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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 December 2006, 15:05 GMT
A costly legacy for home owners
By Paul Burnell
BBC Real Story

Loseley Hall and a semi detached house
A stately home and semi detached can be liable for IHT

Once it was only those who owned stately homes who had to worry about inheritance tax.

Rising house prices mean your heirs could be landed with a massive tax bill for a standard semi-detached house.

Once a house is valued above 285,000, it is liable for IHT.

BBC One's Real Story has been hearing how fears about paying this tax cut across classes.

Michael More-Molyneux's family have owned Loseley House since it was built in 1562 for Queen Elizabeth I - the monarch stayed there four times.

"If I was to die and not hand it over, there would be a huge amount of tax to pay and that would seriously hurt the estate," says Mr More-Molyneux

"It is important for us as a family that our son takes over."

Michael More-Molyneux
If I was to die and not hand it over, there would be a huge amount of tax to pay
Michael More-Molyneux

The solution could be painful - moving out of the house in order to let his son move in.

Another family - but with lesser means - are the Butlers, who also own a property where their ancestors have lived for hundreds of years.

Three generations live in two cottages on farmland, which has been in the family since the 17th Century.

David Butler and his son Michael carry on a traditional joinery business, continuing a family tradition of physical toil.

"These people worked hard to built this place and keep it, generation after generation," says his wife Margaret. "I'm worried it is going to go.

"Michael is going to be landed with a big, big bill when anything happens to David and myself, which is sad because there are not many families who can say that their house has been handed down generation after generation."

Daughter's dilemma

Michael says his family took out a 100,000 mortgage when his grandfather died to pay the tax.

He could face a bill of at least 300,000 - and finding that kind of money would be "ridiculous".

David Butler
David Butler's family have lived in their cottage since the 17th Century

But it is also a dilemma facing Sue Stemson and her mother Dorothy, who have lived in their modest semi-detached in Barnet, Hertfordshire, for nearly 40 years.

The house is worth more than 300,000 - at least 15,000 above the IT threshold - and rising.

Sue is angry that she could have to leave her house when her 84-year-old mother dies.

"We have a government that keeps telling us that we should be sorting out our old age, young people should be looking to their old age and we've got to work until we are 70 and you have to have money to keep you in your old age and they are going to take all mine away from me in Inheritance Tax," she says.

Mother and daughter rejected the option of moving to a cheaper place.

"Mother loves the house and it would be such an upheaval," she says.

'Minority problem'

Campaigners hope that Chancellor Gordon Brown might be moved by the pleas of people such as Dorothy and Sue, but Ed Balls, the economic secretary to the Treasury, seems unmoved.

Sue Stemson and her mother Dorothy
We used to think inheritance tax was only for rich people
Sue Stemson

"The facts are that every year there are 600,000 people dying and leaving money," he says. "Of these, only 6% pay IHT.

"The vast majority pay no IHT and are rightly able to give their money on to their children or to charity without paying any tax."

He argues that if the tax were abolished, the revenue raised might have to come from rises in taxes, such as fuel duty, or spending cuts on schools and hospitals.

Mr Balls said the government planned to increase the threshold to 325,000 by 2008. But for many families, there is the fear that it will not keep pace with the burgeoning property market.

"We used to think inheritance tax was only for rich people - that's why we never used to worry about it - but here we are stuck with a white elephant," says Sue Stemson.

See the full story on BBC One: Real Story Wed 6 Dec 1930GMT.

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