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Bag a luxury holiday home getaway for free with a house swap

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Having difficulty finding a summer break? How to bag a luxury holiday home getaway for free with a house swap

Holidaymakers searching for a summer break have a tough challenge this year. Foreign travel restrictions due to Covid have thrown plans into disarray and UK accommodation is filling up quickly. 

But for those looking for a cheap getaway as Covid restrictions are lifted from tomorrow, a house swap might be just the answer. Such an arrangement allows you to stay at someone else’s home at no cost while over the same time period they stay at yours. 

The concept is built on trust: you look after their home as if it were your own, knowing they are doing the same for yours. 

Saving: Simon and Jane Perkin (pictured) – swapping their home in the Midlands for stays in Bath, Edinburgh and the Brecon Beacons

Saving: Simon and Jane Perkin (pictured) – swapping their home in the Midlands for stays in Bath, Edinburgh and the Brecon Beacons

You do not need to live in a fancy mansion or penthouse to do a house swap. In fact, so many are looking for a change of scenery after months of restrictions, that we are simply happy to be somewhere – anywhere – different. 

A key appeal of swapping homes is that it need not be like-for-like. A humble rural retreat might be just the ticket for someone living in a property close to lots of amenities – and vice versa.

To find a house swap, start by asking family and friends if they would consider a week or two in your home in exchange for the same length of time at theirs. 

If nothing suits, you could consider using a specialist website such as HomeLink UK, Love Home Swap or HomeExchange. 

These charge an annual subscription to share details among thousands of like-minded people looking for a swap. 

No money changes hands. You both agree to use each other’s household energy and internet, as well as a few extras, perhaps such as access to bikes and games. 

It’s more fun than a hotel 

Simon and Jane Perkin have planned four free holidays this year

Simon and Jane Perkin have planned four free holidays this year

Simon and Jane Perkin have planned four free holidays this year – thanks to house swaps. 

They are swapping stays at their four-bedroom house in Warwickshire for holidays in the Brecon Beacons, Peak District, Bath and Edinburgh. 

Simon, Jane and their son Ed have enjoyed house swaps through HomeLink UK for more than a decade. 

Simon, a business and wellbeing consultant, says: ‘It has opened up a wonderful world of luxury holidays and fabulous short city breaks – saving us thousands of pounds. We find it is often more relaxing and fun than staying in an impersonal hotel.’ 

He adds that house swaps have a few hidden benefits. ‘Having someone in your home can help deter burglars, and guests can sometimes help out with watering the garden and even feeding pets,’ he says.

Household buildings and contents insurance should cover for any accidental breakages or damage. 

However, to be extra safe it might be worth considering additional cover using a specialist insurer such as Guardhog, where you typically pay from £1.50 a day to protect against guest damage and public liability.

Caroline Connolly, a director at HomeLink UK, says house swaps are built on friendship and trust, and as such can be a much happier arrangement than paying for accommodation. ‘There is no dreaded Tripadvisor critical customer mentality because both sides want nothing more than to be a good guest,’ she says. 

HomeLink UK has seen twice the number of homeowners signing up this year. The most sought-after destinations include Cornwall, and coastal areas around North Yorkshire, Norfolk and the South of England. 

However, there is also strong demand for a modest change of scenery, which means you do not have to live in a palace to enjoy trading places with a likeminded family. 

Subscription fees for an outfit such as HomeLink, with 8,000 properties on its books, are usually £115 a year. 

This year, HomeLink UK has offered a special discount of a £50 subscription for new members who only want a break in Britain and are happy limiting themselves to a choice from 700 homes. HomeExchange charges $150 a year (£110) and Love Home Swap starts at £96 a year. 

While you do not have to live in a show home to do a swap, it is important to keep it clean, comfortable and welcoming. 

Because of the pandemic, it is essential to clean all work surfaces and make sanitisers available throughout. 

It also helps to be flexible in these challenging times. ‘It has been wonderful to see how understanding people have been over the past few months,’ says Connolly. ‘But because of the pandemic it might be necessary to cancel or rearrange at short notice.’ 

A few simple ground rules should also be set to avoid any confusion or problems occurring. 

When agreeing a house swap, you should sign a contract laying out rules and a clear understanding of what to do in the event of a problem, such as a last-minute change of dates or if something valuable is accidentally broken. You might also like to exchange references through a house swap agency.

