The tax law surrounding the sale of residences and Private Residence Relief continues to cause disputes between taxpayers and HMRC. With the disparity between capital gains tax rates on most assets and the higher rate now applicable to sales of residential property, this is only likely to continue.
In a recent case at the First-Tier Tribunal (A Oliver, TC5521), the taxpayer purchased a flat in January 2007 and then sold it in April 2007. He claimed he purchased it following a trial separation from his partner (which was recommended by their counselling sessions). However, the flat had a relatively short time remaining on its lease which made it difficult to sell. Mr Oliver asked the vendor to begin the process to extend the lease before exchange of contracts; otherwise he would have had to wait two years before he could make the application following completion.
The extension of the lease resulted in a substantial increase to the flat’s value, and HMRC argued that Private Residence Relief (PRR) should not apply, on the basis that he had been ‘engaging in adventure in the nature of a trade’. The rules state at TCGA 1992, Section 224(3) that PRR should not apply where a property is acquired with “the purposes of realising a gain from the disposal of it”.
Interestingly, the Tribunal agreed that Mr Oliverʼs actions did not amount to a venture in the nature of a trade and that he did not have an intention to sell the flat when he first acquired it. However, they instead considered whether the taxpayer’s presence in the flat was sufficient for it to qualify as his main residence. They found that there were inconsistencies in his evidence and ultimately concluded that the quality of occupation lacked any degree of permanence or expectation of continuity.
Mr Oliver’s appeal was therefore dismissed. Had Mr Oliver made a more convincing witness, and perhaps been able to demonstrate his intent to reside in the property more permanently he may have succeeded. In cases such as this, taking advice in advance would help to avoid problems arising later. We would be delighted to hear from you if you or your clients might be caught by these rules.