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Capital gains tax on the rise: taxpayers fork out a record £8.8bn in 2017-18

Planned changes mean landlords' bills are set to rise even higher next year

Capital gains tax revenue hit a new high of £8.8bn for the 2017-18 tax year, as 281,000 taxpayers paid a bill for selling valuables, new HMRC data reveals.

HMRC’s revenue from capital gains tax (CGT) increased 14% compared with 2016-17, with payments from an additional 8,000 people.

The bulk of the bill was paid by high-earners, who made gains of £1m or more, though these individuals accounted for just 3% of all CGT taxpayers.

The latest figures confirm a recent trend towards more people paying bigger CGT bills – and changes on the horizon could see this accelerate.

With the number of people paying CGT on the rise, Which? explains how the tax works and how the rules will change in future.


How does capital gains tax work?

You generally have to pay CGT if you sell a valuable asset for a profit, though you can use your £11,700 tax-free allowance first. Indeed, if you’re in a couple, you can pool your allowances and earn £23,400 tax-free.

If your profits exceed this amount, basic-rate taxpayers are charged 10% on the sale of assets (such as personal possessions, as well as shares, bonds or funds) and 18% on property sales.

Higher- and additional-rate taxpayers have to pay 20% on assets and 28% on property.

There’s an exemption if you’re selling your main home, but you’ll face a tax bill if you sell your second home or a buy-to-let property.

You can deduct any costs involved with maintaining and selling the asset from your profit, reducing the amount of tax you’ll have to pay.

What CGT changes are coming in 2020?

Following a consultation between April and June, HMRC has confirmed several changes for the 2020-21 tax-year. These mainly affect landlords, or people letting out their former home.

Here’s what you need to prepare for:

Reduced private residence relief (PRR)

CGT is waived for any periods you’ve lived in a second home or buy-to-let property. So, if you owned the house for 10 years, and lived in it for five, your CGT bill would be cut by 50%.

It’s also currently possible to claim relief for the final 18 months that you owned the property, which is added to any other tax-exempt period.

From the 2020-21 tax year, however, this is being slashed to just nine months.

That said, anyone who’s selling a property because they’re moving into a care home, or who has a disability, will still be able to claim for the past 36 months of ownership.

No more lettings relief

Lettings relief can currently be claimed by landlords who are renting out a home they used to live in.

You can claim the lowest of:

  • the same amount you received in PRR
  • £40,000
  • the same amount as the chargeable gain you made from letting your home.

However, from April 2020, lettings relief will only apply to landlords who live in the property with their tenants, meaning many landlords will no longer be able to claim it.

What do the changes mean for you?

Both changes have come under fire, amid speculation that ‘accidental landlords’ – those who are forced to rent out their former homes due to work or family commitments – will be worst-hit.

Some of these owners may choose to sell up before 5 April, as sales completed before the end of 2019-20 will still be eligible for relief under the old rules. As a consequence, buy-to-let sales may speed up over coming months.

How is capital gains tax calculated?

Figuring out what you owe can be very tricky, as different rates and allowances apply depending on what you sell, how much profit you’ve made, and whether you have losses from previous tax years that you can use against it.

Here’s how to estimate your bill:

  • Work out how much taxable income you’ve earned: this is done by deducting your personal allowance (£12,500 in 2019-20) from your total income – including what you’ve earned from your salary, savings interest and pension.
  • Work out your profits: take the sales price of the asset and deduct the amount you paid for it, plus any costs incurred while selling.
  • Calculate your taxable capital gain: you can do this by deducting your CGT allowance (£12,000 in 2019-20) from your profits.
  • Add your taxable capital gain to your income: once the two are combined, you’ll be able to see which tax band you fall into.
  • Deduct any losses from your CGT bill: if you made a profit from selling one asset, but a loss from another, you’d be able to deduct the loss from the gain before working out how much tax you owe. You can also carry forward losses from previous tax years that haven’t been used to offset gains.

If you owe tax, you can report capital gains to HMRC via the Report Capital Gains Tax online service, or fill in a self-assessment tax return.

You can find out more in our guide on how capital gains are taxed.

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