These people are mad you know


Sad to have to say it but this is a most startling claim:

Private landlords are benefiting from subsidies worth the equivalent of £1,000 for every household in the UK, the campaign group Generation Rent has claimed, with tax breaks and housing benefit bolstering their gains from house price increases.

Figures shared with the Guardian by the group suggest landlords could be gaining as much as £26.7bn a year from the taxpayer, equal to £1,011 each for the country’s 26.4m households.

So, how have they calculated this figure?

The group’s figure is made up of £9.3bn of housing benefit paid on behalf of low-income tenants, £1.69bn through the “wear-and-tear” tax relief landlords can claim on their properties, £6.63bn of tax that landlords do not have to pay on mortgage interest payments and £9.06bn of tax landlords do not pay on their annual average capital gains.

Oh dear. Capital gains, capital gains on anything at all, are only taxed when a transaction takes place. Thus the not taxing of a capital gain when a transaction does not take place is not a tax break. Similarly, the paying of interest for the purchase of a business asset is tax allowable. This is true of buying a JCB for a building firm, buying a house to rent out and buying a mobile phone mast to provide service to said house. This is not a tax break therefore. It's simply a cost of doing business that must be included before calculating the profit which will be taxed. Wear and tear relief is very much the same thing.

Housing benefit is a little more complex. We can indeed view it as a subsidy to landlords. For without housing benefit being paid we might expect rental prices in general to be lower. We might also view it as a subsidy to low income tenants of course. That's what it's intended as. The way to decide between who is getting that subsidy is to ask, well, what would happen to prices in the absence of it? If we think that removing that £9.3 billion subsidy would mean that rents in general would fall by £9.3 billion then it is indeed a subsidy to landlords. If we think that prices would stay largely where they are but that poor people wouldn't have anywhere to live then it's a subsidy to those poor people. And, of course, if it's the first then we should simply abolish that subsidy immediately.

Which is rather the point of that thought exercise: those who claim that it is a subsidy to landlords should be campaigning for the immediate abolishment of that subsidy. They ain't, so they don't really think it is, do they?