Will the Government review the "Stamp Duty" tax?
Britain’s most hated tax is about to be overhauled – although only if you live in Scotland.
However, there are hopes that the replacement of stamp duty north of the border, which will see the end of the hugely unpopular system of “highest rate of tax on the whole amount”, will be copied in the rest of the country.
“There’s a referendum on independence coming up” said Ray Boulger, an expert on the housing market. “It will be an open goal for Alex Salmond if he can say to Scottish voters: look, we abolished this immensely unfair tax as soon as we had the power to do so but the Westminster government is happy to keep it”. To neutralise this threat, the Coalition could announce its own changes to stamp duty before the general election, Mr Boulger added.
Stamp duty is hated for two reasons. First, the amounts involved can be huge, preventing some families from moving when they need a bigger home and making it harder for people to move when they are offered a job in another part of the country.
Second is the unique way in which it is levied. Unlike income tax, say where higher rate taxpayers pay 40% only on that slice of earnings above the threshold, stamp duty is charged at the higher rate on the entire sum if it is above one of the thresholds.
This gives rise to huge jumps in the tax bill at the various thresholds - £125,000m the level at which 1% stamp duty becomes payable; £250,000 where the rate rises to 3%, £500,000 above which 4% is charged; £1m, where the rate is 5% and £2m at which the rate becomes 7%.
For example, if you buy a home for £250,000 just below the £250,001 level at which stamp duty rises from 1% to 3%, your tax bill comes to £2,5001 level at which stamp duty rises from 1% to 3%, your tax bill comes to £2,500. But pay £250,001 and the cost shoots up to £7,500 – an increase of £5,000.
A bill passed by the Scottish Parliament last month scraps this system, replacing it with one that works like income tax. This will get rid of the sudden jumps in tax bills at each threshold. The new law is due to take effect in April 2015.
How likely is it that the Westminster government will follow Holyrood’s lead?
Jeremy Leaf, a north London estate agent and housing spokesman for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said the change in Scotland was “very good news” for the prospect of a similar move in the rest of Britain. “There’s nothing better than showing a new system works in a place so close to home – it’s like having a pilot scheme on your doorstep” he said.
Keith Debholm of Allied Surveyors Scotland said the reform to stamp duty north of the border was “long overdue” and would be relatively easy to introduce in the rest of the UK.
The effect of stamp duty on the housing market has become more acute since the financial crisis. When first-time buyers could get 100% mortgages, saving up the stamp duty didn’t take too long. Now however, deposits of at least 10% are required, with stamp duty on top. Falls in house prices since the pre-crisis peak have also wiped out the equity in many people’s homes. So their savings are needed for a deposit when they move to another property and cannot be used to pay stamp duty.
Paul Gallagher, a tax partner at Ernst & Young Scotland, which wrote a report on the new regime said the Scottish Government had spent a lot of time and effort looking at land taxes around the world in order to come up with the best system. “We would expect the Treasury and HMRC to be looking at it” he said.
A spokesman for the Treasury said it had “no plans” to change stamp duty regime in the rest of the country.