Capital Gains Tax Guide: What is Capital Gains Tax, Who pays it and How much?

Understanding capital gains tax (CGT) is crucial for UK homeowners, property investors, and those dealing with inherited or second properties. This comprehensive guide aims to demystify the complexities surrounding CGT, providing clarity on what it is, who is liable to pay, how it’s calculated, and strategies to mitigate its impact.

What is Capital Gains Tax?

Capital Gains Tax is a tax levied on the profit made from selling assets such as properties, shares or other valuable items. It is not the amount received from the sale, but the gain or profit compared to the original purchase price that is taxable.

Key Points:

  • Capital gains tax on property: This is the focus for UK homeowners and investors.
  • Capital gains tax on other assets: Includes shares, business assets, and personal items.

For the purpose of this guide, we are focussing on the property element of capital gains tax.

Who Pays Capital Gains Tax?

Capital Gains Tax (CGT) in the UK is levied on individuals, trustees, and representatives who realise a profit from selling assets that have appreciated in value. Understanding who is liable to pay CGT is crucial for effective financial and tax planning.

Breakdown of CGT Payers:

  1. Individuals: Most commonly, CGT is paid by individuals who are UK residents. This includes:
    • Homeowners selling property that is not their main residence, such as second homes or rental properties.
    • Investors selling shares, bonds, or other financial instruments.
    • Collectors selling personal items worth over £6,000, such as antiques or art.
  2. Non-Resident Individuals: Non-residents are also subject to CGT on the sale of UK property or land. This was a significant change introduced a few years ago, broadening the scope of CGT to include non-residents disposing of UK real estate.
  3. Executors or Personal Representatives: In the event of a death, the executors or personal representatives of the deceased are responsible for handling CGT on the disposal of the deceased’s assets, if these assets have increased in value.
  4. Trustees: Trustees are liable for CGT on the disposal of assets held in trust. The rates and allowances for trustees may differ from those for individuals.
  5. Partnerships: In a partnership, CGT is not paid by the partnership itself but by the individual partners. The gain is assessed and taxed according to each partner’s share of the profit from the disposed asset.
  6. Companies: While companies do not pay CGT per se, they are subject to Corporation Tax on any gains from the sale of assets, which operates under similar principles.

Considerations for Paying CGT:

  • Residency Status: Your residency status plays a crucial role in determining your liability for CGT. UK residents are typically subject to CGT on worldwide assets, while non-residents are usually only liable for UK-based assets.
  • Annual Exemption: Individuals have an annual tax-free allowance (Annual Exempt Amount), below which they do not have to pay CGT.
  • Reporting Requirements: The process for reporting and paying CGT can vary. For example, the sale of UK property by residents must now be reported and any CGT paid within 60 days of the completion of the sale.
  • Joint Ownership: If an asset is jointly owned, each owner is liable for CGT on their share of the gain.
  • Inherited Assets: Inheriting an asset does not in itself trigger CGT. However, if the asset is later sold, CGT may be due on the increase in value from the time it was inherited.

Understanding who is required to pay CGT and the circumstances under which these liabilities arise is fundamental for anyone dealing with assets prone to appreciation in value. It is often advisable to consult with a tax advisor or professional to understand fully the implications of CGT on your specific situation and to explore potential strategies for mitigation.

How Much is Capital Gains Tax in the UK?

The Capital Gains Tax (CGT) rate in the UK varies depending on the type of asset and the individual’s income tax band. As of the 2023-2024 tax year, the rates are as follows:

  • For Individuals:
    • 10% and 20% for assets excluding residential property and carried interest.
    • 18% and 28% specifically for residential property and carried interest, depending on the individual’s income tax band.
  • For Trustees and Personal Representatives:
    • 20% for assets excluding residential property.
    • 28% for disposals of residential property.
  • Annual Exempt Amount:
    • The annual tax-free allowance is £6,000 for most individuals and £3,000 for most other trustees.

These rates apply after deducting any losses and applying any reliefs, and only if the overall gains are above the annual exempt amount. For more detailed information, you can visit the official UK Government’s guidance on Capital Gains Tax rates and allowances.

