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Personal tax  •  Property  •  Tax Planning  •  Tax Relief  •  tax returns

What powers does HMRC have to spot missing rental income?

By RJP LLP on 12 October 2020

If you have a rental property, it is important to report the rental profits to HMRC on a self-assessment tax return. HMRC will not necessarily send you a return to complete, or even advise you that you are required to file a return; we are in a regime of self-assessment and the onus is firmly on the taxpayer to report taxable income.

If you omit to declare income it is very likely this will be discovered by HMRC at some stage; its powers and IT capabilities have steadily increased in recent years and are now such that rental agents and property websites are obliged to notify HMRC of all the properties they have rented on behalf of landlords, and access to income details and property sales and acquisition information makes HMRC doubly knowledgeable.

For example: Airbnb shares data with HMRC relating to its lettings each financial year; the HMRC Connect platform is known to obtain income data from many sources, ranging from  banks and building societies to gig economy platforms and online marketplaces. Connect also ‘scrapes’ data from social media platforms to correlate income vs expenditure profiles of taxpayers; be mindful of this when sharing details of extravagant lifestyles on social media.

In the case of Airbnb, its practice of sharing landlord data is highlighted in the company’s 2019 accounts. These included a statement that data about the earnings of those who used their platform for rentals during the 2017/18 and 2018/19 tax years will be shared with HMRC. And if Airbnb is doing it, so will other websites advertising holiday homes and rental properties.

What type of landlord are you?

In the case of Airbnb there are of course two different types of landlord – those who rent out rooms in their homes and those who rent out separate properties. In accordance with  the rent-a-room relief rules, a property owner is entitled to earn up to £7,500 per year from renting a room within their main home without having to pay any extra tax. By way of contrast, a landlord who makes the same income from renting out a separate property needs to file a tax return reporting that income.  Landlords renting separate property are entitled to some tax relief through the trading and miscellaneous income annual allowance, but this is limited to a £1,000 limit.

Opening enquiries for up to 20 years

The implication of having this kind of data available for scrutiny is the potential for HMRC to target specific individuals or companies where a tax shortfall is suspected. HMRC has already confirmed it will be addressing issues relating to landlords who have underpaid tax on rental income in 2021/22. Initially their focus will be on the 2017/18 and 2018/19 tax years, but they could go back up to 20 years if deemed appropriate.

What can you do?

If you think you should have declared rental income on a previous tax return, this should be corrected as soon as possible. It is possible to make corrections to 2018/19 tax returns without any negative implications until 31 January 2021. If the errors relate to earlier years, consider using HMRC’s disclosure facility; the let property campaign. We have written about this before – read article.

The let property campaign is available to landlords who let residential property in the UK as private individuals, but it is not available to companies or trusts. A worldwide disclosure facility exists for landlords with overseas property.

Although you should always take professional advice before making a disclosure, there are clear advantages to using the let property campaigns, because this will minimise the penalties incurred; it is always better to advise HMRC of any omissions before they approach you; in some cases, a penalty can be completely eliminated if the disclosure and payment of any additional tax is made before HMRC realises there may even be a discrepancy.

If you are a landlord and would like help with tax, please contact us via partners@rjp.co.uk.

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