Stamp duty timetable highlights more than just conveyancing concerns.
The government’s desire, highlighted in the autumn statement and spending review, to refocus support for housing towards low-cost home ownership for first-time buyers is admirable given the struggles people face trying to climb on to the property ladder.
In a bid to do this, the government plans to charge higher rates of stamp duty land tax on purchases of additional residential properties, such as buy-to-let and second homes.
Charging three percentage points above the current SDLT rates, HM Treasury says, will help towards doubling the affordable housing budget, which in turn will help first-time buyers.
But what baffles me is the timetable the Treasury has laid out to announce, consult on and implement the new higher rates.
The SDLT proposal came out of the Treasury’s autumn statement and spending review on 25 November last year. A consultation on the details of the higher rates opened on 28 December and closed on 1 February this year. The final policy design will be confirmed at the budget, on 16 March. The new higher rates will come into effect on 1 April.
The Law Society says there are ‘many complexities’ that will fall to be resolved by conveyancing solicitors. The Conveyancing Association says conveyancers should not have to ‘cross-examine’ their clients to determine whether the extra 3% charge is payable.
The Treasury says it will ‘consider all responses’. But depending on how much the final product addresses practitioners’ concerns, conveyancers will have 15 days (including the weekends and Easter bank holidays) to ensure they can comply with any changes.
The government’s Consultation Principles 2016 document states that government responses to consultations should be published ‘in a timely fashion’.
‘Allow appropriate time between closing the consultation and implementing policy or legislation,’ it adds.
The government’s consultation has, as far as I can see, adhered to most of the principles. It was: clear and concise; informative; lasted a proportionate amount of time; facilitated scrutiny. But 15 days between final confirmation and implementation date is not long enough for solicitors to prepare for the changes.
And let us not forget that buyers need to understand the new rates and whether or not they are affected.
I’ve yet to hear anyone experience a problem-free conveyancing process. It’s in everyone’s interests that all parties are afforded sufficient time to understand what the new changes, once confirmed, will entail.
Monidipa Fouzder is a Gazette reporter