The Chartered Institute of Taxation is urging tenants not to ignore a letter if they receive one from HM Revenue & Customs concerning their landlord’s tax affairs.
A so-called ‘fact finding letter‘ already sent to some tenants goes on to suggest tenants may have to take tax off their own rental payments to ensure the correct tax is paid if their landlord is not resident in the UK and is not registered under the UK’s Non-resident Landlord Scheme – or face a fine.
The CIOT is urging any confused or concerned tenant not to ignore the letter and to seek advice if they need it.
The HMRC letters are accompanied by a form which asks the tenants for information about the property, such as whether it is owned by a trust and, if so, the date it was acquired by a trust, and details about the trustees, settlors and beneficiaries.
The letter and questionnaire form are designed to gather information to ensure the correct tax is paid by their landlord.
“The letters are likely to confuse tenants when there is no letting agency contracted to let the property and they have to deal with such requests from HMRC themselves” says Brian Slater, chair of CIOT’s Property Taxes Sub-committee.
“It is unlikely the individual tenant would know the answers required of many of the questions on the form unless they are closely connected to the landlord, say a relative. We are concerned that a tenant who receives this letter may be worried about how to respond, particularly if they do not have enough information or knowledge to answer the questions” he continues.
“A tenant may not know that the landlord’s usual place of abode is outside the UK and, even if they do, how will they know about their tax obligations? The wording at the end of the letter about errors and penalties could also alarm the recipient especially if they are not able to answer all the questions” Slater goes on to say.
“HMRC suggest tenants should reply ‘not known’ if they do not know the information for specific questions. There is no legal obligation to respond to the letter and questionnaire but the response will enable HMRC to help the tenant if further action is required or to quickly tell them that no further action is required.”
HMRC has now told the CIOT that it will no longer include in the letters the threat of penalties for tenants who fail to comply, and to amend future iterations of the letter to ask the tenant to show the letter to their tax adviser if they have one.
But the underlying threat of a penalty where tenants make a mistake in their reply to the letter which is not considered by HMRC to be a genuine mistake remains unchanged, and this worries the CIOT.
HMRC has now clarified that they will not look to charge a penalty if mistakes have been made in the completion of the form attached to the letter to tenants. The penalties mentioned in the letter to tenants are only relevant to situations where the tenant has chosen not to deduct tax at the right time or neglected to do so.
Slater says: “We’re concerned that these letters will land on the doormat of tenants who do not have a tax adviser and in some cases will be unable to pay for tax advice. People who receive the letters should engage with HMRC, completing the questions as far as possible, and not ignore it. We suggest renters read the new advice published on our website. If tenants still have concerns or remain confused by HMRC’s letter, then they should seek advice from HMRC’s helpline or tax charities where eligible, or contact a tax adviser.”