The past decade or two has seen property owners who dispose of their real estate in the UK suffer reductions in the reliefs and exemptions that were previously available to them, by Jason Porter, business development director of expat financial advisory firm Blevins Franks
At the same time, many look longingly towards a holiday home in sunny southern Europe, or even something more permanent as a means of escaping ever higher capital taxes in the UK, or the threat of a dreaded wealth tax.
But what is the position in Europe when it comes to property? Would you be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, or is it much more of a benign situation? Let’s take a look at three countries the British tend to favour – France, Spain and Portugal – and see what the position is.
Whether capital gains tax is due will depend upon whether a property was occupied as the main family home. Each country has its own reliefs and allowances around the main home, but the UK rules vary considerably from those of the EU.
It is also important to realise that if the client has a property in a country that is not where they reside (eg, a holiday home or rental abroad, an old UK main home they may have retained after moving abroad, etc.), then they are likely to have to declare a sale in both countries, with the tax position decided according to the Double Tax Treaty (DTT) the UK has with each country concerned.
A DTT is designed to prevent double taxation, by only taxing the disposal in one of the two states, or taxing it in both, but allowing for the tax paid in one to be set off against the liability in the other.
The UK’s private residence relief (PRR) means that if the property was always occupied as the main home and sold within nine months of moving out, then no tax will be due. If this is not the case, then the gains are apportioned between qualifying and non-qualifying periods, with the non-qualifying potentially taxable (though other reliefs might reduce the taxable portion). The nine-month period of exemption has gradually been whittled down over the past nine years from what was 36 months in 2014.
Suffice to say, the simplest position is a sale of the UK home before leaving the country, meaning the situation in France, Spain or Portugal should not be an issue. If this is not possible or desired, then the local rules will also need to be reviewed on sale.
UK non-residents became subject to gains that accrue on UK residential property from 6 April 2015, but it is only the gain since that date which is potentially taxable. So, if the old UK home is retained beyond nine months, and until the individual is resident abroad, they will at the least have a declaration to make and may even have some tax to pay in the UK on disposal.
In France, main home relief applies if they have continuously occupied a property prior to sale. In addition, there is also a 12-month relief window if they leave the property but sell it within this period.
But main home relief in France is an ‘all or nothing’ relief; a second home in France could be occupied as the main home just prior to a sale and the full relief is given, while on the other hand a property that was the main home for decades could fall foul if it is not occupied at the point of sale or within the last 12 months.
The latter could occur where they have chosen to retain the old UK main home beyond moving to France.
Residents of France pay tax at 19% on gains on property. There is an additional tax (2%, rising to 6%) on property capital gains exceeding €50,000 (£43,000, $55,000). Social charges of 17.2% also apply to all property gains (though this may be reduced to 7.5% for UK nationals of state pension age), an overall rate of 36.2% or 26.5% (plus the additional 2% to 6% tax).
If there is tax to pay, this is reduced if the property was owned more than six years, with total exemption from capital gains tax after 22 years and social charges after 30 years of ownership.
In Spain, main home relief is only available where the whole proceeds are reinvested in a new main home, or the vendor is over 65 years of age.
But Spanish main home reinvestment relief has certain requirements which might prove tough to satisfy: they must have lived in the property they are selling for a continuous period of at least three years, they must have sold the property within two years if they have moved out, they must also buy a new main home within a period of two years of the sale and live in the new property for a continuous period of at least three years from the date of acquisition.
Even then the tax relief is only based on the proportion of the sale proceeds reinvested in the new home. If the new home costs more than the old home sold for, then the gain is exempt, but only reinvest half the proceeds and the other half is chargeable – quite a common scenario for UK nationals moving to Spain.
Depending upon the sums involved, it may just be simpler (and more beneficial) to sell the UK property prior to taking up Spanish tax residence.
In the case of UK nationals over 65 years of age living in Spain who had retained their former UK home, if they could sell this within two years of moving out, then this gain will be exempt if they are Spanish tax resident at the point of sale.
The same person would also be exempt on the subsequent sale of their main home in Spain if they had lived in the property for over three years and sold it before ceasing Spanish tax residency, with no need to reinvest in a new property.
Any chargeable gains are taxed at progressive rates between 19% and 28% on Spanish residents. The 19% band applies to the first €6,000, with the next €44,000 at 21%, and so on, with gains over €300,000 hitting 28%. Non-Spanish residents will be taxed at a flat rate of 19%.
In Portugal, new tax residents can register as a ‘non-habitual resident’ (NHR) with the Portuguese tax authorities, which confers special tax treatment for ten years. For UK real estate, the UK/Portugal DTT says that property gains may be taxed in the country where the property is located. As the UK has taxation rights the gains are exempt in Portugal under the NHR regime for those ten years.
A UK national resident in Portugal would always be subject to tax on Portuguese real estate gains, and on non-Portuguese real estate gains once the 10-year period of NHR has concluded.
The gain on a sale of a main home in Portugal is exempt if the proceeds are reinvested in another main home in Portugal or elsewhere in the EU (as long as there is an exchange of information clause with Portugal regarding tax matters) within three years after, or two years before the date of disposal. As a direct consequence of Brexit, acquiring a main home back in the UK will not suffice.
Otherwise, residents of Portugal are taxed on only 50% of the property gain, as well as benefitting from inflation relief after two years of ownership. Taxable gains are added to other taxable income and taxed through the progressive scale rates rising from 14.5% to 48%.
All this seems to confirm that nothing is simple if they choose to keep their old UK main home after moving abroad, and the reliefs available in France, Spain and Portugal need some real disciplined planning to actually benefit from them. Careful review of the position is essential before they actually leave the UK and again before sale, less they find themselves with an unexpectedly nasty tax bill.
This article was written for International Adviser by Jason Porter, business development director of expat financial advisory firm Blevins Franks.