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Sunday 15th December 2019

The little-known tax charges for unmarried co-habiters

There is an upward trend of couples choosing to co-habit without marrying or getting a civil partnership, but they may not be aware of the financial implications of this choice, particularly when it comes to sneaky tax charges. 

I spoke to tax expert Oliver Claridge, a tax expert in law firm Forsters’ corporate tax department about the tax disadvantages of choosing to leave the knot untied.

Pensions and income tax

Cohabiting couples are unable to claim state benefits based on their deceased partner’s national insurance contributions, unlike those who are married or in a civil partnership.

Claridge explained that they are also less likely to be able to receive payments from their late partner’s pension scheme, although this depends on the terms of the specific scheme.

“Cohabiting couples who are not married or in civil partnerships are also not entitled to the marriage allowance, which allows spouses or civil partners to transfer £1,250 of their personal allowance to their partner,” he said. “If the lower earner has an income of less than £12,500, this can potentially give them a tax saving of £250.”

Married people may also inherit anything between 50% and 100% of the state earnings related pension of their late partner, which unmarried couples will not inherit automatically.

Inheritance tax (IHT)

According to Claridge, married couples and civil partners have unlimited transfers between themselves that are exempt from IHT, both during their lifetime and after death, unless one partner has a different domicile status and the transfer is to the non-UK domiciled partner.

“Cohabiting couples may face IHT charges depending on the size of their partner’s estate and they will not receive any bereavement benefits,” he added.

If a person is married or in a civil partnership, their estate can be passed on tax free to their partner, but this is not the case for co-habiting couples, who will be liable for a 40% inheritance tax (IHT) on estates worth more than the current threshold. 

Capital gains tax (CGT)

Married couples or couples in a civil partnership are able to pass property to each other on a no gain, no loss basis when it comes to CGT.

“This means that if you pass property to your partner, no CGT is payable regardless of whether it was transferred as a gift or sold for value, meaning they receive the asset at your base cost,” Claridge explained.

“Meanwhile, there is no equivalent for cohabiting couples as any gift between the couple will be at a deemed market value and so is potentially liable to CGT.”

Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash

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