The Accidental Landlord

Victoria Whitlock tries to find ways of keeping her meagre profits from the grasping hands of the taxman — before having an attack of conscience
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Eek. I realised the other day that we're almost at the end of the tax year, which means I have just a few days to spend some of my (meagre) profits to stop the taxman getting his hands on them.

I dug out property guru Amer Siddiq's guide, How To Cut Landlord Taxes. Two hours later, my brain was mashed potato. The guide is written in simple English ( in fact I suspect it's written for idiots), but for someone who failed maths O-level back in prehistoric times it's still a challenge to comprehend.

I suppose I ought to get an accountant or tax adviser, or at least someone in a suit to do this stuff for me, but to tell you the truth, shielding profits from HM Revenue & Customs wasn't previously a concern, as I never actually made any.

Now, thanks to low interest rates, I've got a little cash in the bank and I don't want to hand it all over to the Chancellor. Even if he is broke. I don't want to do anything that might cause a tax inspector to cast a beady eye in my direction, either. I read the other day that they're going to get tough on landlords, who are generally considered to be as evil as bankers.

With the help of the guide I worked out that it's hardly worth dashing out to buy a new car to offset against my tax bill, even though I do desperately need one. The reverse gear on my old Peugeot gave up the ghost back in September, which means I've spent the past six months going round and round looking for parking spaces big enough to drive into forwards.

A vehicle is essential to manage my three properties but as a car wouldn't be for the sole use of the business, Mr Siddiq reckons I can only claim back a small portion of the cost. Maybe I'll buy a Vespa instead, which will be much cheaper, nippier in traffic jams and way cooler than a car — though not as useful for shifting furniture.

I read that I can offset some of my office costs, so maybe I'll satisfy myself with a new printer before the end of the tax year. For some unfathomable reason my old one only prints in yellow and red, which tends to make tenants squint a bit when reading their contracts.

I took a walk to clear my head of impossible mathematical calculations and spotted a For Sale sign outside a repossessed flat at the end of my road. I dashed home to call the estate agent and discovered the asking price was £93,000 lower than a similar one opposite. I made an appointment to view there and then. I couldn't help myself; viewing potential rental properties is like an addiction.

The flat needed gutting. The sludgy green shagpile carpet was matted with filth, there was mould hanging from the kitchen ceiling, and the loo… I think I've said enough. The previous occupants had abandoned their belongings but walked off with the gas meter. Still, the flat was close to a Tube station, a hospital and an excellent secondary school so, in estate agent speak, had "great potential".

However, as I wiped my feet on the way out, I realised I was feeling squeamish about profiting from someone else's misery. I thought of my mother-in-law talking disdainfully about "the greedy property developer" who recently snapped up a repossession in her village and turned it into a holiday rental. I decided I'd better get back to my tax return.

'I won't get a new car to offset against tax, though my reverse gear's gone so I can only drive forwards into parking spaces'

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