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23 Jan 2021

12 tips for buy-to-let landlords filing a 2019-20 tax return

Get on top of your taxes ahead of the 31 January self assessment deadline
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There's just over a week remaining for buy-to-let landlords to file their self-assessment tax returns for the 2019-20 tax year.

Filing a tax return isn't a process many people look forward to, but you should act fast to avoid charges.

Normally you would be issued with an automatic £100 fine for filing after 31 January, but on 25 January HMRC announced it is waiving fines as long as you submit your tax return before 28 February. However, the deadline to pay your 2019-20 bill is still 31 January. Read our news story for more.

Here, Which? takes a look at the key things landlords need to know when filing their 2019-20 returns, including which expenses can be deducted and what support is in place if the pandemic means you'll struggle to pay on time.

1) Find out if you need to fill in a self-assessment tax return

Whether you'll need to file a tax return depends on how much rental income you received in the 2019-20 tax year, which ran from 6 April 2019 to 5 April 2020.

The first £1,000 of rental income each year is tax-free, so if you took in less than this amount across your residential properties, you won't need to fill out a tax return.

If your income was between £1,000 and £2,500, you may not need to fill out a self-assessment tax return. You should contact HMRC for further advice.

Landlords who brought in more than £2,500 in rental income will need to complete a tax return.

2) Work out how much you'll need to pay

If you're an individual landlord (i.e. your properties are owned in your own name rather than through a company), your profits will be taxed at the same rates as income from other employment.

The income tax bands for the 2019-20 tax year were as follows:

  • £0 to £12,500 0%
  • £12,501 to £50,000 20%
  • £50,001 to £150,00040%
  • £150,001-plus 45%

When calculating your tax bill, you'll need to add your rental profits to any other income you've earned during that tax year.

For example, if you earn £40,000 in your day job, you'll pay tax on everything above £12,500 at the basic rate of 20%.

If you then add £15,000 in rental income (making a total of £55,000), this will push you into the next tax bracket, meaning you'll pay 20% on your income between £12,501 and £50,000, then 40% on the remaining £5,000.

3) Find out if you need to make National Insurance contributions

If you made a profit of more than £6,365 from letting property in 2019-20, you may need to pay Class 2 National Insurance, if HMRC considers you to be running a business.

This is likely to be the case if being a landlord is your main job, you let more than one property or you're actively buying investment properties.

4) Don't forget about capital gains tax

If you sold a buy-to-let property in the 2019-20 tax year, you must include this on your tax return and pay any capital gains tax (CGT) due on the profits of the sale.

CGT is charged at 18% for basic-rate taxpayers, and 28% for higher or additional-rate taxpayers.

For 2019-20, individuals had a tax-free allowance of £12,000 and couples a collective allowance of £24,000. You'll only need to pay CGT if your profits from the sale were above these thresholds.

This year's tax return is the last time you'll be able to report and pay CGT through self-assessment.

A rule change from the 2020-21 tax year means CGT must now be reported and paid within 30 days of the sale.

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5) Get to grips with mortgage interest tax relief

Changes to mortgage interest tax relief rules have been a source of frustration for many landlords in the past few years.

For the 2019-20 tax year, landlords can deduct 25% of their mortgage interest when calculating their profits, with the remaining 75% qualifying for a 20% credit.

This year's return is the last time you'll be able to claim mortgage interest tax relief in the old form, before it's replaced entirely with a flat 20% credit from the 2020-21 tax year.

The rules can be complicated, but we're here to help. For more information and example calculations, check out our full guide on mortgage interest tax relief.

6) Deduct your expenses

When calculating your tax bill, you can deduct a range of expenses that you will have incurred as part of letting the property.

The most obvious examples of allowed expenses are letting agent fees, maintenance costs and accountancy fees.

You can also claim the costs of replacing items in a furnished property, such as beds, carpets and white goods.

Whether you can deduct utility costs (such as water, gas and electricity) depends on whether it's you or the tenant who is responsible for the bills in the tenancy agreement.

7) Keep track of the minor costs

When it comes to filing your tax return, you're likely to be thinking about the big outgoings above, but smaller expenses can add up, too.

For example, you can offset expenses such as travelling to your rented properties, for phonecalls or texts sent to tenants and suppliers, and for subscriptions to industry groups or publications.

Over the course of a year, you might be able to claim back more than you think, but you'll need to have evidence of your outgoings and be able to prove they were exclusively for business use.

8) Claim for licensing fees

An increasing number of landlords across the UK now need to apply for a licence from their local council.

For some, this is due to recent rule changes for people letting Homes in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), and for others, it's due to their councils introducing their own local schemes, the terms of which vary.

The costs of applying for a license can be more than £1,000, but you're able to deduct this as a business expense on your tax return.

9) Assess your portfolio as one business

Whether you own one or 10 homes, your overall rental profits from UK properties will be considered as one business (with one bottom line) when filing your tax return.

This means that if you made a loss on some of your properties, you can offset this against the profits you've made on others.

10) Carry forward losses from previous years

The expense and uncertainty caused by COVID-19 won't be reflected fully on this year's tax return as the accounting period only runs until 5 April 2020, but that doesn't necessarily mean you won't have made any losses on your portfolio.

If you made a loss on your portfolio during 2019-20 (for example if your tenants fell into significant arrears or you had a lengthy void period), you can carry this loss forward and offset it against next years profits.

11) Don't miss the deadline

Your tax return is due at midnight on the 31 January - that's just over a week away.

Normally if you submit your return after the deadline, you could be hit with an automatic £100 fine, which increases for every day you're late.

On 25 January HMRC announced it is waiving fines for late filers in February. However, the deadline to pay your 2019-20 bill is still 31 January. Read our news story for more.

If you are unable to pay your tax on time due to the COVID-19 outbreak, HMRC recommends that you file your return before the deadline anyway.

The criteria for HMRC's Time to Pay scheme has been broadened this year, meaning if you owe less than £30,000 in tax but can't pay on time, you may be able to spread the cost over 12 months.

If an emergency means you can't file on time, HMRC may agree to cancel any penalties you've incurred, but this will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

12) File your 2019-20 tax return with the Which? tax calculator

For an easy-to-use, jargon-free way to file your tax return, try the Which? tax calculator.

You can tot up your tax bill, get tips on how to make savings and submit your return direct to HMRC.

This story was updated on 25 January with information that HMRC will be waiving fines for late filers in February.