Where a property qualifies in full for private residence relief, it is perhaps academic, from a tax perspective at least, whether a couple own it jointly or it is the one name only. In either case, the relief shelters any gain that arises and there is no tax to pay.

However, where a gain is not fully sheltered by private residence relief, as may be the case for an investment property or a second home, there can be very different tax consequences depending on how it is owned.

Take advantage of the no gain/no loss rules for spouses and civil partners

There are some breaks in the tax system for married couples and civil partners, and one of them is the ability to transfer assets between each other at a value that gives rise to neither a gain nor a loss. This can be very useful from a tax planning perspective to secure the optimal capital gains tax position on the sale of property where full private residence relief is not available. This enables a couple to utilise available annual exempt amounts and lower tax bands.

Capital gains tax on residential property gains is charged at 18% where total income and gains do not exceed the basic rate limit (set at £37,500 for 2019/20) and 28% thereafter.

Case study

Ron and Rita have been married a number of years and in addition to their main residence, they have a holiday cottage, which is owned solely by Ron. As their lives are busy, they no longer use the cottage much and decide to sell it. They expect to realise a gain of £100,000.

Rita does not work and has no income of her own. Ron is a higher rate taxpayer. Neither has used their annual exempt amount for 2019/20 (set at £12,000).

If they leave the property in Ron’s sole name, they will realise a chargeable gain of £88,000 after deducting his annual exempt amount of £12,000. As a higher rate taxpayer, this will give rise to a capital gains tax bill of £24,640 (£88,000 @ 28%).

However, as Rita has her basic rate band and annual exempt amount available, making use of the no gain/no loss rule to put the property in joint names prior to sale can save the couple a lot of tax. Each will realise a gain of £50,000.

As far as Ron is concerned, £12,000 of his gain will be sheltered by his annual exempt amount, leaving a chargeable gain of £38,000 on which tax of £10,640 will be payable.

Rita will also have a gain of £50,000, of which the first £12,000 is covered by her annual exempt amount, leaving a chargeable gain of £38,000. As her basic rate band is available in full, the first £37,500 is taxed at 18% (£6,750), with the remaining £500 being taxed at 28% (£140). Thus, Rita’s tax liability is £6,890, and the couple’s total tax bill is £17,530.

By taking advantage of the no gain/no loss rule to put the property into joint names prior to sale, the couple will be able to make use of Rita’s annual exempt amount and basic rate band, reducing the capital gains tax payable on the sale from £24,640 to £17,530 – a saving of £7,110.