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Business Tax  •  capital gains tax (cgt)  •  IHT  •  Personal tax  •  Probate and Inheritance Tax  •  Property  •  Tax Planning

Property tax changes have less impact on investors than headlines suggest

By RJP LLP on 26 July, 2012

There have been a number of significant property tax changes recently, which are relevant to property owners and investors. One very high profile change has been the increase in taxes payable by the 200,000 British owners of property in France. This was introduced by the country’s new President Francoise Hollande and has been publically criticised as a blatant attack on ‘les rosbifs’. However in reality the financial impact might not be as great as all the media headlines would have you believe, as we explain.

Taxes for non-residents who rent out holiday property in France

Starting with immediate effect and back datable to 1st January 2011, the tax rate on rental income from foreign-owned second homes will rise from 20% to 35.5%. Significantly for many property owners, this change only really applies to unfurnished rental properties and since most of the Britons renting out properties in France are operating in accordance with the Furnished Holiday Lettings rules to minimise their UK tax liabilities, the actual difference to the overall tax payable should not be too great. If however you are concerned it might apply to you, get in touch with us for more information.

Increased capital gains tax on sales of French second homes

CGT payable on foreign owned French property, which is sold for a profit, will rise from 19% to 34.5% but the rate will be reduced for homes owned for over 5 years. This ruling is due to come into effect from August 1st 2012.

The taper relief system, which will operate for property owned for over 5 years, is rather complicated. There will be a 2% per year CGT reduction after the first 5 years until year 17. Thereafter, the rate will drop by 4% for each subsequent year the property is owned until year 24, after which it reduces to 8% per year until the property has been owned for 30 years. After the 30-year mark, the CGT liability reduces to nil.

This change to the French CGT regime comes at a time when many British investors may be considering cutting their ties with Euro-zone investments now that the pound has regained some of its former strength against the euro. We suggest taking expert tax advice to calculate the ramifications of a French second property sale in the short term, if you are selling for more speculative reasons.

Is this an unfair attack on les rosbifs?

Defending these changes, the French Government says this new property tax system is fairer and appropriate. They argue it simply levels the total tax charge applied to property owners and investors across France, whether they choose to live in the country or not. This is because French residents who either receive rental income or sell their second homes for a profit have always had to pay an additional ‘social charge’ tax which non-residents were previously exempt from. I guess you cannot argue with that in these difficult economic times; it is comparable to the British government’s introduction of a higher SDLT rate for high value properties owned through overseas companies.

Generic French ‘wealth’ taxes

What may be more significant for clients to be aware of is the introduction of a new ‘wealth tax’. If you have French based assets worth over 1.3million Euros, you are also going to be subject to an annual charge of between 0.25% and 0.5% of the total value. This is dependent upon whether you are officially a French resident or have held the assets for less than five years. Assets held in trust and even pensions transferred to France must also now be included in the wealth tax declaration whereas previously they could be excluded. This change will also come into effect in August and most likely the penalty for non-compliance (i.e. not declaring the full value of your assets to the French government) will be upwards of 10,000 Euros. Find out more about tax and trusts in our earlier blog.

Wider significance of changes to French property tax regime

These changes all appear to be a clever tactical move by the new Hollande Government to demonstrate to their electorate a willingness to source extra tax revenues from outside of the country. They also potentially offer food for thought to other cash strapped European countries like Spain and Portugal who have also attracted a large number of British property owners.

Hopefully, none of these measures should be long-term because it is likely to be found that their introduction contravenes European Law. However, contesting the French Government will take time, and for now, expatriates and French property owners should seek expert advice on how best to handle their property tax liabilities in the immediate future.

Contact Lesley Stalker on for more advice on property tax issues.



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