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Why do we want to reduce the tax on landlords and increase it on consumers?

Summary:
We’ve been watching this campaign to change business rates with horror:An online sales tax would push up prices for consumers, the British retail industry lobby group has warned, after it emerged that Rishi Sunak is exploring plans for a levy to protect high street shops from mounting competition. Against a backdrop of rising retail job losses and store closures triggered by the coronavirus crisis, the chancellor is looking at taxing internet shopping for England as a potential replacement for business rates, the levy on companies based on the premises they occupy.The horror stemming from the fact that the entire debate is based upon an assumption which is wrong. Known to be wrong too. It isn’t the retailers, the occupants, who pay the business rates, it’s the landlords.Sure, the financial

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We’ve been watching this campaign to change business rates with horror:

An online sales tax would push up prices for consumers, the British retail industry lobby group has warned, after it emerged that Rishi Sunak is exploring plans for a levy to protect high street shops from mounting competition.

Against a backdrop of rising retail job losses and store closures triggered by the coronavirus crisis, the chancellor is looking at taxing internet shopping for England as a potential replacement for business rates, the levy on companies based on the premises they occupy.

The horror stemming from the fact that the entire debate is based upon an assumption which is wrong. Known to be wrong too. It isn’t the retailers, the occupants, who pay the business rates, it’s the landlords.

Sure, the financial incidence is upon the tenant. But the economic incidence - whose wallet really gets lighter - rapidly switches to it being the landlords. There is the IFS paper on this:

These results suggest that much of the burden of business rates is shifted on to property owners in the long run.

And the Regeneris report which was actually prepared for - and presumably read by - the British Property Federation:

The evidence suggests that over period a period of two to three years approximately 75% of the value of business rate change is capitalised into rents.

That last rather understates the effect as the average rent review is only every three years and clearly, when rents are already set changes in rates won’t affect them.

This is something we know. Rates are paid ultimately by landlords, not tenants. Therefore a change in business rates is a change in the taxation of landlords, not tenants.

A sales tax is of course a tax upon consumers.

So, the proposal is that we should tax landlords less and consumers more. Why would we want to do that?

Sure, we grasp this from the landlord’s point of view. They’re a concentrated interest and so are more interested - and thus work harder at it - than the dispersed one of all of us consumers out here. But other than that what’s the point of this change?

Or rather, by what logic should we desire this change? Given that we can’t see any wider benefit we’re against the change. What horrifies us though is that everyone in the debate either does or should know where the incidence lies. So why isn’t there more opposition. why are we the only - as far as we can see at least - voices crying in this wilderness? Perhaps more to the point why hasn’t someone pointed this out to the Chancellor?

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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