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Varakar says law on right to seek remote working can ‘change the culture’

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Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that a proposed law giving people the right to request remote working arrangements will mean employers are more likely to grant them for fear of being brought to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC).

Mr Varadkar said he believes the legislation can “change the culture” and that employers will embrace it.

The general scheme of a Bill to provide for remote working will be brought to the Cabinet on Tuesday by Minister for Enterprise Mr Varadkar. It will set out a legal framework whereby an employer can either approve or reject a request to work remotely from an employee.

Under the plans – which Mr Varadkar hopes to have enacted in the next couple of months – there will be an independent appeals process through the WRC.

Speaking ahead of the publication of the outline of the legislation Mr Varadkar said it will require employers to take a request seriously, to respond within a defined timeframe and “to give a good reason that actually stacks up if they were challenged.”

He added: “It can change the culture and move the dial so that employers will be more likely to say yes for fear of being taken to the WRC or to court if they say no.”

Embrace

Mr Varadkar predicted that “the vast majority of employers are going to embrace this.”

He added: “Everyone sees the benefits of home working/remote working – reduced traffic, reduced crowding in office spaces and also it’s very much an employees’ market at the moment.

“Employers are finding it really hard to hire staff and retain staff and it makes sense I think if you’re an employer or running a business to embrace new models of working because that’s how you’re going to get staff. It’s also how you’re going to keep staff.”

The Labour Party has argued that the Government’s plans will not go far enough with employment spokeswoman Senator Maire Sherlock saying the Government must guarantee the right to flexible work.

Mr Varadkar said the Bill won’t do this.

He said there was a lot of work done with the Attorney General and “Government can only interfere in contracts that employers and employees have signed to a certain extent.”

He also pointed out that remote working isn’t always going to be possible.

“It’s going to be very difficult to do in education, in healthcare, in manufacturing, hospitality for example.

“What we want to do is get to a position whereby remote working/home working becomes a choice and that employers facilitate that provided the business gets done and provided public services don’t suffer.”

Important day

Mr Varadkar said that Monday – the start of the phased return to workplaces – “is an important day as we learn to live with Covid, as we move from the emergency phase into a phase where we return to some semblance of normality.”

He said that the Government does not want things to go back to the old normal.

“We want to see more remote working, more home working, more hybrid working”.

Mr Varadkar said that there was a meeting of Government officials, unions and employer groups on Monday and it was agreed that there will be a new work safety protocol that will offer guidelines on the return to work over the coming weeks.

He said: “We’ll try to make permanent some of those things that were always a good idea in a work place such as good air quality to reduce the risk of the transmission of viruses, hygiene, avoiding overcrowding and that work is very much underway”.

He expects the updated protocol to be published by the end of the week.

Mr Varadkar was also asked about plans for an inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and he said the Government have to discuss what form it will take.

He said no decision has been made on the model of the inquiry but “ it is important that we have one that allows us to learn the lessons.

“Relative to other countries Ireland handled the pandemic well – I think everyone acknowledges that when you look at the numbers.

“But we didn’t get everything right either and I think it’s important that we have an inquiry that is not about blaming people or pointing the finger but is about working out what we did right, what we wrong and what we could do better so that we’re prepared if there is a resurgence in the virus or if there is a pandemic caused for a different reason.”

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Patrizia invests in logistics property near Milan (IT)

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Patrizia AG has acquired a newly built cold storage logistics asset near Milan, Italy, from Savills Investment Management. The 31,000m² cold storage asset was completed in Q2 2021 and is fully let to Kuhne & Nagel, a leading pan-European 3rd party logistics company, and Movi.Log Srl, a frozen food distributor, with a WALT of 7.5 years. The property has been built to a high specification with sprinklers, elevations and ample refrigeration space that has a temperature range between 4°C and -28 °C. Sustainability was a key consideration during its development. The asset includes two photovoltaic plants for a total power capacity of 2.5MW and is targeting a BREEAM rating.

 

The property is located in Casorate Primo, a municipality in Lombardy between the cities of Milan and Pavia, a prime industrial and logistics location in northern Italy. It benefits from excellent transport connectivity via the nearby A7 motorway which connects Milan with Genoa and enables access to France and Switzerland.

