As with other sectors, landlords may be adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tenants suffering cashflow difficulties may be unable to pay their rent in full or on time. The impact that unpaid or late paid rent has on the calculation of taxable profits depends on whether the landlord prepares accounts on the cash basis or under the accruals basis.
The cash basis is the default basis of preparation for most landlords whose cash receipts for the tax year are £150,000 or less. Under the cash basis income is recognised when the money is received not when it is earned, and expenses are accounted for when the money is paid not when the expenses is incurred. Receipts are income of the period in which the money is received, and expenses are outgoings of the period in which they are paid. Consequently, there are no debtors or creditors.
This provides automatic relief where rent is not paid or is paid late, protecting the landlord from having to pay tax on money he or she has yet to receive.
Harry is a landlord and lets a flat for £800 a month, payable on 25th of each month. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, his tenant does not pay the rent that was due on 25 March 2020. The tenant eventually pays £200 of the overdue rent in June 2020 and the remaining £600 in September 2020.
Harry prepares the accounts for his rental property business on the cash basis, accounting for rental income only when the rent has been received. The rent due for March 2020 (falling in the 2019/20 tax year) is not received until June and September 2020 – which fall in the 2020/21 tax year. As a result, the rent for March is taken into account in computing Harry’s taxable profits for 2020/21 rather than 2019/20.
Rental profit must be determined under the accruals basis in accordance with UK GAAP where the landlord is not eligible for the cash basis (for example, because rental receipts for the tax year are more than £150,000) or because the landlord elects for the cash basis not to apply. Under the accruals basis, rental income is taken into account in the period to which it relates, rather than when the rent is paid. Likewise, expenses are deducted when the expense is incurred not when the bill is paid, if different. There is no automatic relief if rent is not paid on time as under the cash basis.
Louisa has a number of rental properties and as her rental receipts exceed £150,000 a year, she prepares the accounts of her rental business under the accruals basis. One of her tenants fails to pay the rent of £2,000 for March 2020 which was due on 1 March 2020. The tenant eventually pays the late rent in September 2020.
As accounts are prepared under the accruals basis, the rent due for March 2020 is taken into account in working out the taxable profit for 2019/20, regardless of the fact that it was paid in 2020/21 rather than in 2019/20.
There is, however, relief available where the rent remains unpaid and is not recovered, as opposed to being paid late – a deduction is permitted for a debt which is genuinely bad or doubtful.
Partner note: ITTOIA 2005, ss. 271A to 271D.
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