Vital revenue raiser or archaic barrier to entry? Stamp Duty’s place in today’s London property market

Scott | 10-May-2018

‘Tom’s View on London’ blog series is a view into the London Property market from Tom Mannion, our franchisee on the ground. Exploring all the latest news and issues from the capital from a unique X-Press point of view, Tom keeps us up to date on the city’s property scene.

It doesn’t take an indepth analysis of the headlines or statistics that have circulated during the first half of this year to conclude that London’s property market is not quite the booming, raging cauldron of activity that it once was. This is not to say that the capital isn’t still supporting an active and attractive market that garners investment from all corners of the globe, but to say that we are living in the age of unbridled price growth and buyer demand many became accustomed to in the early to mid-teens would be foolish. Earlier this year, in fact, ONS figures showed the first recorded fall in London property prices since the dark days of 2009. Whilst this 1% decline did not give cause for any significant panic, it certainly underlined the feeling that many in the industry have been expressing that transaction and growth rates are not quite what they once were.

Many column inches have been filled pointing the finger for this decline at the results of our EU referendum. Whilst uncertainty surrounding the Brexit process is without doubt a contributory factor, it is not the only element that has had a huge influence on the market and it could be argued that the media focus has perhaps diverted attention from some other elements with responsibility. One such element that appears to be having a significant impact, for example, is Stamp Duty Land Tax.

With Stamp Duty revenues tied so intrinsically to the success of the property market, it’s no surprise that this week’s Government figures show a 7% year on year decline to date from 2017. Which, in real terms, would lead to nearly a billion-pound shortfall overall if that trend was to bear out across the full year. London accounts for such a substantial percentage of national Stamp Duty revenues that any slowdown within the capital has serious repercussions on the overall intake, leading many to surmise that the capital’s less than stellar performance in 2018 so far is in large part responsible. On a micro level, research by L&C Mortgages this week found that a fifth of first time buyers nationally, and almost a third of London first time buyers, are actively changing the location of their property searches in an attempt to avoid or lessen their Stamp Duty obligations.

With buyers attempting to get on the ladder already stretched to breaking point by high deposits and prices, members of this vital sector which could galvanise the market are finding another barrier to entry frustrating. It must be said that Government has recognised this issue and the November 2017 Stamp Duty relief for First Time Buyers making purchases under £500,000 is well intended and should help nationwide. In fact, 69,000 transactions between November and March have already taken advantage of this relief, adding over £150 million of shortfall to the 7% decline mentioned above. However, if prices continue to rise, then over half of the properties in London that are eligible for relief, and four million properties nationwide, will have risen over the half a million-pound threshold within ten years.

It would appear there is infinitely more work to be done to stimulate activity into the lower end of the market. Couple this with Phillip Hammond’s continued assault on the Buy-to-Let sector through Stamp Duty surcharges, and it seems that at both ends of the market this tax is slowing activity and causing consternation for buyers and sellers alike.

Is it time for a rethink?