 

Pierluigi Scialanga, Head of Transactions at Patrizia Italy, commented: “The property is well located and has excellent sustainability credentials, while lettings to tenants with strong covenants will deliver long term reliable returns. Our Italian AUM has grown significantly in recent years to now over €1bn with plans to grow further. Logistics is a strategic sector for Patrizia Italy. We have so far invested €400m in logistics and have a pipeline of a further €160m of logistics transactions which we are completing.”

 

Rob Brook, Head of Alternative Investments and Head of Logistics at Patrizia, added: “Cold chain is an exciting area of logistics for Patrizia to be involved in. Demand is predicted to grow steadily in the next few years, especially due to a growing need for reliable supply chains for biopharmaceuticals, vaccines and clinical trials. High demand across Europe combined with low vacancy rates makes cold chain logistics an ideal growth area for the future.”

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Crackdown on second home and holiday let tax dodgers

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The Government is cracking down on second home owners who claim their properties are holiday lets for tax purposes.

Communities secretary Michael Gove is set to close a tax loophole which has allowed second home owners to avoid thousands of pounds per year in taxes, without proving that the property was ever rented out. 

The new rules will target those who register their holiday lets as small businesses, meaning they are eligible for business rates instead of council tax.

But the majority pay no business rates at all under the system, because they have ‘rateable values’ of under £12,000 based on the property’s rents, size and usage. 

Crackdown: Those registering second homes as businesses could fall foul of new rules

Crackdown: Those registering second homes as businesses could fall foul of new rules

A second home can be registered as a small business if it will be available as a holiday let for 140 days or more in the coming year.  

However, there is currently no requirement to provide evidence that a property has actually been let out, leaving the system open to abuse. 

This has caused anger in areas that have lots of second homes, such as Devon, Cornwall and the Lake District, as some locals believe property owners are not paying their fair share towards council services.

According to Ray Boulger of mortgage broker John Charcol: ‘Some 97 per cent of the 65,000 holiday let properties in England have rateable values of under £12,000, which means they qualify for small business rates relief and pay no rates at all.’

The new rules aim to change this by ensuring that only those properties which are actually rented out for 70 days per year, and available to rent for 140 days, get the tax break. 

Kurt Jansen, director of the Tourism Alliance said: ‘It makes a very important distinction between commercial self-catering businesses that provide revenue and employment for local communities, and holiday homes which lie vacant for most of the year.’

This is Money explains how the new system will work, and how second home and holiday let owners can make sure they are following the rules. 

Locals in UK holiday spots have expressed anger at second home owners, who they say are not contributing their fair share to the community and services via council tax payments

Locals in UK holiday spots have expressed anger at second home owners, who they say are not contributing their fair share to the community and services via council tax payments

What do the new rules say? 

The rules are based on the amount of days a property is rented out in each tax year. 

To qualify for business rates instead of council tax, the new legislation will require second home owners to prove their property will be available for ‘commercial short term, self-catering rentals’ for at least 140 days in the coming year. 

They will also need to prove that, in the previous year, it was available for letting for 140 days and actually rented out for at least 70 days. 

This is designed to prevent second home owners from registering their properties as small businesses, and then not actually renting them out.  

‘We will not stand by and allow people in privileged positions to abuse the system by unfairly claiming tax relief and leaving local people counting the cost,’ said Gove when he announced the policy. 

‘The action we are taking will create a fairer system, ensuring that second homeowners are contributing their share to the local services they benefit from.’

Anger among locals has increased since the start of the pandemic, as wealthy people snapped up UK holiday lets when travelling abroad was not allowed. 

Exempt: As they are assessed differently to bricks and mortar properties, caravans being used as holiday lets will not come under the government's new second home tax rules

Exempt: As they are assessed differently to bricks and mortar properties, caravans being used as holiday lets will not come under the government’s new second home tax rules

What counts as a holiday let?  

The business rates rules for holiday lets only apply to buildings, or self-contained parts of buildings, that would otherwise be assessed for council tax. 

Caravans will not generally be subject to the rules, as they are usually assessed for business rates under a different system to bricks and mortar buildings. 

When it comes to counting the days that a property was rented out, the government says that only days where the property was occupied at the end of the day should be included.

So if a property was let out from Friday evening to Sunday morning, it would have been let for two days for the purposes of meeting the holiday lets criteria.

