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What the heck is stamp duty?

If you’re buying a house, Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) can be a nasty surprise. What with the cost of the actual house – probably the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought – the solicitors’ fees, the conveyancing fees and stamp duty on top, it can catch a lot of buyers out. 

A quick history

First things first, what actually is stamp duty? Stamp Duty Land Tax was first introduced in the UK in 1694 under the joint reign of King William III and Queen Mary II. As with the introduction of Income Tax, Stamp Duty was brought in to raise funds for a war against France. Classic. 

Initially, the scheme began as a transaction tax on items like hats and newspapers, but in 1765, the Stamp Act attempted to enforce these taxes on territories around the British empire. Unfortunately for the UK, it led to the Boston Tea Party: the catalyst to America’s War of Independence. 

In modern times, stamp duty is used as a tax on property purchases. For a long time, a flat rate of 1% was paid on properties that cost more than £60,000. In 1997, then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown changed this to 1.5% for homes over £250,000 and 2% for those over £500,000. In 2014, Chancellor George Osbourne then introduced a brand new structure on homes over £125,000. We still use this structure today. 

How much SDLT should I pay?

To work out what you should be paying in stamp duty, there is a calculator on the HMRC website. You can calculate what you owe depending on whether you’re buying your first property, whether it’s a second home, the overall value of the property and more. 

I’m a first time buyer

Congratulations! You’re buying a house. 

As you may have heard, stamp duty is a little different for first-time buyers. (Woohoo!) As opposed to the rest of the property market, first-time buyers don’t pay stamp duty tax on properties that cost more than £300,000. If it costs more, you only pay the tax on the portion of the property that exceeds £300,000. 

Stamp Duty Holiday

In July 2020, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a Stamp Duty holiday to help get the property market up and running after the lockdown. 

Between 8th July 2020 and 31st March 2021, first-time buyers will no longer have a relief and instead, everyone buying residential homes for themselves (i.e. not landlords) will only pay stamp duty on properties over £500,000. 

Here are the new rates:

Property PriceStamp duty rate
Up to £500,0000%
£500,001 – £925,0005%
£925,000 – £1.5 million10%
Over £1.5 million12%

Take a look at our blog to read about the stamp duty holiday in more detail.

When do you pay stamp duty?

If you’re buying a home, make sure that you pay your SDLT within 14 days of signing the contract and being given the keys. It’s really important to make sure that it’s paid during this period to avoid facing fines or interest being added. 

Usually, your solicitor can look after the paying of stamp duty, although it is possible to pay it yourself. Some buyers choose to pay stamp duty as part of their mortgage. But be mindful of the fact that if you choose this, it increases the amount that you borrow, and therefore the interest that you pay in your repayments.

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