This article was first published in the Independent
Buy-to-let and other private landlords are evading over half a billion pounds in tax due on their rental income, new figures reveal.
Estimates by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and seen by the investigative website Exaro, reveal that that every year landlords are evading at least £550 million in tax.
This compares with £1.8 billion of tax collected on rental income – meaning more than 23 per cent of tax is being evaded.
John Whiting, director of tax policy at the Chartered Institute of Taxation, said that the widespread tax evasion by landlords was “very significant” which might normally only be expected in the worst “cash businesses”.
“Clearly, rental income is an area where HMRC needs to pay more attention,” he said. “On this scale, it is serious tax evasion.”
The figures are for the 2009-10 tax year, the latest available from HMRC for tax paid on rental income and the amount evaded.
The estimate of £550 million evaded was buried in an HMRC report last month measuring the UK’s “tax gap” of uncollected liabilities. It is nearly four times HMRC’s previous estimate of £142 million of unpaid tax on lettings in a year.
And the amount evaded is likely to be higher because the estimate only covers landlords not filing a tax return – people in staff jobs and pensioners.
HMRC estimates that individuals who file tax returns under the self-assessment system, which covers self-employed people and many high earners, evade a further £400 million of tax in a year. This evasion, however, covers not only lettings, but also other income and investments.
In addition, HMRC sees £550 million as a “lower limit” for evasion by landlords outside self-assessment because third-party data used to compile the estimate may be incomplete.
An HMRC spokesman said: “Lettings are a key area where we are losing money.” HMRC was turning its attention to evasion by buy-to-let and other private landlords, he said. “This is an area where people try to cheat us.”
Private landlords include people who take in lodgers, and owners of properties used for holiday lettings. They also include so-called ‘accidental landlords’, people who are unable or unwilling to sell their properties in a depressed market and turned to letting them until prices rise.
In May, HMRC launched a “taskforce” to target “highest-risk cases” of tax evasion by landlords in London, East Anglia, Leeds, York and certain other towns and cities. These cases included properties owned through offshore arrangements.
However, that initiative was expected to recover only £17 million in unpaid tax.
The spokesman said that a crackdown next year was likely to set out a ‘tax amnesty’, which offers reduced penalties for people who come forward willingly to settle unpaid liabilities.
Recent HMRC amnesties have included savers with offshore accounts.
Tax inspectors are likely to target potential evasion by landlords by using records at the Land Registry to find individuals who own more than one property.
But tax specialists pointed to the difficulty in tracking down undeclared rental income from some lettings, for example where a couple moved in together and let out one of their flats to friends.
The Chartered Institute of Taxation said that while HMRC had become better at identifying people who might be receiving undeclared rental income, it had been a “little behind the curve” with the boom in the buy-to-let market.
HMRC figures show that there are more than 1.9 million private landlords in the UK. But there is no official estimate on how many landlords evade tax.