Supporting historic houses
THE Minister for the Arts and Heritage, Heather Humphreys, is undertaking a review of the current tax relief to owners of ‘historic’ properties and is inviting submissions from concerned parties before the end of March. According to the Minister, there are up to 2,000 historic properties across the country which are not just historically significant but are also important assets to local communities which can help to drive tourism and economic activity. But over the past number of years, there has been an average of only 150 owners of such properties in receipt of tax relief at a total cost to the Revenue of approximately €3 million per annum.
To qualify for tax relief, a property must have a Determination from the OPW that it is intrinsically of significant scientific, historical, architectural or aesthetic interest and a Determination from the Revenue that reasonable access to the building is afforded to the public and the owner’s tax affairs are in order. In effect this means that access is afforded for at least 60 days in the year with viewing times of at least four hours each day. So why have less than 10% of the owners been availing of this current tax relief?
There are two fairly distinct categories of owners here which the Minister’s review should consider separately. The first group are the owners of genuinely ‘historic’ or at least very substantial properties whose overall position has improved in recent years thanks to the involvement of the Irish Heritage Trust, the Irish Landmark Trust and of private investment in such historic houses as Westport House, Humewood, Lyons House and Lissadell, although a cap has been put on the tax relief for any one property.
However the second and more numerous grouping is that of period houses whose owners are sometimes defined as asset rich but income poor and whose properties are often located at some distance from the main tourists routes. The present tax reliefs are of little benefit to many of these who may be occupying a large house but have insufficient income to repair and maintain it. While acknowledging that the owners must supply some ‘public benefit’ if they want to get any relief at all, the challenge for the authorities is to develop a more flexible system that could establish a wider set of qualifications to meet the Revenue’s requirements. These should be broad enough to allow at least 500 owners of properties of significant aesthetic interest to qualify for tax relief and/or any particular grants that may become available. The Irish Heritage Trust (see Irish Arts Review Winter 2016) has found that the key to its work in the regeneration of such historic estates as Fota, Strokestown and now Johnstown Castle, is community involvement. Thereby lies the best hope for the owners of smaller period houses who could broaden the ‘public benefit’ aspect of their tax relief claims through wider participation in community tourist activity.
In the Spring 2017 Edition of the Irish Arts Review (Subscribe here):