Every so often it comes around – the argument that stamp duty should be reformed/removed/replaced (delete as appropriate).
But why? Where’s the benefit? We all know that if one tax is removed another takes its place, maybe something more onerous and definitely less popular if it affects the whole population rather than just those buying a property.
There’s no doubt that resistance will be huge should a more general tax that affects everyone replace stamp duty because it’s the less-well-off who are hit the hardest by a broad spectrum tax on goods or services.
So I’m an enthusiast for leaving well alone when it comes to stamp duty. Much as people moan, in general they accept it as part of the deal when buying a house. Only the stamp duty holiday has really focused minds on its presence and, let’s face it, this was a fiscal move that did nobody any good apart from property sellers who reaped the rewards of desperate buyers paying higher prices to “save” on the tax, often parting with a far higher amount than the statutory levy in order to get the deal.
It makes you wonder how many people in government are actually in touch with the housing market. Do you even know who is the current housing minister? It is a chap called the Right Honourable Christopher Pincher, the MP for Tamworth, who took on the job in February last year.
Given the revolving door nature of the job (his predecessor lasted less than seven months and was the 18th since 1997), it’s amazing he has been in post this long. You can, though, be forgiven for not knowing who he is as we’ve had so much else to think about since he took up the post. And like many of his predecessors he probably sees it as merely a rung on the ladder of advancement, although not all of those who have advanced have gone on to greatness.
What would do our industry better is a reform of the whole house selling system. The Scottish model is often touted but, as a Scot, I can tell you that it’s no better than what we have here. True, offers are binding in Scotland but that’s why nobody makes them. Provisional offers are no better than our English system so where’s the benefit?
What really drags things back is speed, or the lack of it. And given that no minister is ever in post long enough to get up to speed how can they ever come up with anything that makes things better?
It’s going to be the industry that finds the way to progress, maybe secretly so it can then be passed to a minister under the table, allowing said politician to claim a Eureka moment sufficient to implement the changes before using them as a really big rung on the political ladder to get an earned promotion.
After all, his or her predecessors have gone on to be foreign secretary, policing minister, transport secretary (granted that particular incumbent may have lasted 28 months in the housing post through using each of his identities for 14 months!); and the person now responsible for delivering COP26, a poisoned chalice if ever there was one.
So let’s get our heads together in a socially distanced way and find a route out of this mess. In an age when you can instantly find an answer to anything with a quick internet search surely it’s not beyond the capabilities on an industry based on the principle of selling ideas about where people really ought to think they need to live to come up with something better!
*Colin Shairp is director of Fine and Country Southern Hampshire and Town and Country Southern. He is also south eastern regional representative on the Fine and Country National Advisory Council.