Figari, F., Paulus, A., Sutherland, H., Tsakloglou, P., Verbist, G., Zantomio, F. (2017).
Removing homeownership bias in taxation: the distributional effects of including net imputed rent in taxable income. Fiscal Studies, vol. 38(4), pp. 525–557.
The income tax systems of most countries entail a favourable treatment of homeownership, compared to rental-occupied housing. Such ‘homeownership bias’ and its consequences for a wide range of economic outcomes have long been recognised in the economic literature. Although a removal of the homeownership bias is generally advocated on efficiency grounds, its distributional implications are often neglected, especially in a cross-country perspective. In this paper, we aim to fill this gap by investigating the first-order effects, in terms of distribution of income and work incentives, of removing the income tax provisions favouring homeownership. We consider six European countries – Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK – that exhibit important variation in terms of income tax treatment of homeowners. Using the multi-country tax benefit model EUROMOD, we analyse the distributional consequences of including net imputed rent in the taxable income definition that applies in each country, together with the removal of existing special tax treatments of incomes or expenses related to the main residence; thus, we provide a measure of the homeownership bias. We implement three tax policy scenarios. In the first, imputed rent is included in the taxable income of homeowners, while at the same time existing mortgage interest tax relief schemes and taxation of cadastral incomes are abolished. In the two further revenue-neutral scenarios, the additional tax revenue raised through the taxation of imputed rent is redistributed to taxpayers, through either a tax rate reduction or a tax exemption increase. The results show how including net imputed rent in the tax base might affect inequality in each of the countries considered. Housing taxation appears to be a promising avenue for raising additional revenues, or lightening taxation of labour, with no inequality-increasing side effects.