British house prices rose at the fastest annual rate since early 2017 in the three months to the end of June, mortgage lender Halifax said on Friday, adding to other signs that the housing market has stabilized after weakening on Brexit worries.

House prices were up by 5.7% in the three months to June compared with the same period a year ago after rising by 5.2% in the three months to May, Halifax said on Friday. A Reuters poll of economists had pointed to a 5.9% rise.  Halifax cautioned that the annual increase was flattered by weak price growth in the corresponding period in 2018. In monthly terms, prices fell by 0.3% after a rise of 0.4% in May. Commentators said the housing market was displaying a reasonable degree of resilience in the face of political and economic uncertainty. Other measures of house prices have shown smaller increases than Halifax recently — with prices in London falling — but have also suggested a bottoming out in the market after a slowdown linked to worries about Brexit.  Halifax’s measure of annual house price growth had been growing by nearly 10% a year at the time of the 2016 referendum. However, the expectation is that If the UK ultimately leaves the EU without a deal – be it on Oct. 31 or some other time – house prices could quickly drop around 5% amid heightened uncertainty and weakened economic activity.

Sin tax freeze a sign of things to come?

Boris Johnson faced an angry backlash over his plan to freeze levies on unhealthy food and drink products pending a review into whether they are effective. The Tory leadership frontrunner was condemned by health groups, doctors and MPs after announcing the proposal on so-called “sin taxes”. Tory MP Steve Brine, who was public health minister when the tax was introduced, accused Mr Johnson of “transparent dog whistle politics dressed up as something thinking.” The former foreign secretary hit back, claiming that extending the tax to milkshakes would be paid disproportionately by poorer families. The Guardian’s view is that the more plausible beneficiary of any slowdown on the sugar tax is, of course, the food and drinks industry which strenuously opposed the levy. Note that one of Johnson’s advisers is Will Walden of the lobbying firm Edelman, among whose clients is Coca-Cola – a company which has made the case for rethinking the sugar tax. Team Johnson denies Walden was involved in the policy shift. The paper goes further to suggest that this policy gives us a useful preview of the Johnson premiership to come. First, there will be cabinet splits aplenty, as Johnson cheerfully undermines or tramples on the detailed policy work of his ministers. Second, they claim, we are likely to see a very specific Johnsonian brand of populism, in which he purports to stand up for the little guy against the wagging finger of the nanny state and the PC-brigade. He will suggest that he’s on a mission to cheer us all up, against the po-faced directives of a varying cast of hand-picked enemies, whether at the BBC, Brussels or the Bank of England, who boringly urge prudence or caution. And for all the talk of representing the poorest or “the people”, his proposed action will be of greatest benefit to the powerful.

Self-assessment fines on the rise

HMRC has fined 14% more people year-on-year for late self-assessment tax filing, leaving well-intentioned taxpayers frustrated. “The pool of people at risk of being fined for late payment is now bigger than ever as self-employment continues to grow,” said Tim Woodgates, associate and tax specialist at Moore Stephens. “UK taxpayers are feeling the pinch. As a result, some do not have the money to pay the tax bill on time, even though they want to.” In 2015/16, 291,000 taxpayers were penalised for late payments, while that figure jumped to 331,000 in 2016/17 (the latest full year available). In 2017/18, HMRC has already raised 233,000 fines says Moore Stephens. The jump in fines may be attributed to the record number of self-employed individuals, which has soared by 180,000 in just one year to make a grand total of 4.93m in March 2019. Moore Stephens suggests that new taxpayers are unfamiliar with tax deadlines and suffer as a result while appeals are increasingly in vain. If the taxpayer is 30 days or more late in paying their tax returns, they are issued with a fine of 5% of all the outstanding tax. At six months, they are issued with a further fine of 5% of all the tax due at that date, and repeated again at 12 months.

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