Conveyancers risk becoming a police force as part of unintended consequences of the government's higher stamp duty rates, a trade body has warned.

In last year’s autumn statement and spending review, the government announced higher rates of stamp duty land tax on the purchase of additional residential properties as part of a ‘five-point plan’ to refocus support for housing towards low-cost home ownership for first-time buyers.

The higher rates will be three percentage points above current SDLT rates and will come into force from 1 April.

Responding to HM Treasury’s consultation paper on the charge, the Conveyancing Association said it was important that conveyancers ‘are not held responsible for determining when an individual already owns a main residence, and that the individual purchaser themselves be responsible for providing the correct information, which is to be relied upon by all parties’.

The association was ‘keen’ to ensure the purchaser was provided with specific questions to answer in relation to determining whether the extra 3% charge is payable and sign a form declaring the answers to be correct.

The association said it ‘does not want it to be the responsibility of the conveyancer to have to “cross-examine their clients” in this area’.

Chair Eddie Goldsmith (pictured) said the association’s response outlined ‘unintended consequences’ in several areas, ‘as well as stressing the fact that conveyancing firms should not be thought of as the police force in this area’.

‘The information, regarding a purchaser’s liability, has to come from the purchaser themselves and having answered the relevant questions and make a declaration, it is reasonable for the conveyancer involved to rely on that information when filling out a stamp duty form’.

‘Greater clarity’ was needed around parents jointly purchasing a home for their children and ensuring the policy did not impinge on buyers, such as separated couples who have not formally divorced, being able to purchase their own homes.

A decision to exempt companies or individuals already owning 15 properties from stamp duty increases was ‘arbitrary with no scientific basis’.

The association suggested the figure be set at 10, but stressed that ‘the arbitrary nature of such a decision appears to be made without reason’.

The association urged the government to defer implementing the final rules to give conveyancers enough time to comply with any changes.

HM Treasury has said it will confirm its final policy design at the Budget on 16 March.

Topics