Clause 15 - Real Estate Investment Trusts

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 14 December 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

That schedule 3 be the Third schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Clause 15 makes targeted changes to the tax rules for real estate investment trusts. These changes alleviate certain constraints and administrative burdens to enhance the attractiveness of the UK’s real estate investment trust regime for real estate investment.

A real estate investment trust, or REIT, is a collective vehicle that allows investors to obtain broadly similar returns from an investment in property as they would have had had they invested directly, through a specific set of tax rules. This regime has proved popular since its introduction in 2006, with around 100 UK REITs currently established. However, recent consultations issued as part of the Government’s review of the UK funds regime have identified a number of areas where the REIT regime could be reformed to remove unnecessary barriers and make it more competitive. The Government are now acting to amend these areas of their regime to make the UK a more attractive location for holding real estate assets.

The changes to the REITs tax rules will reform a number of areas. They will remove some administrative and cost burdens for existing UK REITs and remove some barriers to entry, widening the scope of businesses able to elect to be a UK REIT. In particular, the changes will remove the requirement for REIT shares to be admitted to trading on a recognised stock exchange where institutional investors hold at least 70% of the ordinary share capital. They will amend the definition of an overseas equivalent of a UK REIT to allow it to be met by companies and jurisdictions without an equivalent regime and remove the “holder of excessive rights” charge, where property income distributions are paid to investors entitled to receive them without deduction of withholding tax.

Finally, the changes will introduce a new, simplified balance of business test, which are the rules requiring that at least 75% of the rights, profits and assets relate to the property rental business, and exclude certain activities relating to the planning obligations from the test.

The targeted changes introduced by the clause and schedule will make the existing REITs regime more attractive, consistent with the Government’s objective for the review of the UK funds regime. The changes will come into force on 1 April 2022.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury) 10:15, 14 December 2021

As we have heard, clause 15 and schedule 3 concern real estate investment trusts. The clause and schedule amend the REIT rules and, as the Government have said, seek to remove superfluous restraints and administrative burdens. That includes the removal of the requirement for REIT shares to be admitted to trading in certain circumstances; the amendment of the definition of an overseas equivalent of a UK REIT; the amendment of the “holder of excessive rights” charge to corporation tax; and changes to the rules which ensure that a REIT’s business is primarily focused on its property rental business. The changes take effect from 1 April 2022.

A REIT is a company through which investors can invest in real estate directly. Specific tax rules for UK REITs were introduced in the Finance Act 2006. The regime has proved popular, and the number of UK REITs steadily increased to 92, as of June 2021. Subject to meeting certain relevant conditions, the company may notify Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs that it is to be treated as a UK REIT. Its property rental profits and gains are then, in broad terms, treated as exempt from corporation tax, subject to ongoing conditions such as the requirement to distribute 90% of its exempt profits as property income distributions, which are in turn treated as property rental income in investors’ hands.

At Budget 2020, the Treasury launched a consultation on the tax treatment of asset holding companies, which included questions about investments in real estate. Responses to the consultation led to the inclusion of proposals for changes to the REIT regime in a second consultation on asset holding companies, which was launched in December 2020. The schedule introduces those changes, which are intended to remove restrictions and administrative burdens where they are no longer necessary. For that reason, we do not oppose the clause or schedule.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

I have a question about transparency and how the regime will interact with the Government’s draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill. I remember some discussion about people moving ownership to trusts and other things, but I am not quite clear how this interacts with that work on transparency.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ealing North for indicating that he will not oppose this aspect of the Bill. As he has said, the regime is very popular. I am very happy to get back to the hon. Member for Glasgow Central on her particular question.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 15 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3 agreed to.