Avoiding Capital Gains Tax in the UK

Avoiding Capital Gains Tax in the UK can be achieved through various legal methods:

  1. Private Residence Relief: This is available when selling your main home. If you have lived in the property as your primary residence throughout the period of ownership, you might not have to pay CGT.
  2. Lettings Relief: This applies if you let out a property that has been your main home at some point. The relief is less generous than it used to be but can still offer some tax savings.
  3. Annual Exempt Amount: Each tax year, you have a CGT-free allowance. Making use of this allowance can reduce your taxable gains.
  4. Transferring Assets to a Spouse or Civil Partner: Transfers between spouses or civil partners are CGT-free. This can be a strategy to use both individuals’ annual exempt amounts.
  5. Timing of Disposals: Planning when to sell assets can impact the CGT due, especially if spreading the disposals over multiple tax years.
  6. Invest in Assets with CGT Exemption: Some assets, like certain types of ISAs or bonds, are exempt from CGT.

For comprehensive details, you can visit the UK Government’s guidance on Capital Gains Tax.

Capital Gains Tax on Second Homes in the UK

Capital Gains Tax (CGT) on second homes in the UK is notably different from the CGT on primary residences. When you sell a second home, such as a holiday home or a rental property, the profit you make is subject to CGT. The key differences include:

  1. Higher CGT Rates: The rates for CGT on second homes are generally higher compared to your primary residence.
  2. No Private Residence Relief: Since it’s not your main home, you cannot claim Private Residence Relief.
  3. Possibility of Lettings Relief: If you have ever let out the property, you might be eligible for Lettings Relief, although the rules have become more restrictive in recent years.
  4. Annual Exempt Amount: You can still use your annual tax-free allowance against the gain.

Given these factors, it’s crucial to plan and understand the potential tax implications when dealing with second homes.

How Long to Live in a House to Avoid CGT in the UK?

In the UK, to avoid Capital Gains Tax (CGT) on the sale of your house, it’s typically required that the property has been your main residence throughout the period of ownership. This rule is part of the Private Residence Relief. However, there’s no specific minimum period you must live in the property to qualify for this relief. The key factor is that the property must genuinely be your main home.

Calculating Capital Gains Tax

Calculating Capital Gains Tax (CGT) in the UK involves several steps:

  1. Calculate the Gain: Subtract the purchase price and associated costs (like legal fees, improvements, etc.) from the selling price.
  2. Deduct Allowable Costs: Include costs of buying, improving, and selling the asset.
  3. Apply Reliefs: Deduct any reliefs you’re eligible for (e.g., Private Residence Relief).
  4. Use Annual Exempt Amount: Subtract your tax-free allowance.
  5. Apply the CGT Rate: Use the appropriate CGT rate based on your income tax band and type of asset.

It’s important to note that CGT calculations can be complex, and individual circumstances can significantly affect the tax payable. Therefore, consulting a tax professional for advice tailored to your specific situation is advisable.

When and How to Pay Capital Gains Tax

You must report and pay any Capital Gains Tax due on UK residential property within 60 days of selling the property. You can report and pay via the government website on the Report and pay your Capital Gains Taxpage.

What Improvements are Allowed for CGT in the UK?

In the UK, certain improvements to a property can be deducted from the gain when calculating Capital Gains Tax (CGT). Allowable improvements include substantial additions or enhancements that increase the property’s value, such as an extension or a new kitchen. Routine maintenance and repairs are not included. It’s essential to keep records of these improvements as evidence for the HMRC.

How to avoid Capital Gains Tax on Inherited Property

To avoid Capital Gains Tax (CGT) on inherited property in the UK, consider the following strategies:

  1. Live in the Property: If you use the inherited property as your main residence, you may qualify for Private Residence Relief.
  2. Sell Shortly After Inheriting: CGT is based on the increase in value from when you inherited the property. If you sell it soon after inheriting, there might be little or no gain to tax.
  3. Losses on Other Assets: If you’ve made a loss on another asset, you can offset this against any gain made on the inherited property.
  4. Gift to Spouse or Civil Partner: Transferring the property to a spouse or civil partner can use their CGT allowance or lower tax rate.

Each situation is unique, so it’s advisable to consult a tax professional for tailored advice.

Capital Gains Tax can be a complex area, but with careful planning and understanding of the rules, its impact can be minimised. For personalised advice and assistance in navigating property-related tax matters, it is strongly recommended to consult with a trusted tax advisor.