Is this definitely going ahead, and when will the rules come into force?

The government has concluded its consultation on the new policy, which started before the pandemic in 2018. It plans to implement the changes from 1 April 2023. 

However, the legislation needed to do so has not yet been passed in parliament.

While the government has made clear its intention to enshrine the new rules in law, they are not set in stone just yet. 

How much would I pay under each system?

Small businesses can find their rateable value on the Government website. 

Those with a rateable value of below £12,000 are not eligible for business rates, while those with a value of up to £15,000 pay special tapered rates. 

For those with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000, they will need to multiply that value by 49.9p to find out their rateable value. They can then subtract any discounts that they may be entitled to, which the government details here

Those with a rateable value of more than £51,000 will follow the same calculation, but with a higher multiple of 51.2p.  

As for council tax, second homes are charged at the same rate as main residences. 

Individual councils may decide to give a discount for second homes, or on homes that have been empty for two years. Owners should contact their council to find out if this is available.

Under the new rules, the government has said there will be no rate or council tax discount for those with lots of properties.  

What if I have a new holiday let with no proof of lettings for last year?

Those acquiring a new holiday let and wanting to register for business rates will not be able to prove that their property was available to let for 140 days and actually let for 70 days in the past year, as required by the new rules. 

Until the owner can provide that proof, they will be subject to council tax – meaning most will need to pay that for at least the first year of their ownership. 

After that, they can ask the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) for a business rates assessment. 

This is the government body that handles everything to do with business rates, and it will be responsible for policing the new rules once they come in to force. 

Don't lie low: Property owners who don't think their property meets the new letting rules, but who are paying business rates, are advised to inform the VOA as soon as possible

Don’t lie low: Property owners who don’t think their property meets the new letting rules, but who are paying business rates, are advised to inform the VOA as soon as possible

I don’t think my property will meet the criteria for last year. What should I do?

Some holiday let or second home owners will not be able to prove that their property was available to let for 140 days and actually let for 70 days in the past year. 

The government says people in this position ‘should notify the VOA as soon as possible, so that their property can be assessed as domestic and revert accordingly to (or be given) a council tax valuation.’ 

It adds that failure to do so could result in a large, backdated council tax bill.

How will it be policed?

When seeking a new business rates valuation after April 2023, second home owners will need to provide evidence that their property was let or available to let for the required periods.  

The government has said will communicate the exact method for collecting evidence before the new rules come into effect.

However, this is expected to include things like the property being listed on rental websites, and evidence of payments from guests.  

‘Evidence of lettings will be required, such as at least one website or brochure used to advertise the property and letting details and receipts,’ says Boulger. 

Those already paying business rates on their holiday let or second home, and who meet the letting requirements, do not need to submit anything. 

However, they should ensure that they have evidence of the last year’s lettings by April 2023, as the VOA may ask for them at any time. 

‘The only impact the new rules will have on genuine holiday let properties might be the need to provide the evidence outlined above, but this information should be readily available for the owner’s tax return,’ says Boulger. 

What if the property is used by family and friends?

Those who regularly allow family and friends to use their properties for free could find they are no longer eligible to register as a small business under the new rules. 

The government says lettings counted in the 70-day period must be on a ‘commercial basis’ at ‘market rates’ and that ‘lettings to friends or relatives at zero or nominal rents will not be covered.’ 

No more mates rates? Money will need to change hands when the property is let, or it will not be counted as a holiday letting under the government's new 70-day rule

No more mates rates? Money will need to change hands when the property is let, or it will not be counted as a holiday letting under the government’s new 70-day rule

Of course, if there are 70 days of commercial lettings on top of discounted ones to friends and family, this will not be a problem.  

Boulger says owners should still be able to rent to people they know at a small discount as part of the 70 days, for example if they are deducting the fees that a listings website would normally charge for a letting via their platform. 

‘It should not prevent the owner offering a reasonable discount to family on friends if, for example, they can avoid the normal commission otherwise payable to the sites advertising their property,’ he says.    

What are the rules outside of England?

Wales has already had similar rules for holiday lets in place since 2010, and the new legislation will bring England in line with those.

The Scottish government is also set to introduce a requirement that holiday lets are rented for 70 days and available for 140 days in a given year, following a consultation called the Barclay Review. 

These rules are set to come into force from 1 April 2022. 

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