Further Reading: London School of Economics Research into Stamp Duty Land Tax

This chapter reviews research from the London School of Economics (LSE) on Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT), focusing on the SDLT holiday introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the UK housing market.

Key Points:

  • Stamp Duty Holiday: Introduced in July 2020 to boost the housing market, extended to June 2021.
  • Transaction Surge: Increased transactions by up to 100% in some months.
  • Revenue Impact: Initial revenue drop, but eventual recovery due to increased transactions.
  • House Prices: Increased by 10% in March 2021 compared to the previous year.

Main Principles:

  • Economic Activity: House moving stimulates the economy through spending on home improvements and related services.
  • Tax Efficiency: SDLT is seen as inefficient, hindering residential mobility and housing stock utilization.
  • Policy Implications: Consider maintaining the SDLT holiday or implementing more radical property tax reforms to encourage housing market activity and economic growth.

These insights help understand the significant financial and economic impacts of SDLT and inform future housing policy decisions.

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Introduction to “London School of Economics Research into Stamp Duty Land Tax”

(LSE Research)

Background

This section delves into the comprehensive research conducted by the London School of Economics (LSE) London, focusing on the impact of Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) on the UK housing market. As the third in a series of reports commissioned by the Family Building Society, this research builds on previous studies to further explore the ramifications of SDLT on market dynamics, particularly in light of the recent stamp duty holiday introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Stamp Duty Holiday

In an unprecedented move in July 2020, the Chancellor introduced a stamp duty holiday, aiming to stimulate the housing market and offset the anticipated pandemic-induced downturn. Initially set to expire at the end of March 2021, the holiday was extended due to its perceived success in boosting transactions. This policy effectively exempted 90% of buyers from SDLT, sparking a debate on its long-term effects and the potential for permanent reform.

Arguments for and Against Stamp Duty

The primary justification for stamp duty lies in its revenue generation from the highly valued residential property sector. Yet, economic analyses and practical observations suggest that SDLT may actually impede efficient housing utilisation and labour mobility, leading to calls for its reevaluation or outright abolition.

Research Questions

This paper seeks to assess the stamp duty holiday’s effectiveness, consumer responses to reduced moving costs, and the broader implications for tax policy on the housing market. The research is guided by three pivotal questions:

  1. Economic Activity: What impact does house moving have on economic activity?
  2. Tax Holiday Efficacy: Was the stamp duty holiday beneficial for the economy, despite potential inflation in house prices?
  3. Policy Reforms: Is there a rationale for maintaining the nil rate at £500,000, or should more radical reforms be considered?

Research Approach

Employing a mixed-methods strategy, the LSE London team analysed transaction data, reviewed pertinent literature, and conducted surveys with both Family Building Society customers and mortgage intermediaries. This comprehensive approach aimed to unravel the complex interplay between stamp duty, housing market transactions, and the broader economy.

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Stamp Duty Holiday: Transactions, Revenues, and Market Impact

(LSE Research)

Transaction Trends

Before and during the stamp duty holiday, property transactions showed significant fluctuations. Pre-pandemic, transactions averaged around 80,000 per month in 2019. The onset of the lockdown in April 2020 saw a drastic 60% drop, gradually recovering to near 2019 levels by September. The stamp duty holiday, announced on 8 July 2020, further boosted transactions, with a notable increase in the following months. By early 2021, transactions surged, hitting almost 30% to 100% higher than the previous year’s corresponding months. This surge brought the annual transaction total for 2020/21 slightly above the pre-pandemic level, suggesting a return to normalcy in the property market by April 2021.

Revenue Implications

The stamp duty holiday aimed to stimulate the housing market but at the cost of reduced government revenue from stamp duties. Net residential tax receipts fell by 28% in 2020/21 compared to the previous year, despite transactions stabilising. Initially, this significant revenue drop reflected the holiday’s impact, but as transactions increased, particularly in the first quarter of 2021, receipts began to recover to levels similar to the previous year.

Impact on House Prices

The holiday influenced house prices, which increased by almost 10% in March 2021 compared to March 2020, a more significant rise than the 3% increase the year before. This price increase varied by region, with the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber experiencing the highest growth, while London and the South East saw the lowest. 

