Inheritance tax: the residence nil rate band

Aug 01, 2019
The new rules provide an opportunity  to review your client’s overall inheritance tax position, the terms of their will, and relevant estate planning opportunities.

By Fiona Hall

The Residence Nil Rate Band (RNRB) was introduced on 6 April 2017, so many of us are just starting to appreciate the intricacies of the complex legislation. This article will summarise the key points regarding the RNRB, including when it does and does not apply, what property can qualify, factors affecting the amount of the allowance, and some planning points. References to spouses are to include civil partners.

The RNRB is an additional inheritance tax-free allowance where a home passes on death on or after 6 April 2017 to direct descendants. The legislation is found in the Inheritance Tax Act 1984 Section 8D-8M, with HMRC’s helpful guidance contained in its Inheritance Tax Manual.

The RNRB applies whether the home passes on death via the will, under the intestacy rules or by survivorship. It generally does not apply to a lifetime gift of the home (subject to the downsizing rules, highlighted later) unless the gift with reservation rules apply. Then, for the purposes of the RNRB, the home is treated as passing on death and the allowance can apply.

The legislation refers to a “qualifying residential interest”, which is an interest in a dwelling house that was the person’s residence at a time when the person’s estate included that property. A person may own multiple properties on death. In this scenario, the personal representatives may nominate which is to be taken into account for the RNRB and it can be a property let out at the time of death, so long as it has been the deceased’s home at some stage during ownership (i.e. not a buy-to-let).

There is no minimum period of occupation or ownership of the property and no garden/grounds limitation applies. It can be a home outside the UK so long as it is within the charge to inheritance tax.

The RNRB is being phased-in over four years starting at £100,000 in the 2017/18 tax year and increasing by £25,000 each year until 2020/21 when it will be £175,000. The RNRB is not aimed at the very wealthy and it is tapered where the net value of an estate exceeds £2 million. The “net value” is the market value of the assets less liabilities at death, but before any reliefs or exemptions are deducted. It does not include the value of any gifts made in the seven years prior to death.

Where taper does apply, the RNRB is reduced by £1 for every £2 above the threshold. For clients whose estates are above the taper threshold, lifetime gifts may be considered. Married couples should consider alternative options if leaving their entire estate to the survivor on first death will lead to tapering.

The allowance due on a particular estate is the lower of the RNRB and the property value (after deduction of any secured liabilities and any reliefs, such as agricultural property relief).

As with the nil rate band, the legislation provides that should one spouse not utilise their RNRB, on making the appropriate claim, the surviving spouse’s RNRB is increased by the unused amount (using rates on the second death). A transfer of unused RNRB is available regardless of:

  • When the first death took place, including deaths before 6 April 2017;
  • How much the first estate was worth (however, this may result in tapering where the first estate exceeds the taper threshold); and
  • Whether or not the first estate included a residence.
A point of practical importance when calculating the inheritance tax liability is that the RNRB applies in priority to the nil rate band. This is relevant in determining whether there is a claim for a transferable nil rate band and/or transferable RNRB by the surviving spouse.

To qualify for the RNRB, the home must be “closely inherited” (i.e. generally that the property passes to direct descendants such as a child/grandchild of the deceased, including step-children and foster children). However, the legislation also extends to spouses of direct descendants, including their widows/widowers, provided remarriage is not a factor. The RNRB does not apply if the home passes to others, including parents, siblings, nephews and so on.

Should the home pass into a trust for direct descendants, eligibility to the RNRB will depend on the trust terms. Trusts under which a direct descendant has a qualifying interest in possession will qualify, as will a bereaved minor or 18–25 trust. However, a discretionary trust will not.

The home does not have to be a specific legacy in the will; it can pass through the residue. However, where residue passes to qualifying and non-qualifying beneficiaries, HMRC treats each as inheriting a proportion of the home and this may lead to a restriction to the available allowance. A deed of variation could be considered in such circumstances.

If the maximum RNRB is not being utilised, you should consider whether the downsizing provisions apply. These complex provisions are designed to replace the RNRB lost due to a disposal of the original home. To qualify for a “downsizing addition”, the deceased must have disposed of a home on or after 8 July 2015 and either moved to a less valuable property or ceased to own a home, and some of the estate must be closely inherited.

In conclusion, these relatively new rules provide an opportunity to review a client’s overall inheritance tax position, the terms of their will, and any relevant estate planning opportunities.
Fiona Hall is Principal, Private Client Tax Team, at BDO Northern Ireland.