I do not like Stamp Duty. Houses are dear enough, without imposing an extra tax on people trying to buy a home.
I am also a realist. This Coalition government, and any likely successor, will need revenue from taxing property transactions. They are not about to abolish the tax and give up the money. We need to find a fairer way of charging the tax, and set rates which are more affordable so there can be more transactions. That way homes can be cheaper, and the taxman can still raise substantial sums of money in a more buoyant economy.
One of the worst features of the current Stamp Duty is the cliff edge approach to the rising tax rates. Buy a home for £125,000 and you pay no tax. But a home for £125,001 and you pay £1250 of tax.
The increases in tax at threshold points become very high as the price of the property rises. Pay £1 over £250,000 and your Stamp Duty bill shoots up from £2,500 to £7,500, a 200% increase, or an extra £5,000 on your purchase. Pay £1 over £500,000 and your Stamp Duty bill surges from £15,000 to £20,000, another £5,000 increase, though a smaller percentage.
Pay £1 over £1million and your Stamp Duty bill is a hefty £10,000 more, rising from £40,000 to £50,000. That’s £50,000 tax to buy a one bed flat in central London, for example. Be in the fortunate enough position to be able to buy a 2 or 3 bed flat in the best parts of London and you would have to pay £100,000 of Stamp Duty at £2m. Pay £1 more and the tax bill climbs to a giddy £140,000, a £40,000 increase. Just the increase in the Stamp duty is considerably higher than average annual earnings.
The £1250 tax rise at £125,000 and the £5,000 tax rise at £250,000 are particularly onerous on many people trying to buy a family home in many parts of the country. It can be the last straw, that stops people buying the home they need and want.
The cliff edge thresholds of course distort the market. Homes for sale cluster just below the threshold points. There are large tracts of pricing territory but sparsely populated with homes for sale. £250,000-£260,000, £500,000 to £525,000, £1m to £1.1 million are not popular. The tax intervention creates a lumpy and jumpy market, where there are gaps in price availability, with vendors either holding down the price or leapfrogging it upwards, clear of the danger zone.
So my main recommendation for reform would be to make the Stamp Duty levy progressive like Income Tax. A home priced at £300,000 should pay no Stamp duty on the first £125,000, 1% on the next £125,000, and 3% on the last £50,000 of the price. Total Stamp Duty under this system would be £2,750 on a £300,000 house, instead of £9,000 today.
This would make homes more affordable. Could there be a loss in revenue? There may not be. Transactions would increase. The loss of revenue at the top end, where much of the duty is raised, would be very slight. The London market with its £10m plus transactions at the top end would still see such buyers paying nearly £700000 as today on a £10m purchase. The higher the price, the lower the loss of revenue as a proportion of the tax from the system I have described.
Given the political dislike of rich people and high property prices in modern UK, the government could introduce a hybrid system, where anything over £2m still had to pay 7% on the lot.