The correlation between price increases and the average stamp duty saved suggests the holiday may have acted more as a catalyst for moving, rather than the savings directly encouraging purchases. However, concerns remain that an extended holiday could further inflate prices, potentially impacting affordability for prospective homeowners.

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Understanding the Impact of Stamp Duty

(LSE Research) 

Direct Effects on Residential Mobility

Stamp duty land tax directly affects both buyers and sellers in the housing market. While buyers are legally responsible for paying this tax, the economic burden is often shared with sellers, who may receive a lower price for their property. This tax increases the overall cost for buyers, as it cannot be financed through a mortgage and must be paid upfront, reducing the incentive for transactions. Consequently, stamp duty reduces residential mobility, particularly among higher-value homes, and prevents the efficient allocation of housing.

Inefficiency of Stamp Duty

The consensus among economists is clear: stamp duty is an inefficient tax. It discourages transactions, leading to a less efficient use of the housing stock. Older homeowners, for instance, might be deterred from downsizing due to the financial penalty imposed by stamp duty, thus exacerbating the issue of underutilised housing. Moreover, the tax contributes to labour market rigidities by discouraging individuals from relocating for better job opportunities.

Alternatives to Stamp Duty

Research suggests that replacing stamp duty with less distortionary taxes, such as a property wealth tax or a modified council tax, could enhance economic efficiency. During the stamp duty holiday, proposals emerged advocating for such replacements, highlighting the potential benefits of encouraging more transactions and making better use of the housing stock.

Indirect Effects on Expenditure

Home transactions stimulate significant expenditure, both pre- and post-move. Homebuyers tend to invest in home improvements and consumer durables, injecting substantial sums into the economy. The decision to move is often accompanied by a series of expenditures that transform a new house into a home, reflecting personal taste and requirements. This spending has a positive impact on the economy, expanding demand through cycles of housing transactions.

Stamp Duty Holiday Insights

The stamp duty holiday demonstrated that reducing or eliminating this tax can stimulate additional transactions beyond what would have occurred naturally. This leads to increased economic activity and can potentially offset the loss of tax revenue through enhanced consumption and higher house prices. However, the benefits and the distribution of advantages between buyers and sellers can vary depending on market conditions at the time of policy implementation.

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Survey Findings on Stamp Duty Holiday Effects

(LSE Research)

Respondent Demographics

  • The majority of the respondents were retired (53%) or working (44%), with 67% aged 61 and older. Most had household incomes between £25,000 and £50,000 annually.

Property Purchases During the Stamp Duty Holiday

  • 85% bought their main home, with most properties priced between £200,000 and £500,000. A small fraction bought Buy to Let (7%) or second homes (4%).
  • 84% were aware of the stamp duty holiday when deciding to purchase. However, the holiday was a decisive factor for only 17% of respondents.

Impact on Property Prices

  • Over half of the respondents (54%) felt the stamp duty holiday did not affect the purchase price of their property, though some believed it led to increased prices due to higher demand.

Selling Properties During the Holiday

  • 58% sold a property during the holiday, with 71% stating the holiday was important for their buyers. Opinions were mixed on whether the holiday influenced the price buyers were willing to pay.

Costs and Investments Related to Moving

  • Direct moving costs were modest for most, with a median range of £5,000-£7,500. 63% of respondents planned to invest in home improvements, with expenditures ranging widely up to more than £50,000.

Reasons for Moving

  • The top reasons for moving were family-related (29%), relocating to a different area (29%), and changing property size (25%). The stamp duty holiday was a main reason for 13% of respondents.

Views on Making the Stamp Duty Holiday Permanent

  • A majority of consumer respondents supported making the stamp duty holiday permanent, citing benefits such as economic stimulation and increased mobility.

Intermediaries’ Observations

  • Intermediaries noted an increase in transactions during the holiday, attributing it to lockdown easing, improved living conditions, and the stamp duty incentive.
  • While most intermediaries recognised the positive impact of the holiday, some expressed concerns about market disruption and inflation of house prices.

Impact on First-Time Buyers

  • Some concerns were raised about the holiday increasing competition and making it harder for first-time buyers to enter the market.

Conveyancing Pressures

  • The stamp duty holiday put significant pressure on the conveyancing process, with delays in mortgage processing and local searches due to the influx of transactions.

