Taxing Mansions: the taxation of high value residential property

The case for a “Mansion Tax” is far weaker than it appears at first sight, finds Lucian Cook, director of Savills research, in Taxing Mansions: the taxation of high value residential property , published by the Centre for Policy Studies on Sunday 4 March.  Such a tax would be complex and inefficient, raising little revenue at great potential cost, and could hurt the asset rich, cash poor long term owners of high value property, the paper concludes.

In particular, top end property owners already make a disproportionately high contribution to tax revenues:

  • the UK already has by far the highest property tax take of any OECD country (property taxes contribute 4.2% of GDP compared to the OECD average of 1.8%)
  • the highest 1.6% of residential property sales yielded £1.2 billion
  • in 2010, the equivalent of 26% of all stamp duty receipts
  • last year’s introduction of the 5% stamp duty band for properties over £2 million will contribute a further £290 million a year
  • the top 0.7% of housing stock held at death contributes 36% of inheritance tax receipts from residential property
  • the non dom levy, which will rise from £30,000 to £50,000 a year, already collects revenue from owners of high value property domiciled overseas

In contrast, a Mansion Tax set at 1% of the value over £2 million would yield just £1 billion (or 0.2% of total tax revenues) at most – but bring with it significant problems:

  • it would unfairly target the income poor, equity rich (31% of properties in London worth over £2 million have been in the same ownership for over 10 years, 15% over 20 years.  Price growth has been +89% in the past 10 years and 426% in the past 20 years)
  • it would be both difficult and expensive to value all relevant properties (there is little comparable transactional evidence; valuations would also be vulnerable to extensive legal dispute)
  • it would undermine London’s position as one of the world’s leading business locations. If only a handful of the new class of international wealthy were no longer to come to Britain, the resulting loss of tax revenue would be far greater than that raised by this tax.

Analysis by Savills also finds that estimates of the level of stamp duty avoidance – primarily through off shore vehicles – are overstated. Detailed analysis of transactional activity suggests that this occurs in only about 10% of prime central London and just 4% in the rest of the UK. Tightening this loophole would only generate around £150 million.

Lucian Cook comments:

“The common perception is that owners of high value homes pay a disproportionately low level of taxes but this analysis really explodes this myth.  A new annual levy such as proposed, with a fixed threshold, would really distort market dynamics and would penalise cash poor long term owners of properties that have passed the threshold by dint of house price inflation.”

Tim Knox, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, comments:

“A Mansion Tax would strike at the heart of aspiration and of property ownership. And be sure that it will, over time, spread to include more people as politicians seek new funds for their pet projects. Yes, there is a pressing need for reform to our tax system based around Adam Smith’s principles of fairness, simplicity, certainty and efficiency. Closing the opportunities for stamp duty avoidance would be a sensible measure. But for economic recovery, the UK does not need a new complex tax targeted at the aspirational and successful. It needs lower, simpler taxes aimed at encouraging, not penalising, wealth.”


Media Impact: 

“There’s a huge amount of confusion surrounding the proposals for a ‘mansion tax’ and, more generally, taxation at the top end of the housing market. Old and novel arguments are rolled out by its proponents: that it is easier to tax wealth that can’t be taken offshore, or that the current level of taxation on high value property (generally perceived to be low) isn’t fair on first time buyers struggling to raise a deposit at the other end of the market. In reality, there are three main reasons why a mansion tax is unwarranted and potentially counter-productive, which I discuss in more detail in a Centre for Policy Studies report released today.” Lucian Cook on Spectator Coffeehouse: Why a mansion tax is wrong for Britain

“The Centre for Policy Studies points out that it would hit the “income poor, equity rich” – many of them older people. A third of properties in London worth more than £2 million have been in the same ownership for over 10 years, 15 per cent for more than 20 years. These are homes, not investment vehicles. A 1 per cent tax on such properties would leave their owners facing an annual tax bill of £20,000-plus – many people would be forced to sell up. Yet it would raise no more than £1 billion a year (while being costly and difficult to administer). With government losing more than £30 billion a year through fraud and incompetence, that is not a significant sum.” Daily Telegraph Leader Column: Family values are being undermined 

” A study this week by the Centre for Policy Studies pointed out that valuing high-end properties was even more complicated because there are proportionately fewer comparable transactions. Tory ministers like to point out that it would catch Mr Clegg’s £1.5 million home in Putney, but not the eight properties in Chris Huhne’s portfolio.” Ben Brogan on Telegraph blogs: Budget 2012 holds terrible political dangers for George Osborne and David Cameron 

“Senior Lib Dems yesterday signalled that they were ready to accept the scrapping of the 50p income tax rate on salaries over £150,000. It paves the way for Mr Osborne to announce long-termplans to scrap the tax in his Budget on March 21. But a report from a Westminster think-tank will today savage the proposed “mansion tax” the Chancellor is understood to be considering as a replacement.The report by property experts Savills for the Centre for Policy Studies claimed a tax limited to properties worth over £2million would only raise £1billion a year.Tim Knox, director of the Centre, said the tax would “ strike at the heart of aspiration and of property ownership”.” Daily Express: Millions will get Budget boost in child benefit 

“Mr Osborne is also under pressure to impose a new tax on high value properties, either through a ‘mansion tax’ or by adding new council tax bands. But a new report by the Centre for Policy Studies last night warned a 1 per cent tax on properties worth more than £2million would raise only £1 billion.The study warned that it would unfairly penalise people whose homes had risen in value. It pointed out that almost one-third of homes in London worth over £2million have been in the same ownership for more than a decade.” Mail on Sunday: Lib Dems soften stance on 50p tax as Cameron faces pressure to axe top rate

“Millions of Londoners in family homes would be unfairly penalised if George Osborne brings in a mansion tax in this month’s Budget, a report claimed. In a hard-hitting report, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), Margaret Thatcher’s favourite think tank, said widows, savers and people with large families would be losers under the policy. It said some three in 10 family homes in London had been in the same hands for a decade or more, opening up the owners to the threat of an annual “wealth tax” based more on rising property prices than how well off they are. “This strikes at the heart of the importance of aspiration and of property ownership,” said CPS director Tim Knox.” Evening Standard: Thatcherite think-tank slams mansion tax plans

“The case for a “mansion tax” is weaker than it looks at first glance, according to a publication thrown into the pre-Budget debate yesterday. It would raise surprisingly little revenue at a high cost, would be unfair to people whose incomes have not risen as fast as their property values and otherwise would hit those who already contribute disproportionately to the tax take, according to a paper by the research director of property agents Savills.” Yorkshire Post Mansion tax ‘unfair and too costly’

Other noteworthy news sources:

Lucian Cook - Monday, 5th March, 2012