A Proposal to Improve the VAT Treatment of Housing in the European Union

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Series Details Vol.32, No.4, December 2012, p455-481
Publication Date December 2011
ISSN 0143-5671
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The treatment of housing is one of the most difficult issues under the VATs in the EU. Ideally, rents and rental values should be taxed just like other consumer goods and services, but doing so would present formidable practical and political difficulties. Under a second-best approach, the value of newly created residential (and other) property is taxed as a proxy for the VAT that should be payable on the flow of housing (building) services. This implies, however, that future increases (and decreases) in the value of the exempt property are left out of the VAT base. To remedy this defect, this paper recommends taxing the increases (refunding the tax related to decreases) realised at the time of sale of the exempt used property. This VAT should replace the current transfer, registration and stamp duties, which are highly distortionary. Beyond that, the VATs in various member states can be improved by limiting the exemption for all used immovable property to housing, by taxing land and by applying the standard rate more widely than is currently the case.

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