Section 24: The Consequences for Tenants

The Section 24 debate rages on. This is the part of the Finance Act 2015, which changed the rules on landlords being able to claim back mortgage interest and offset it against rent, as well as increasing their taxes.

The property site Property118 recently featured a series of discussions with landlords, highlighting the consequences that Section 24 has had so far for their businesses. In fact, as will become clear, it’s more a case of the consequences that Section 24 has had for the tenants, not least those tenants who are on housing benefit. The site is actually collecting views from landlords that can be used in discussions with politicians, local councils and housing charities.

There are some revealing stories from landlords. As expected, in order to stay in business, many are having to pass on the rises in costs which they have suffered as a result of Section 24. If they don’t do this, they basically no longer have a business. A landlord named John explained that he had had to tell a tenant that rent would be going up, after being held for two years. That tenant moved on. He is now going to have to tell a number of other long-term tenants (some in residence for more than eight years) that their rent, too, will be going up. Tenants in M8 lettings can expect similar news.

This landlord gives his tenants a discount for being a responsible tenant. He is expecting the tax on each property to increase by about £2,000 a year. In order to break even given the new levels of taxation and the loss of mortgage interest tax relief, he would have to put his rents up by 20%. But the tenants will not be able to pay this, and he is therefore thinking of selling his properties which he had intended to provide his pension income.

Another landlord, Martin, pointed out that these extra taxes were not included in the Conservative party’s manifesto. He charges new tenants the market rate for their rent but after that he increases the rent very little, and some have no further increases for many years. All of these tenants now face very large rises in rent as he attempts to balance the books.

He feels that it is particularly unfair on landlords who have one or two buy-to-let properties and also work, because they are the ones that will fall under higher rate taxation with the result that they will barely be covering their costs. He feels that if mortgaged buy-to-let landlords are forced to sell, it will be to the great advantage of un-mortgaged landlords who will be able to step in and pick up properties very cheaply, and that this is a form of wealth transfer. The gainers will be the very rich with large buy-to-let portfolios, or corporate landlords.

Another landlord, Colin, has tenants who are mostly on housing benefit, but some of these have lived in his houses for over 10 years and all of his tenants are long-standing. He charges rents based on LHA which are therefore below market value. He wrote to his tenants some months ago warning them that rents would have to go up and that he would have to dispose of some of his houses.

One family could not afford any increase in rent and has gone to share the same property as other members of their family. Another tenant has asked for notice in the hope that they will be rehoused by the council. Other tenants have agreed to an increase of 15% in their rent – still below market value.

He feels that people are becoming homeless, and that very poor people who are already stretched are having to find more money for rent.

Another landlord, Chris, says that he has never increased the rent of an existing tenant. He owns 39 properties and half of his tenants are on some kind of benefit, including in-work benefits for people who on tough employment contracts. Some tenants have been with him for nine years and in total he provides housing for about 70 people.

There are other landlords in the conversation and three things come up repeatedly. First, that all of these landlords are going to have to put up rents. Second, that many of them are thinking of selling out at least part of their portfolio. Third, that they will never ever vote Conservative again.

What experts and commentators have to say about Section 24

These quotes have been taken from the recent publication by Property 118 titled: “SECTION 24 of the Finance (no.2) Act 2015: “The unjust legislation that will make the UK housing crisis much worse”

Richard Dyson, Finance Editor at The Telegraph:

…It is a tax from Alice in Wonderland, a truly bonkers tax, a tax you’d laugh at – if it were being applied in a Third World country by a lunatic dictator.’

 

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales:

‘The idea that landlords will be taxed on the profit of their businesses, but not be allowed to offset the costs of creating that taxable profit is absurd, unjust and unsustainable. It overturns a fundamental, centuries-old principle of taxation.’

Paul Johnson of The Institute of Fiscal Studies:

‘This line of argument [about the ‘level playing field’] is plain wrong. Rental property is taxed more heavily than owner occupied property.’

Read all the expert feedback in the Full Report from Property118 

Why was s24 introduced?

