Foreign property owner tax mulled

George OsborneChancellor George Osborne is reported to be considering a tax crackdown on foreign property investors in an effort to put the brake on overheating house prices in some parts of the UK.

Mr Osborne is said to be investigating whether to place a capital gains tax on foreign owners of British property in this December's Autumn Statement, according to Sky News sources.

Under current rules, people living in the UK have to pay capital gains tax of 18% or 28%, depending on their income, if they make a profit from re-selling a property which is not their main home, such as a buy-to-let investment or a holiday home. But non-resident property owners are exempt from these charges.

The Treasury declined to comment on the reports that it has been carrying out costing research into widening the reach of the tax to include foreign investors and that it is waiting for a final decision from Mr Osborne.

Figures released by building society Nationwide showed that across the country, house prices have lifted by 5.8% year-on-year to reach £173,678 on average, in the strongest annual increase seen for more than three years.

The attraction of London in particular to overseas buyers looking for a safe haven to place their cash amid the troubles of the eurozone is considered to be one of the main factors which has led to the recent surge in UK house prices.

Earlier this month, property website Rightmove reported that typical London house sellers' asking prices have soared to a new all-time high of £544,232.

The website put much of the increase down to a "frenzy" of activity in parts of prime inner London as overseas investors look for a safe haven to place their cash, which is "leaving the shelves bare".

The typical asking price for a home in Kensington and Chelsea is now £2.4 million, and in Westminster it is 1.6 million and in Hammersmith and Fulham it has reached £1.1 million.

Experts argue that rising prices in a market where demand is growing at a faster pace than the supply of homes is weakening the potential beneficial impact of Government initiatives to widen the availability of low-deposit mortgages to struggling home buyers, such as its flagship Help to Buy initiative.

Launched this month, Help to Buy offers state-backed mortgages to people with deposits as low as 5%, but analysts have pointed out that with house prices on the increase, the size of the deposit people need to raise in cash terms is growing.

James Cotton, a mortgage specialist at broker London and Country Mortgages, said that while much of the focus for wealthy overseas investors is on central London, the impact that they have on the market "spreads into neighbouring areas".

He said: "It is a question of demand and supply. This might reduce demand for properties from foreign investors, which might leave a little bit more room for first-time buyers and next-time buyers.

Mr Cotton said that as house prices climb, even people looking for a low-deposit mortgage deal may find they still have to raise thousands of pounds more for a deposit to just keep up with these rises.

He said: "We want to see these Help to Buy schemes helping more people onto the ladder. Rising prices cancel out some of the help that initiatives are supposed to bring."

In last year's Budget, the chancellor introduced a new 7% rate of stamp duty for homes worth more than £2 million.

Ray Boulger, senior technical manager at mortgage broker John Charcol, said that even speculation that a new tax could be imposed could have a cooling impact on the market by planting some "seeds of doubt" in overseas investors' minds.

He said: "It could put some people off buying in the future. The impact would be felt in prime central London. Prime central London is as different from the UK as the UK is from the rest of Europe."
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