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  • An academic drive to stamp out Stamp Duty Land Tax?

    15 November 2017

    Andy Wood

    An academic drive to stamp out Stamp Duty Land Tax?

    Towards the end of the year, as the nights draw in, we often find ourselves reflecting not only on the course of the preceding 12 months but musing on the events of previous years.

    I recently found myself remembering the Sunday evening ritual which was listening to the counting down of places in the pop charts.

    With just a week until the Budget, some of Britain’s national daily are working themselves into a lather about rankings of their own, involving matters rather less trivial than the weekly placings of the nation’s favourite songs.

    Countless column inches are expended in consideration of what the UK’s most popular tax might be.

    Whilst I imagine that Inheritance Tax (IHT) would take some shifting from an unwanted number one position, I reckon that Stamp Duty Land Tax wouldn’t be too far behind.

    It’s never too far from the headlines or the order of business in the House of Commons and, as a result, features with unavoidable frequency on the pages of this ‘blog.

    In July, we wrote about one of the consequences of Government attempts to use Stamp Duty Land Tax in order to check the amount of UK property snapped up by wealthy foreign nationals; namely, a slowing in the housing market.

    Last month, it emerged that prospective homebuyers were having potential purchases put in jeopardy because of the length of time taken to receive advice by HMRC itself on Stamp Duty Land Tax – and that was after the Revenue’s customer services had been given a thrashing by MPs on the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, experts have now proposed that this most unlikeable of taxes should not be tweaked once more but scrapped altogether.

    A report published by the London School of Economics has claimed that Stamp Duty Land Tax  is “suffocating” property sales and amounts to a “heavy, immediate tax on transactions that contributes to England’s dysfunctional housing market”.

    The same study recommends that a “brave government” should replace Stamp Duty Land Tax with a beefed up version of council which, the LSE believes, would probably generate as much income for the Treasury anyway.

    I and others have already remarked on the complex, shifting nature of Stamp Duty Land Tax – in part, the fault of the then Chancellor George Osborne’s switch from what he described as the “slab” system of old to a new “slice” method that he intended to reflect the individual value and number of homes owned but, in fact, has wrought much more confusion.

    That uncertainty is perhaps one reason why HMRC made SDLT refunds of £80 million during 2016-17 with a further £105 million already repaid in the current financial year to date.

    It remains to be seen whether, in the dash for income, Philip Hammond and colleagues at the Treasury are as bold and as “brave” as the LSE demands when rounding off the checklist of contents of the Budget which is imminent.

    I actually think that, although it would be a welcome development, it’s rather unlikely.

    Were it come about, however, Mr Hammond would not just arguably make himself among the most popular of all politicians as well as being a candidate for a slew of reality TV programmes and the next England football manager too.

    Still, as Christmas is almost upon us, we can always dream, can’t we?