the current level of overproduction in the EU would have been less severe and the latest dairy compensation scheme would be less necessary.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

The push me-pull you summer

Whether you think of the ‘pushmi-pullyu’ creature as a gazelle unicorn hybrid which featured in the original Dr Dolittle book series or the two-headed llama of the 1960s’ musical film starring Rex Harrison in the leading role, you will be aware of the frustrating existence with which it had come to terms.

Having one head for eating and one for talking has obvious advantages in terms of a productive use of its time but in having two sets of legs facing in opposite directions, the creature ended up going nowhere of its own accord.

It has been a pushmi-pullyu kind of summer even after the post-Brexit political flurry of the governing party’s internal and cabinet politics settled down. As an aside, the tug-of-war of words among Her Majesty’s Opposition continues but, for the time being, appears to have little influence on the wider national and international stage.

Brexit means Brexit but there are many Brexit options it seems. Will it be a buffet Brexit where we can help ourselves or will it be the set menu? Will we be Brexiting à la carte or just having the lighter, continental option? All of us in business just want to know what’s for Brexit soon please so that we can get on and plan with a degree of certainty for the next couple of years, at least.

The work that the Bank of England has done - and can carry on doing - to encourage the economy to take off is widely acknowledged as coming to the end of the runway. Monetary policy is about as loose as Governor Carney and his advisors can dare make it and they aren’t the type of people to wing it. While our central bank’s latest round of action nourishes the banks and, to some extent, the financial markets, it can only do this for a limited amount of time.

All eyes then are on an early Autumn Statement from Chancellor Hammond who, it has been heavily hinted, will use the opportunity to ‘reset’ the previous administration’s economic priorities and fiscal targets. So we face forward with bright eyes and a bushy tail in anticipation of this.

There appears to be a dual-headed approach to doing business with China and this has happened all of a sudden, apparently. Day-to-day deals are being done and are to be encouraged between British and Chinese businesses. Luckily for us, Chinese investors still appear keen to invest in British research and development, technology, companies and property.

Yet, at the eleventh hour, the new UK administration has gone on a summer retreat for some quiet contemplation about Chinese firms financing of over a third of the investment required for the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant.

Quite a surprising volte face from the pre-24 June administration’s position. So surprising, that Lord (Jim) O’Neill who, as a Treasury minister tasked with building relations with China as well as UK infrastructure development, wasn’t even pre-warned of this re-assessment of the situation by the new administration. 

There is one view abroad – and at home – among some commentators that the UK’s value to China was or is because of access to trading with the EU.  What the the utility company Électricité de France (EDF)will make of the new view of Hinkley Point development remains to be seen.

Nobody trying to do business likes surprises. But surprising things happen which make for good business. Just look at the phenomenal success of Pokémon Go this summer.
Some pokémon can speak human languages but imagine, much like Dr Dolittle, if we could talk to the pokémon, learn their languages? Think of all the things we could discuss.

Will Mooney MRICS

Commercial, Cambridge

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Basic Payment Scheme

West Country farmers and landowners are worried that the current level of cashflow coming from the Basic Payment Scheme will not be maintained after 2020.

They welcomed the announcement by Philip Hammond, the new Chancellor, that funding under the Common Agricultural Policy will stay - at least in the short term.

This appears to mean that the current level of payments being made under the BPS will be maintained until 2020, which coincides with the lifetime of this EU scheme. What is not clear is whether the domestic rules relating to this scheme will change following our departure from the EU.

Mr Hammond also confirmed that any structural and investment projects signed off before the Autumn Statement at the end of November, “even when these projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU”, will continue to be funded. This should include all projects paid through the Rural Development Programme for England such as agri-environment schemes.

Again this is good news for farmers and landowners committed to long term agreements, many of which still have up to ten years to run. But what will replace these schemes? We need urgent clarity on the future of agri-environment schemes beyond November.

Unsurprisingly, Mr Hammond’s announcement was welcomed by leaders of farming and countryside organisations as good news for the short term.

A National Farmers Union statement said: “This should mean that farmers can count on receiving the Basic Payment Scheme through to 2020, and that agri-environment schemes already in place are guaranteed through to their conclusion,” while NFU president Meurig Raymond added: “I hope that this short-term certainty will help to deliver longer-term confidence. This is exactly what farm businesses need now.”

Similarly Ross Murray of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) explained: “This will provide a significant degree of reassurance to farmers and other landowners across the country.

“We have been clear, since the start of the EU referendum campaign, that this is the first decision ministers had to make to reassure rural businesses in the event of a Brexit vote. It is therefore a strong signal that will give confidence to businesses considering their future in a difficult agricultural market.”

So, in the short term, this provides farmers and landowners some degree of certainty and gives government breathing space to develop UK agricultural policies which will be fit for purpose.

But it is a pity the government did not start planning for a post-Brexit vote until after the referendum.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381