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Overall Implications of the Stamp Duty Holiday

(LSE Research)

Market Dynamics

The stamp duty holiday significantly influenced the housing market, with increased transactions and a notable impact on demand. However, the effect on property prices was mixed, with some buyers believing they paid a premium due to the holiday-induced demand.

Economic Activity

The incentive led to a surge in economic activity related to moving, including spending on home improvements. This expenditure, boosted by savings from the stamp duty, injected substantial funds into the economy, with many leveraging the opportunity to enhance their new homes sooner or more extensively than planned.

Consumer Sentiment

Among respondents, there was a clear appreciation for the financial relief provided by the stamp duty holiday, allowing some to allocate funds towards significant home improvements. However, the sentiment was not universally positive, with some noting the potential for inflated property prices.

Intermediary Insights

Mortgage intermediaries observed a clear uptick in transaction volumes during the holiday, attributing it to a combination of the stamp duty savings and changing housing needs spurred by the pandemic. They also noted the strain on the conveyancing process, highlighting operational challenges in coping with the increased demand.

Policy Reflections

The feedback from both property buyers and intermediaries underscores the complex effects of the stamp duty holiday on the housing market. While it acted as a catalyst for increased transactions and possibly economic growth, it also raised concerns about market stability, property price inflation, and the pressure on the conveyancing infrastructure.

Future Considerations

The strong consumer and intermediary support for making the stamp duty holiday a permanent fixture suggests a desire for a more dynamic and accessible housing market. However, the potential implications for market stability, government revenue, and first-time buyers’ access to housing warrant careful consideration.

Conclusion

The stamp duty holiday has proven to be a significant experiment in housing policy, demonstrating the potential benefits and challenges of tax incentives in the real estate market. As the UK looks to the future of housing taxation and market regulation, these survey findings offer valuable insights into the diverse impacts of such policies on different stakeholders in the housing ecosystem.

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Stamp Duty Holiday Impact and Recommendations

(LSE Research)

Stamp Duty Holiday Overview
The stamp duty holiday, introduced in July 2020 and extended to June 2021, aimed to boost the housing market and the wider economy by making it cheaper for almost everyone to buy homes during this period. This move was expected to speed up purchase plans and free up funds for buyers to invest in home improvements.

Reasons for Increased Activity
Three main factors contributed to the surge in housing market activity:

  • The easing of lockdown restrictions, which had previously delayed many transactions.
  • A shift in property requirements due to the pandemic, with a preference for more space and access to outdoor areas.
  • The financial incentives provided by the stamp duty holiday.

Impact of the Holiday
It’s challenging to isolate the holiday’s effect from other market drivers, but estimates suggest it led to around 140,000 additional transactions. These extra transactions likely resulted in significant economic activity, from pre-sales improvements to post-move renovations, injecting an estimated £2.2 billion into the economy.

Price Increases and Government Revenue
An important consequence of increased demand was a significant rise in house prices, averaging over 10% in the year to March 2021. This price increase, paradoxically, helped return government stamp duty revenues to pre-holiday levels, despite the tax break.

Case Against Stamp Duty
Critics argue that stamp duty is an inefficient tax, hampering residential and job mobility and leading to poor utilisation of the housing stock. Economists suggest that removing stamp duty entirely, or at least extending the holiday, could be financially beneficial by stimulating more transactions and, by extension, economic activity and government revenue.

Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Moving house does generate additional economic activity, particularly through spending on home improvements and related services.
  • Despite contributing to house price increases, the stamp duty holiday has had a positive impact on the economy by stimulating additional transactions and related expenditures.
  • There is a compelling case for either maintaining the holiday or considering more radical reforms to property taxation to reduce market distortions and encourage mobility. Fundamental reform could lead to a more efficient and dynamic housing market, benefiting both the economy and individuals looking to move.

Source material and further reading:
https://www.lse.ac.uk/geography-and-environment/research/lse-london/documents/Reports/Lessons-from-stamp-duty-holiday-LSE-London-Report-2021.pdf 

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This Article Written By Nick Garner
Founder Stamp Duty Advice Bureau
Author of Stamp Duty Land Tax Guide
For Property Investors.