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Stamp Duty Debate As It Happened - What MPs Said

Labour and Conservative MPs have expressed a unanimous view on their desire to see an extension of the stamp duty holiday - but the government is staying tight-lipped about any change of heart.

A 70 minute debate in a 'virtual' House of Commons this afternoon heard MP after MP agree on calling for an extension, many specifying a tapered end being preferable to another later cliff edge deadline. Only one MP, a Liberal Democrat, voiced opposition to the move.

The political convention of the government not making formal tax announcements outside of the Budget or similar 'events' meant that no view was given by Jesse Norman MP, the Treasury minister who wound up the debate for the government. 

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Here's what was said by whom during the session:

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Session chaired by Catherine McKinnell MP (Labour)

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Elliot Colburn MP (Conservative), a member of the Petitions Committee, started the session. He said the petition [which you can see produced in full below] was unusually controversial and he said that in his time on the House of Commons Petitions Committee, he had not seen so much correspondence on any issue subject to an e-Petition.

He said there was substantial evidence that the stamp duty holiday extension had led to “something of a boom” because it had created a feeling of buyer confidence. 

Colburn said conveyancers, estate agents and constituents had emphasised that many buyers may miss out because delays would extend their purchase times beyond the current March 31 ‘cliff edge’ deadline.

He added that a phased and tapered winding down could be put forward by the government to avoid overnight shocks such as that possible on March 31.

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Catherine West MP (Labour), said revenue to HMRC could be used for social housing or more general house-building, meaning the specific SDLT issue had to be examined in the round and not solely as a tax break for buyers, investors or second home purchasers.

Even so she said she had received numerous emails from constituents, “dozens” saying they were worried that their purchases may not go through in time and in some cases would then fall through.

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Kevin Hollinrake MP (Conservative, and outgoing chairman of Hunters estate agency): Hollinrake said moving the end date would simply create a further cliff edge instead of the one currently likely at March 31. Therefore he suggested that buyers who had reached a certain stage of their purchase should be allowed to continue and benefit from the stamp duty holiday.

The full holiday extension should not be given, because cliff-edges are counter productive, he said. A further cliff edge would create a possible bubble.

More broadly, Hollinrake said there was a strong case for more comprehensive reform, as part of wider property tax reforms, but this should be seen as a longer term objective.

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Dianne Abbott MP (Labour): She called for an extension because of a particular “disaster” which happened in her constituency of Hackney, namely a cyber attack which led to huge delays in council services including the provision of search information from the planning department.

As a result the council cannot provide the necessary information required by mortgage lenders, and will not be able to do so for some considerable time to come.

Abbott said there would be no fiscal consequences to the government and buyers in Hackney should be given their own specific stamp duty holiday extension.

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Greg Smith MP (Conservative): He told the debate that he was himself looking for a larger house, and that he had received a large postbag of emails and calls about the issue.

The property market is facing a cliff-edge, he said, which would have “a devastating impact” threatening the stability of the market. He said 200,000 sales would miss out on the deadline through no fault of the buyers themselves: his constituency alone would lose out on £1m of spending on agents, law firms, decorators and others.

He said in a wider perspective, SDLT penalised many prospective buyers and there should - in the longer term - be a reform of the tax. 

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Janet Daby MP (Labour): The surge in transactions was a positive for the economy and one of the few bright financial highlights during the Covid pandemic, she said, adding that many first time buyers were helped by the holiday.

She believed buyers should not be put into further financial difficulties because of the pandemic causing delays. Daby suggested SDLT relief should join those other financial measures which have been extended by the government, as property buying was “a key indicator of the country’s financial success.”

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Matthew Offord MP (Conservative): He said an extension until the end of 2021 would boost transactions by 10 per cent and particularly facilitate downsizers whose impact on chains would in turn end up helping first time buyers. 

“A number of my constituents have told me that they will not be able to go ahead with their property purchases if they can’t complete by March 31.”

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Barbara Keeley MP (Labour): She claimed this issue was of vital importance to tens of thousands of constituents across the country, with fall-throughs likely and individual homebuyers being out of pocket because of legal expenses. 

Keeley told MPs that no one could have foreseen the multiple lockdowns and restrictions which happened after the stamp duty holiday was first introduced. Because of the current lockdown buyers are penalised. People who have made a commitment in the reasonable expectation that they would not pay stamp duty should not be penalised. 

She added that an extension would mean fewer people involved in a transaction would have to travel into offices during lockdown.

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Sarah Olney MP (Liberal Democrat): She said she opposed the stamp duty holiday when it was introduced and remained against it now - the holiday was nothing more than a tax break for buyers.