This story was taken from the recent publication by Property 118 titled: “SECTION 24 of the Finance (no.2) Act 2015: “The unjust legislation that will make the UK housing crisis much worse”

When the former Chancellor, George Osborne announced in his Summer Budget speech of July 2015 that he would ‘restrict finance cost tax relief for ‘individual’ landlords,’ it wasn’t clear to most observers what this actually meant.

 

The method of describing the change was so opaque that only tax experts would have understood it initially. Landlords across the country had no idea what it meant. This was because to fully understand what ‘Section 24, of the Finance (no.2) Act, 2015’ signified, one would need to understand the concept of ‘sophistry.’

 

‘SOPHISTRY’.

The Oxford Dictionary definition: a subtle, tricky, superficially plausible, but generally fallacious method of reasoning.

The Cambridge Dictionary definition: the clever use of arguments that seem true but are really false, in order to deceive people

 

There are various theories regarding why the Government introduced this punitive tax regime for ‘private’ landlords (corporate landlords are exempt). It really was a bolt from the blue. As no-one outside of the Treasury was party to the discussions, we can only speculate on the motives. These may include:

 

  •  It’s a tax grab, pure and simple (and landlords are an easy target), and George Osborne was under a self-imposed pressure at the time to eliminate the budget deficit.
  •  It’s to help first time buyers or at least give them the illusion they were being helped (according to this, attacking one group helps another) and also to further favour owner-occupiers in the tax system, as increased owner-occupation levels are a Conservative Party goal (this group has been fiscally favoured for decades).
  •  It’s to eliminate the ‘small-time’ landlord, so that ‘institutions’ can take over the market. This is justified publicly as a move which will improve rental conditions, but institutions also happen to donate to the Conservative Party coffers.

 

One thing cannot be in doubt, however, and that is that it was a populist move, yet one which landlords were shocked to see a Conservative Government introduce, as it is such a ‘hard-left’ policy.

 

Logically, it will lead to the effective confiscation of assets in many cases. This is because landlords will be forced to sell at a time not of their choosing, possibly in a falling market and in many parts of the country properties are still in negative equity. It will therefore bankrupt many landlords who will not have the funds to repay the mortgages (they will have planned to keep the properties for many years and would not have priced in having to suddenly sell them because of retroactive legislation).

 

The groundwork for the measure was laid by anti-landlord organisations such as Shelter and Generation Rent and fuelled by biased media coverage of ‘rogue landlords’ over several years. Because of this it passed through Parliament very smoothly. Indeed the Labour Party did not oppose it, as to do so would have placed them to the right of the Conservatives, politically. It therefore went unchallenged by the Opposition and other parties, with the Labour MP, Siobhain McDonagh, even suggesting that this extreme measure be made more extreme

 

It is worth mentioning how since then, the Labour Party has continued to attack the sector by distorting the truth. In Jeremy Corbyn’s keynote speech to close the Labour Party conference in Liverpool in September 2016, for example, he accused the Government of ‘subsidising’ private landlords by spending £9 billion of housing benefits in the sector, not mentioning that the total cost to taxpayers for Government social housing had been £15.2 billion. As one landlord commented:

 

‘The word ‘subsidise’ means to help by giving money, to pay part of the cost of something. It is not landlords who are being subsidised, it is the people who are given the welfare money.

They are being subsidised for not being able to command an income high enough to support their households.

The purpose of the subsidy is to prevent people becoming homeless and having to be housed by councils at greater cost than the private sector rents…

[Corbyn said:]“Instead of spending public money on building council housing, we’re subsidising private landlords.”

This suggests to his gullible audience that a government could stop paying housing benefit and divert the money instead towards building houses.

This is another example of either sophistry or economic illiteracy. Where would the people on housing benefit go once they had been evicted en masse for non-payment of rent? How much would it cost to put them in “temporary” accommodation – which might become permanent?’

 

 

 

 

You can read the full report here, please share this information

 

What landlords do, from the perspective of one landlord:

This story was taken from the recent publication by Property 118 titled: “SECTION 24 of the Finance (no.2) Act 2015: “The unjust legislation that will make the UK housing crisis much worse”

 

We often invest in old, sometimes decrepit housing and we restore it and bring it back into use. When we do this, it is a financial gamble as property values can go up or down.

