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HMRC reveals a drop in buy-to-let tax disclosures

Thousands of landlords have failed to come clean about the tax they owed to HMRC as 42% fewer property investors voluntarily disclosed unpaid tax to HMRC in the latest tax year

The tax yield from the Let Property Campaign, which launched in 2013, dropped almost 50% from around £34m in 2019-20 to around £17m in 2020-21, with the numbers of those disclosing falling from 7,578 to 4,330.

This was the lowest figure recorded in seven years, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) request by accountancy firm Saffery Champness.

The figures released by the tax authority also showed the number of penalty notices HMRC issued to buy-to-let landlords. In 2019-20 HMRC issued 8,116 penalty notices worth out £5.5m and in 2020-21 this dropped to 4,297 notices worth £2.3m.

In the tax year, 2019-20 HMRC issued 408 notices for landlords who were considered to have not taken reasonable care and in in 2021, the number of notices dropped to 364. There were 5,578 notices for those who failed to notify HMRC in 2019-20 and only 3,348 in 2021 and there were 134 notices issued for those who deliberately misled HMRC, this figure dropped to 58 in 2020-21.

HMRC also issued penalties for those who were considered to have taken reasonable care which means that the individual has made an error but has taken reasonable care. In 2019-20 there were 1,952 of these issued compared to 509 in 2020-21.

An HMRC spokesperson said: ‘HMRC believes that its customers want to pay the right amount of tax and wants to help those that are not paying the correct amount to put that right.

‘The Let Property Campaign’ is an opportunity for landlords who owe tax through letting out residential property, in the UK or abroad, to get up to date with their tax affairs in a simple, straightforward way and take advantage of the best possible terms.

‘If you’re a landlord and you’ve undisclosed income you must tell HMRC about any unpaid tax and you’ll then have 90 days to calculate and pay what you owe.’

The campaign gave landlords who owe tax the opportunity to come forward voluntarily to put their tax affairs in order and was aimed at those who own more than one property, landlords renting to students, people with holiday lets, and those who let multiple occupancy homes.

When the campaign launched, the government estimated that up to 1.5m landlords had underpaid or failed to pay up to £500m in tax between 2009 and 2010. The government said at the time that if landlords did not come forward voluntarily and HMRC found them first, they could face bigger penalties.

Zena Hanks, a partner in the private wealth team at Saffery Champness, said: ‘HMRC knows an increasing amount about taxpayers and their behaviors from a variety of sources and, as Making Tax Digital becomes the default for most taxpayers, its hand will be strengthened significantly.’

‘HMRC’s use of technology to home in on suspected unpaid tax is only going to increase, with data and information availability improving all the time, and the direction of travel is likely to be an even greater expectation, even demand, for the tax to be paid in real-time

‘Accurate record-keeping is essential, as is planning ahead for the cashflow implications of real-time payments. Landlords should start making plans now as to how they intend to manage the requirements of Making Tax Digital ensure the switchover is as seamless as possible and to avoid the ire of HMRC.’

Since opening the campaign has received 58,779 voluntary disclosures, around 4% of the landlords originally targeted.

However, with a tax yield of almost £190m HMRC has only secured 37% of its original target.