She said SDLT was regressive and poorly designed but that did not alter the current position whereby the Treasury was effectively subsidising house buyers - that was wrong. This money could be better spent on more deserving causes whether it was better funding for furlough, benefits for town centre businesses or elsewhere. The cladding scandal would be a better issue on which to spend public funds, she said.

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Ben Everitt MP (Conservative): It’s a complicated issue and a lot of cold hard cash for the Treasury rides on this, he told colleagues in the 'virtual' chamber. 

The end needs to be tapered to avoid the cliff-edge and whilst he appreciated the Budget in March was the correct place for the government to make a formal announcement, he would be hoping for a gradual and fair end to the holiday - not an overnight one.

Longer term, Everett called for a reform of SDLT in the round and urged an exit strategy from this “dangerous” tax which was “a brake on social mobility.”

Abena Oppong-Asare (Labour front bench): At the time this policy was announced, Labour criticised the government for allowing a large proportion of this financial support to go to second home and buy to let purchasers. An additional flaw in this policy, she said, was the creation of a cliff edge thus penalising purchasers delayed in their transactions through no fault of their own. 

There are a whole set of reasons why transactions can be delayed - this seems to be another example of the Chancellor’s short term stop-start approach to the Coronavirus crisis. The overheating encouraged by the holiday will now be followed by a possible crash as buyers pull out, or lose the holiday benefit they had budgeted. 

Labour would have concerns at the creation of another cliff-edge. 

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Jesse Norman MP, (Conservative, responding for the government): More than 100,000 people signing the e-petition deserved praise, he said, highlighting the importance of the issue across the country.

The government was aware of the strength of feeling on the issue, and the stress involved in each property purchase. He thanked agents, conveyancers and all those in the property buying process who had worked so hard in challenging circumstances.

The first lockdown in spring 2020 and the start of the pandemic created huge uncertainty, leading to a short term fall in transactions of 50 per cent.  The holiday has therefore worked extremely well, as transactions are now up some 34 per cent year on year.

It was the time-limited element of the measure that drove the surge in activity, which was important for the whole economy.

“I cannot comment on tax policy outside a fiscal event” he said, confirming that no definite government change of mind would be indicated in this debate

But he did make an interesting comment, when he said that the government in general and HM Treasury in particular would note the public’s views and MPs' views carefully, and would consider ‘substantial performance’ as well as ‘completion’ when looking at what to do about the holiday.

E-Petition in full - this was the subject of the debate.

“Extend the Stamp Duty Holiday for an additional six months after 31st March 2021

“Extending the Stamp Duty Holiday for an additional six months will assist many buyers who are looking to move to a property that they will not be able to afford otherwise. 

“This will help to stabilise the housing market

“I am looking to move into a new build which is currently due to complete at the start of March 2021. If this build is delayed past 31st March 2021 then i will not be able to afford the stamp duty so will not be able to afford the house.” 

  • Algarve  Investor

    Waste of time Jesse Norman being there. He read everything off a screen and offered absolutely nothing. They'd have been better off just asking the Chair to read out a statement. Totally ineffectual, totally pointless. He'd been given a pre-rehearsed script to waffle through, and then he was keen to get away as fast as possible.

    If he can't comment on fiscal matters outside of fiscal events, what was the point in him turning up? All very strange.

    Carried out well virtually, though, which just goes to show these petition debates can go ahead even in pandemic times. Someone needs to have a word with JRM.

    Although, if you end up learning as little as we did today, maybe there's little point to them anyway!

  • Andrew Stanton CEO Proptech-PR    Proptech Real Estate Influencer

    Diane Abbott was a scream 12 minutes going on about a cyber attack and the need for those selling and buying in Hackney to get separate extension to others. We had one pundit saying the SDLT holiday was needed to help FTB's - (since 2017 up to 500k purchase by FTB carries no SDLT if it is primary residence) and a lot of grandstanding, zero original thought or argument, we even heard about Holland Park and fact that one participant by moving last year had not taken advantage of the SDLT holiday scheme, with property at 1M plus I am not too sure anyone had too much sympathy, though I was surprised to see the beaming face of MP Kevin Hollinrake as possibly his views might be construed a little partisan - considering his current position as Vendor of an agency group.

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    Absolutely right Andrew.
    In reality, SDLT tax affects around 3% of the UK home owning population each year. A recent Zoopla report claims the average British homeowner moves once very 23 years. So all those who have bought a house on the strength of SDLT, should remember, in that time , the property they bought is likely to have increased in value by 200%.
    Seems a good deal to me !

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    Could the average 23 years to move be influenced by the rate of SDLT steering owners to reinvest in their home rather than trading up?

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