Could Stamp Duty be the big winner from the referendum?

The journey from a Yes:No referendum on Scottish independence to that old chestnut of Stamp Duty reform may seem long and disconnected, but it isn’t.

Indeed, the decision of the Scots to stay together with the rest of the UK may, ironically, provide an opportunity to change SDLT for the better.

This is what I mean.

Emboldened by having a Scottish parliament, back in 2012 politicians north of the border put in place a mechanism to replace Stamp Duty on property sales with an alternative (clunkily called the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax or LBTT.)

Despite the No vote – and well ahead of any fundamental changes to the Scottish tax-levying powers promised by the ‘big three’ British political parties – LBTT will come into effect on April 1 next year.

It will apply to any buyer or seller (Scottish, English or from anywhere else) so long as the land and/or property is within Scotland itself.

HMRC will not be the collecting body – that will be a new organisation called Revenue Scotland – but the big questions unanswered so far are: what will the LBTT rates and thresholds be?

Scotland will have to wait some months yet to get the answers but politicians have pledged to make LBTT ‘progressive’ – in other words, it should have far less impact on the overall sales process, with much smaller step-thresholds which will have much less effect on pricing and purchasing.

Holyrood ministers have already hinted it may be 0% up to around £180,000. They have consulted on a possible (but by no means definite) gradual tax thereafter, like this:

For a home costing £190,000 the tax would be £750;

– £200,000 / £1,500

– £250,000 / £5,250

– £300,000 / £9,000

For homes above £300,000 the Scottish tax-take may be more than would be the case under UK stamp duty, although it would be ‘graduated’ rather than stepped, so may lead to fewer price pinch points than currently exist at the stamp duty thresholds.

The Scottish consultation suggested a £400,000 home would have £16,500 tax, a £500,000 home would have £24,000 tax, and a £1m home some £61,500 tax. A £2m home would incur £149,000 tax.

There will be much debate when the exact tax details are released, but my point is not to argue for or against a specific figure, but to celebrate the fact that one political institution – the Scottish Parliament – has decided to bite the SDLT bullet and make a change that is appropriate, it feels, to its market.

If David Cameron’s pledges immediately after the Scottish referendum vote come true, and there is indeed some level of additional devolved powers for Wales and new devolved powers for England, that might – just might – mean that politicians in those nations, too, will look at SDLT afresh.

There is no sign of the current ‘all-Britain’ parties doing so, alas. SDLT reform does not appear on the party conference agendas for the Conservative party, Labour or the Liberal Democrats when they meet in the next few weeks.

But if specific nations were given more powers, unique to their locations, perhaps they too would feel that SDLT could be reformed to meet their specific needs.

Perhaps there would be a kind of Stamp Duty incentive to encourage older owners in large homes to ‘rightsize’ and free more properties? Perhaps first time buyers would be encouraged by more, or even permanent, Stamp Duty holidays?

Perhaps, perhaps…

It could all be wishful thinking, but whatever one might think of the Scottish Government and the trauma of the referendum, politicians north of the border have at least had the courage to tackle an issue avoided by their southern peers for decades.

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