As a general rule, the fall-back position for couples who live together with their spouse or civil partners is that property income held in joint names is divided 50:50. This is regardless of the actual ownership structure. However, where there is unequal ownership and the couple want the income taxed on that basis a notification must be sent to HMRC together with proof that the beneficial interests in the property are unequal. This is done using Form 17 published by HMRC.
A Form 17 declaration can only be made by spouses or civil partners that are living together and who own property in unequal shares and who wish to be taxed on income arising in the same proportion. Couples that are separated or in some other type of union cannot make a Form 17 declaration. The declaration is only valid if both partners agree. If one spouse / partner does not agree then the income will continue to be treated on a 50:50 basis even if the ownership structure is different.
A Form 17 declaration stays in place until there is either a change in the status of the couple, i.e. separation or divorce or a change in the ownership structure. If either of these occur the 50:50 income split will reapply.
There are a number of scenarios where a form 17 cannot be used. These include where a husband and wife or civil partners own property as beneficial joint tenants, if the property is let as furnished holiday accommodation and for partnership income.
Where property is held in unequal shares, making a form 17 declaration can be advantageous if the majority owner of the property pays tax at a lower marginal rate than their partner. We would be happy to review any jointly owned property holdings of readers to see if any tax savings are possible using this planning option.