Staggered stamp duty would smooth out sales lumps

Ashley Wassall

Those tell-tale signs of a short-lived season are in the air. Or, more accurately, they are in my inbox.

Those familiar press releases are beginning to land that herald the start of the week-and-a-bit long ‘Budget prediction’ season, as eager communications teams seek to get their resident experts cited among the ‘calls’ and ‘urges’ that dominate press columns at this time of year.

If that all sounds rather more prurient than it might then console yourself, dear reader, that this is all rendered largely impotent these days by the ‘pre-announcements’ (political jargon for ‘leaks’) that tend to mean we know 90 per cent of what will be said before George adopts his magisterial pose at the Ballet Box.

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With the invariable exception of a ‘surprise’ announcement that few tend to predict - it wouldn’t be very surprising if they did - that all Chancellors keep up their sleeve until the last minute, if you haven’t heard it mentioned already, it is unlikely to happen.

In all likelihood that then means we will see no action on a policy suggestion from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants for a reform of stamp duty rules to remove the prohibitive “cliff-edge” that hampers many from getting on the housing ladder.

Which is a great shame, because the change to align the mechanism for applying stamp duty with that used for income tax is a fantastic idea.

As it stands, stamp duty is applied - similarly to income tax - in bands: there is no tax payable on properties worth less than £125,000; a 1 per cent band applies up to £250,000; 3 per cent up to £500,000; 4 per cent up to £1m; and 5 per cent above £2m.

For the average house buyer, particularly in south-east England where I’m currently house-hunting, the 1 per cent to 3 per cent jump creates a line of demarcation that, for many, will tip a property from affordable into distinctly unaffordable.

On a property worth £250,000 the stamp duty payable is £2,500 - on a property with a value just £1 higher the tax bill more than trebles to just higher than £7,500.

Add this to the £12,550 (5 per cent) deposit the buyer will have to find at a minimum to qualify even for a fairly punitive near 5 per cent Help to Buy mortgage rate and at least £1,500 in legal fees, and you have a total bill of £21,580 before moving or other miscellaneous costs.

Make no mistake, this is affecting ‘average’ housebuyers: The average house price across the south-east excluding London was £267,682 as at Q3 last year, according to Nationwide.

As one who is currently coveting the virtual and physical estate agent windows I can tell you from experience this lumpy tax application also creates commensurate lumps in the valuations of marketed properties.

Consider that on Rightmove at the moment in my area there are 27 listed houses valued at between £250,000 and £260,000, only one of which is not exactly or within £5 of being at either of the extremes of that range.