BLOG: Is it time to take away tax relief for BTL landlords?

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It is nearly three decades since Mrs Thatcher’s government put an end to MIRAS – mortgage interest relief at source – as part of a cost-cutting measure last time the nation’s finances were in a state as parlous as they are now.
BLOG: Is it time to take away tax relief for BTL landlords?

MIRAS helped kickstart the housing market and propelled the economy out of the recession of the early 1970s. This ultimately contributed, along with the right-to-buy former council properties, to the painful housing crash of the 1980s when interest rates were well into double digits.

Anyone get the feeling we could be heading in the same direction, but this time for different reasons?

The government’s  Help to Buy scheme looked like it was contributing to the bubble and, thankfully, Mark Carney has moved to nip that in the bud.

One area of the whole housing market that has not been tackled is the buy-to-let market.

This country has a housing problem because it does not build enough homes and, currently, too much of the available stock – particularly in popular cities – is in the hands of private landlords.

This is one area where there remains an anomalous tax subsidy the government should clearly look to stop. Buy-to-let landlords are still able to set the interest on the borrowing against the income from the property.

When Mrs Thatcher’s government restricted MIRAS, it ‘saved’ the Exchequer something in the region of £2bn-3bn a year in today’s money. By comparison, the subsidy to BTL is reckoned to a similar amount.

At a time when the political parties are arguing about the top rate of tax and raising more revenue through taxation, it seems a ‘no-brainer’ to take away interest relief for BTL landlords.

Do we want to ‘tax’ job creation, which is what the higher rate band does to entrepreneurs, or do we want to support a sector that is creating a huge asset bubble and stopping thousands of younger people, and sadly an increasing number of older people, from getting onto the property ladder?

I am indebted to an adviser, Colin Cloy, for raising the issue. As Colin says: “Why the Treasury continues to allow landlords to offset their rental income against mortgage interest is completely beyond me, as it continues to have a detrimental effect on the economy and it is the major reason why three million adults are still at home with their parents.

“I believe if BTL tax relief was stopped, it would freeze house prices for a considerable period of time and give first-time buyers like my own children an opportunity to purchase.

“Many landlords would then sell some of their housing stock and this money would flow into the equity markets, mainly through AIM, EIS and VCTs, which would help British industry to grow and reduce youth unemployment.

“Obviously, thousands of landlords would be unhappy, but it would benefit the remainder of the UK public – especially my children.”

Hard to argue with any of that.

Lawrence Gosling is editorial director of Incisive Media

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