Disposing of a private residence is exempt from capital gains tax (CGT) if it is used as a main residence throughout the period of ownership. A recent case heard in the First-Tier Tribunal has come up with a very favorable interpretation of what this means.
In the case heard by the Tribunal:
- A married couple purchased a plot of land.
- Over the next two and a half years the land was redeveloped, with the original house demolished and a new house built.
- The couple then moved in before selling the new house a year later.
- The sale resulted in a gain of over £500,000 for each spouse.
- The couple claimed private residence relief for the total amount gained, but HMRC argued that full exemption was not available as the house had not been lived in for the entire period from when the land was originally purchased.
The question for the First-Tier Tribunal to decide was whether the period of ownership covered just the new house (one year) or whether it went back to when the land was bought (some two and half years earlier).
Both parties put forward detailed arguments to support their respective positions, but in the end the decision was simply that the natural reading of the legislation was the ‘period of ownership’ means the period of ownership of the house being sold – so the couple’s gains were fully exempt.
It is of course possible that HMRC might choose to appeal the decision.
There may be tax planning scope for anyone sitting on a plot of land representing a potentially substantial gain if they can build a house on the land and live in it for a few years before a sale to claim private residence relief.
However, the other important caveat to bear in mind is that First-Tier Tribunal decisions do not set a precedent.