The one thing George Osborne and Jeremy Corbyn have in common: they want to end the great buy-to-let boom

The rise of Jeremy Corbyn means all political parties will be forced to debate social justice, says Merryn Somerset Webb. That means affordable housing – and getting tough on buy-to-let.


Could we soon see an end to the great buy-to-let boom?

Our cover story a few weeks ago was on the matter of buy-to-let. I also wrote about it here: Is this the end for but-to-let?

Our argument is that new rules limiting tax relief on buy-to-let mortgage interest to a 20% tax credit regardless of the marginal rate of the borrower would change the maths for a huge number of investors.

It's a story that more and more people are beginning to understand. The Times wrote about it this weekend, noting as we have that "all higher-rate taxpayers will pay substantially more in tax, with some forced to pay more than they make in profits, making their investments unviable".

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The end of the ability to offset cost against tax might also move landlords who are currently lower-rate tax payers into the higher-rate band (or higher to highest). That's something, says tax expert Tina Riches in The Times, that would restrict their personal allowances and access to child benefit.

This is upsetting a lot of people 26,000 have already signed a petition to have the tax relief reinstated. But we doubt that's going to happen. Instead of getting easier, the environment for buy-to-let investors is likely to get a lot tougher.

It's all about Jeremy Corbyn and something he and George Osborne might turn out to have in common. As Brian Dennehy of points out, while Jeremy Corbyn is unlikely to ever be prime minister, he will change the focus of our political debate: "all parties are now going to have to start debating social justice" properly whether they want to or not. And the UK's many housing have-nots are going to want to shift that conversation firmly towards the provision of affordable housing.

The buy-to-let sector has been pumped up by low interest rates, and by QE slamming down yields on other asset classes. Also, by a looser regulatory environment for investors than owner occupiers. And, of course, by the many tax breaks on offer to buy-to-let owners. Corbyn is likely to "focus on these distortions and the cost to society" when he discusses housing.

In that kind of environment, how likely is it that the chancellor will give into political pressure to drop his tax changes? We'd say very unlikely.

Worse (for investors at least) it might give Osborne the political cover/excuse he needs to cut the relief further. He knows rents are too high and house prices are inflated, and, given his actions so far, it seems clear that he wants to call an end to the great buy-to-let boom. Corbyn looks likely to be able to help him do just that.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.