Would a mansion tax really be anti-aspiration?

As often happens on Sunday mornings, I hazily grab my phone, look at Twitter, and spot an interesting new idea that a politician or think tank has floated to deal with an aspect of our housing crisis.

This weekend it was the Mail on Sunday leaking wealth tax ideas from a Liberal Democrat internal consultation paper to be discussed at their forthcoming Spring Conference. The main proposal was for assets – particularly property assets – worth more than £2m to be taxed.

Unfortunately, the proposal threw in suggestions that jewellery might get considered in a wealth tax. Twitter was alive with sneering remarks about bureaucratic snoopers rifling through asset-rich cash-poor widows’ jewellery boxes.

But I was quite surprised at the visceral reaction that some commentators had to the idea of taxing £2 million property portfolios. One MP described it as ‘the politics of envy’, another warned that it would be ‘a tax on aspiration’.

What struck me was how some of the naysayers thought that a £2m property portfolio was within reach of the average person on the street.

That’s definitely not borne out by some of the stats I’m aware of:

Clearly, there would be lots of practical issues to consider should a policy like this get off the ground.

But the important thing is the message that this kind of policy would send out. It would confirm what a growing number of people are already realising: that ever-growing house prices supporting personal wealth that is tied up in property are not sustainable.

This generation of young people are counting the cost of a decade’s worth of rapidly rising house prices, which are simply too high for a mortgage to be affordable.

Rather like Boris Johnston’s proposal to ringfence stamp duty receipts for building homes in London, perhaps receipts from a mansion tax could be funnelled back into building more homes. Just an idea.

  1. A tax of this type would apply to landlords with larger portfolios, who tend to be the ones who do a better job of running their businesses and looking after tenants and following the rules – it’s the accidental “amateur” landlords who are more likely to flout the rules but who would not be hit by this tax. Do we really want to reduce incentives for good landlords? I’d expect any tax of anything even approaching 0.5% (of gross asset value over £2m) to have a downward impact on both standards and investment in the PRS. Any significant additional taxes imposed on residential landlords will clearly push rents up (not good for tenants) and create investment pressures at a time when landlords need to invest in improving quality, paying for additional increasing regulations (Article 4, local licensing schemes etc), and improving energy efficiency of properties. It seems an odd proposition to look at applying a potentially very high cost tax (as a percentage of profits or even revenue) to the PRS at a time when there’s a huge housing shortage and we should be encouraging investment, rather than discouraging it.

  2. Why stop at ‘mansions’? Tax everyone 1% of their home every year… or wouldn’t that be fair…

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