If private landlords were not willing to take these business risks there would be a massive shortage of housing in this country, as the Government relies on private individuals to take these risks (having sold off council houses for example and then not replaced them).

We provide comfortable, safe housing for millions of people. This housing is safer than ordinary owner-occupied housing, as we have the gas safety checked every year and also ensure electrics and so on are safe. We then provide 24-hour help to our tenants, so any problem they experience at the house (a burst pipe, a leak etc.) becomes our problem and we sort it out. These tenants have complete mobility as they only need to give us one month’s notice and they can leave if they want to move away for a new job or whatever reason. This flexibility of the workforce also supports the economy.

We employ builders, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters and decorators…. the list goes on, including also buying supplies from DIY stores, furniture suppliers, locksmiths – we support all manner of businesses, who then pay taxes and keep the economy moving. We invest massive amounts of money in this way every month of every year. We also pay a considerable amount of tax ourselves.

We support estate agents, the financial services, through the massive amount of interest we pay to mortgage companies and banks over the years, brokers, and also through insurance policies, conveyancing lawyers and so on. We employ and pay large amounts to letting agencies also. This also keeps a substantial number of people in permanent employment.

Of late, through unnecessary and pointless licencing by councils and the massive fees that they charge, with a monopoly on this (they effectively write their own cheques and we sign them), we even prop up the finances of local councils.

We run the risk of getting tenants from hell – this can happen despite us taking all kinds of precautions, and the law gives us very few rights to recover the money owed to us. Sometimes we even take on tenants known to have alcohol or drug dependencies as we can be a bit soft. Often then, we get our houses wrecked in return for our charitable attitude. Councils and the Citizens Advice Bureaux then advise these tenants to stick it out for as long as possible whilst paying no rent, meaning we as landlords are even more out of pocket.

We get the finger pointed at us when we let to groups of students or professionals. For example, we may convert a Victorian house into a 6-bed, 2 bathroom house. This enables individuals to pay a low rent for a room plus communal facilities. This is often seen as some money-grabbing, cynical move by landlords. In fact, it is profitable for the landlord, great for the tenant (who only spends a small part of their disposable income on housing), and is a great use of space. How can it be seen as preferable for one person (an owner-occupier) to have use of a whole house for themselves? Heating and lighting a house for 6 people is a great, environmentally friendly use of housing and tenants often prefer it as they have ready-made friends and company. And yet we get criticised for this instead of being praised and encouraged.

Yes, landlords aim to make a profit from all of this work, but so do all businesses and indeed all people who go out to work.

What does the Budget Mean For Us?

What does the Budget Mean For Us?

Earlier this week we met as a team and were notably hawkish about what may come to light this week in the the budget. The chancellor told us what we all already knew, the future is indeed uncertain. In this, the so-called “budget for the next generation” we have a number of key takeaways and thoughts.

Keeping politics and personal opinions out of the blog, we have included below just the facts as we see them, and the major factors that will cause an impact to the people we work with on a day to day basis. We are happy to discuss any of the key points here and how they will affect you. Either call us on 0161 681 3724, or leave a note in the comments section at the end of the blog and we’ll respond and open up the debate.

 

Landlords and second homeowners

Stamp Duty

A 3% Stamp Duty surcharge on second homes and Buy to Let properties from 01 April 2016 will be introduced and larger investors will not be exempt as previously thought from the stamp duty charges, meaning all purchasers of Buy to Let properties will pay the additional tax. This was expected not to be of concern to people owning 15 or more houses however this isn’t the case it applies to everyone.

 

21st March – Mortgage Credit Directive

From 21st March consumer buy-to-let mortgages (on rented properties that are not being used as part of a business) will be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Second charge mortgages (also known as secured loans) will also come under regulation. This could mean that financing deals become a little harder

 

Taxation

Capital Gains Tax (CGT) will be cut from 28% to 20% for higher rate taxpayers and from 18% to 10% for basic rate taxpayers. Residential property sales and carried interest will be exempt from Capital Gains Tax (CGT) being introduced on 06 April 2016.

