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Spread of Delta variant causing growing concern in Government

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Spread of the coronavirus Delta variant is causing growing concern in Government with fears of a “spill over” of infections from the United Kingdom.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and HSE chief executive Paul Reid highlighted the highly transmissible mutation. And they urged the public to be cautious as a fourth wave of Covid-19 infection looms.

Despite concern over the impact of Delta, work is continuing on plans to reopen indoor hospitality services with an expectation that legislation to facilitate this will be fast-tracked through the Oireachtas next week.

Proposals which would mean people who have been fully vaccinated, or have recently recovered from Covid-19, able to eat and drink inside restaurants and pubs are seen as the most likely way to resume indoor services.

Mr Martin offered no firm date for when such services will reopen.

The hospitality sector is still pushing for a resumption on July 19th, the same day non-essential international travel is due to resume.

British prime minister Boris Johnson has said most coronavirus restrictions will lift in England from the same date.

Mr Martin said on Thursday that is he concerned about the “free for all that seems to be developing” in the UK and the implications for Ireland, as what happens there can “spill over fairly quickly”.

“Britain is obviously a sovereign nation and is entitled to make its decisions,” he said. But, he added: “Obviously they do impact on us as well so I think people need to be cautious and careful.”

He said the use of antigen testing on a “population-wide basis” is under consideration if Ireland’s testing and tracing regime comes under strain due to Delta.

Nphet modelling

Hospitalisations are “edging up” and Mr Martin suggested that modelling provided by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) appears to be borne out “particularly in terms of the space between ‘central one’ and ‘central two’ scenarios”. These are based on more social mixing, projecting between 187,000 and 408,000 cases over July, August and September and between 545 and 1,230 deaths.

“What’s happening in Scotland and the UK seems to be bearing out with some of the Nphet modellings so we need to take it seriously,” said Mr Martin.

However, The Irish Times understands that public health officials are revising the modelling scenarios for a fourth wave arising from the deferment of indoor dining and its likely restriction to vaccinated people.

Models under development suggest a much lower risk if indoor dining is confined to the vaccinated, and as a result of the acceleration of the vaccination programme announced last week.

Nphet is expected to brief on the revised models early next week and public health officials are expected to amend their modelling scenarios.

Elsewhere, Mr Reid said the growth of the Delta variant is likely to “outmatch” the supply of vaccines over the coming weeks. He said he wished there was more time, and more supplies, to enable the health service to stay ahead of the increase in cases.

He urged people to be “really careful” over the weeks ahead.


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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. 

Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.

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