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Further taxes on overseas property investors won't solve Britain's housing crisis

22 November 2019
Melanie Williams, Real Estate Partner at DWF, comments on the policy proposals of each of the three main parties in relation to overseas investors.  

Melanie said: 

"Overseas property investors have become an easy target in recent years for the British government, as well as the two main opposition parties, as the latest proposals from all three in this election show. 

"Friday's announcement from the Conservative party of a 3% Stamp Duty surcharge on property bought by overseas investors is remarkably similar to the policy announced by the Liberal Democrats at the start of the week. The main difference between the Conservative policy and the Liberal Democrat policy is that the Lib Dems have been somewhat more vague about the size of the surcharge they would add to Stamp Duty but it seems unlikely they would go much beyond 3%. 

"Meanwhile, Labour's proposals to introduce a levy on overseas companies buying housing, appears confused at best, given the number of tax reforms introduced in the past six years, which have included measures designed to prevent overseas buyers investing in property through company structures. 

"Since 2013 we have seen Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings (ATED) rules potentially result in a charge for non-resident companies owning UK residential property - or at least the need to make a return to HMRC. In 2015 disposals of residential property by non-residents became subject to Capital Gains Tax. Then in 2017, non-residents owning UK residential property via an offshore company or trust structure became liable to Inheritance Tax. This year non-residents that own commercial property have become liable to CGT on the disposal of that property. And next year non-resident landlords will be subject to Corporation Tax on their profits rather than Income Tax. 

"There is a question mark over how effective such measures have been. Some investors have certainly been put off by the far more complicated tax regime that now exists but many overseas investors simply view additional taxes as the cost of doing business, while at the same time a lower Pound relative to other currencies has weakened their impact. Meanwhile, for the very wealthy it is unlikely such additional taxes will have much, if any, effect. 

"Property developers on the other hand may be concerned by the latest attempt to deter overseas buyers from investing in building projects that are already underway in the UK. Some may calculate that they will have to swallow the cost of a Stamp Duty surcharge in order to attract continued investment. Many developers will see this as preferable to facing the alternative of a half empty developments, or worse still booking a loss on their development as investors steer clear. 

"What a surcharge of this nature will not do is increase the number of houses built across Britain - given a surcharge of 3% is estimated to yield only an additional £120m in tax for the Treasury. And while it may be true that 13% of new homes in London are bought by overseas investors, it is equally true that many of these developments are priced in such a way as to be out of the reach of most people that live in the capital anyway. 

"That said, while such a surcharge may seem by some as a punishment to overseas investors it could also be said it is an easy source of revenue when sterling is at a level that acquisitions in the UK by overseas investors will continue remain attractive with or without such additional taxation.

"The only way to tackle the housing crisis in the UK remains to build more housing that people can afford. This may require the political parties to think more about the ways in which they can incentivise property developers to build more affordable homes, and also to build them in a more environmentally sustainable way.

"All three of the main parties have made promises to increase house building in the UK to address this and clearly mechanisms to raise revenue could contribute to the funding needed for large house building projects."

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