Mortgages  

SNP and Lib Dems claim stamp duty reform responsibility

In the wake of yesterday’s Autumn Statement from the Conservative chancellor George Osborne, other political parties have claimed their own victories, particularly around the headline stamp duty reform.

Mr Osborne promised that the stamp duty overhaul will cut the tax bill for 98 per cent of house purchasers, who from today (4 December) will be subject to graduated rather than ‘slab’ taxes on property purchase.

Deputy first minister and Scottish National Party finance secretary John Swinney responded to the announcement by noting that the Scottish government had already pledged to reform the UK Stamp Duty Land Tax and replace it with a Land and Buildings Transaction Tax from April 2015.

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“I am delighted to see on the first occasion I’ve had to design a tax system for Scotland, the UK government copies it instantaneously and applies it across the UK – imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery.”

However, he explained that under the proposals north of the border, no tax will be paid on any property purchase up to £135,000 taking 5,000 properties out of taxation.

“The chancellor has had years – and ample opportunity – to redesign the old, outdated stamp duty system which caused unfair tax hikes and distorted the market. However, the chancellor has waited to be guided by Scotland and is now following our lead.”

Mr Osborne’s coalition partners the Liberal Democrats also took the opportunity to point out that this was a policy they had long campaigned for.

“It has been a long standing Liberal Democrat party policy to help first-time buyers and make it easier for people to move house when they want to,” read a party statement.

“The changes will also help aspirational homeowners who want to move up the property ladder,” it added.

As for the opposition, Labour’s shadow chancellor Ed Balls’ response to the Autumn Statement was light on reference to the stamp duty changes, instead focusing his questions on living standards and wages, tax receipts and borrowing, growth and immigration, and taxation and the health service.

He stated: “What we have seen today from the chancellor, with his stamp duty reforms, he has now accepted, welcomingly, that high value properties are under-taxed in our country. But rather than taxing them only on sale, why doesn’t he have the courage of his convictions?

“The average person pays 390 times more in annual council tax, as a percentage of their property, than the billionaire buyer of a £140m penthouse in Hyde Park,” Mr Balls continued, suggesting that the chancellor should instead levy an annual charge on the highest value properties and use that for extra NHS funding.

peter.walker@ft.com