There will be an 8% surcharge to landlords selling a buy to let property meaning this benefit is not being passed onto landlords. We consider the reason behind this that because of recent tax changes in stamp duty and also the clause 24 meaning less tax relief on mortgages of BTL property’s (unless held in a ltd Company) many landlords are already considering selling if they were to benefit from the CGT reduction this would encourage more meaning an increased amount of property to the market that may create a crash in prices.

 

Rents

We consider all the recent changes in tax and legislation on current landlords will increase the rents. There will be more landlords moving out of the market along with no large increase in building will increase demand. As LHA rates are frozen for the next 4 years this will mean either attracting working tenants or expecting LHA tenants to top up their rents.

 

THE NOTHERN POWER HOUSE

We all have our own views on the current effectiveness of the Northern Powerhouse, or lack thereof, but the budget statement did have some promising news for our region, my key takeaways were:

Homelessness

A major issue for Manchester – and one the government has been under pressure to address.In response the Chancellor strayed out of his usual territory to set up a £115m fund to help tackle rough sleeping. Most of that will be used to provide ‘low cost’ accommodation for people leaving hostels before they get into regular housing, creating 2,000 new beds.

It is also delaying a planned cap to local housing allowance by a year – and getting immigration officials to work more closely with local authorities to send back EU migrants who end up sleeping rough, a significant problem in Manchester.

The city has seen rough sleeping rise tenfold since 2010 and there is no sign of that rise slowing.

It is so far unclear how that money will be allocated – whether it will be done according to population size or the current rough sleeping figures.

Nevertheless the big structural problems that underpin our rising homelessness still remain: cuts to benefits and a chronic housing shortage but this is only expected to get worse by the unfair taxing of landlords

Buisness Rates

Greater Manchester has been handed control of all its business rates in replacement of its main central government grant.

Along with Liverpool and London, the area will move towards a model where it is far more reliant on the taxes it raises from local firms going forward.

At first sight the figures for 2016 would suggest Greater Manchester as a whole will be £80m better off as a result.

However there are all sorts of unknowns – including what happens if a huge economic downturn hits the region, such as when the steel industry collapsed in the north east.

There are currently revaluations taking place across the country, due to come in in 2017, that will be used to reset the amount paid by businesses in rates – so that could dramatically alter the amount of income available to councils.

Within Greater Manchester there is the issue of how the money will be redistributed, given that as it stands areas such as Rochdale and Oldham would lose out significantly compared to those such as Manchester and Trafford, which would gain enormously.

But perhaps the biggest danger is also contained within the Budget: thousands of small businesses – 90,000 across the north west – being taken out of business rates altogether.

That looks dangerously close to making a very generous tax cut – and making town halls pay the price.

Transport

High Speed III train between Manchester and Leeds has been given the green light. This will only help as increased infrastructure and improved transport can only help house pricesProbably the most significant part is £161m for the Highways Agency to speed up improvements to the M62 on both sides of Manchester , but money was also committed towards bringing town train journeys between the two cities to half an hour.

He also found £4m towards the eventual transformation of Manchester Piccadilly – and other northern stations – ahead of HS2’s arrival in more than a decade’s time.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Greater Manchester is to become the first English region to get new powers over the criminal justice system.

Chancellor George Osborne used the Budget to announce further devolution of powers to the area.

The change means decisions on offender management, education in prisons and work with youth offenders will be made locally.

The region’s Labour mayor, Tony Lloyd, said “we will have to read the fine print” to make sure there is “no loss”.

The Chancellor also announced the region will get a new prison and will keep 100% of business rates, beginning next year. Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which comprises the region’s 10 councils, said it will have more control of funding to support both offenders and victims of crime.

It is proposing devolving other budgets, including for female offenders, young offenders and those sentenced to fewer than two years in prison, which would mark a major change to the current system.

Announcing the change, Mr Osborne said: “This is the kind of progressive social policy that this government is proud to pioneer”

 

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