According to the National Landlords Association, 31% of single-property landlords and 17% of those with between 2 and 4 properties either lost money or only managed to break even on their properties between April and June this year .
Such financial juggling may have been easier when landlords were able to claim a percentage of the mortgage interest they paid against their marginal tax rate, which could be as high as 45% for some earners.
However, from 2017 landlords may only be able to claim tax relief on their mortgage interest payments at the basic tax rate of 20% . Under current plans, the new rule will be phased in gradually over 4 years.
If you currently claim for interest relief and pay 40% or 45% tax, or expect to do so in the future, you may find that you have to pay more income tax on any buy-to-let income than you do currently. But if you only pay the basic rate of income tax (20%) and this doesn’t change, then you probably won’t see any difference.
Say your buy-to-let property generates a rental income of £10,000 a year, while you pay £9,000 interest on your annual mortgage payments.
Under the current rules, you would receive tax relief on the full amount of interest on your mortgage payments, no matter what level of income tax you pay. You’d only pay income tax on the difference.
So if you're a basic-rate taxpayer, you would pay 20% income tax on £1,000 (£200). If you pay the higher rate of tax (40%) you’d owe £400, while if you pay the 45% additional income tax rate, it would be £450.
Under the new proposals, the amount that higher and additional-rate taxpayers need to pay in income tax will rise. This is because only 20% of the mortgage interest can be claimed in tax relief, rather than the full amount.
If you pay the higher rate of income tax (40%), you would owe £2,200 in income tax, an additional £1,800 compared to the current rules. Those who pay the additional 45% tax rate would owe £2,700, an extra £2,250.
That’s not all that may be changing. From April 2016 onwards, the Chancellor has proposed that you’ll only be able to claim for ‘wear and tear’ costs on furnished rental properties by providing itemised receipts that show the replacement goods you’ve purchased or repairs you’ve carried out . Currently, you’re given an allowance regardless of your expenditure .
Prospective landlords and those with existing properties may want to work out how their plans will be affected by the proposed new rules to avoid a surprise later on. When planning, remember that just as these rules are changing now, they might do so again in the future. The effect of tax rules always depends on individual circumstances and these too can change. Bear in mind that we don’t offer tax advice. If you have further questions, please speak to a financial adviser.
Safety rules are changing
Landlords must already follow certain safety rules. These include obtaining an Energy Performance Certificate for a property before advertising it to tenants , as well as an annual Gas Safety Certificate  for their property’s boiler and other gas appliances. New measures include rules for preventing legionnaire’s disease  and for fitting smoke and carbon monoxide alarms .
To encourage landlords to meet their responsibilities, the government is proposing new rules to make it more difficult for them to evict a tenant if the property’s appliances don’t have a current Gas Safety Certificate .
Focus on the long term
With changing tax rules and tighter regulations being introduced for buy-to-let landlords, it’s vital to think carefully about the type of investment you want to make. Properties can offer both asset growth through rising house prices and an income from rents – although neither of these can be guaranteed; values can fall and any rent might be exceeded by outgoings.
Another point to consider is your own level of involvement. Managing a property with multiple individual tenants or a large portfolio of separate properties takes time and involves lots of paperwork.
HM Treasury, July 2015, Summer Budget 2015 Key Announcements National Landlords Association (NLA) Quarterly Landlords Panel research – Q2 2015
HM Revenue & Customs, August 2015, Policy paper – Restricting Finance Cost Relief for Individual Landlords
HM Revenue & Customs, August 2015, Open consultation – Replacing Wear and Tear Allowance with Tax Relief for Replacing Furnishings in Let Residential Dwelling-Houses
HMRC, August 2015, PIM3210 – Furnished lettings: Wear & tear allowance: Calculation – 2011/12 onwards
Department for Communities and Local Government, August 2015 – Welcome to the Domestic Energy Performance Certificate Register
co.uk, August 2015, Your Landlord’s Safety Responsibilities
org.uk, August 2015, Guidance on Legionnaires’ Disease for Landlord
Residential Landlords Association Guide to Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Department for Communities and Local Government, February 2015