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Budget to target SDLT avoidance


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Summary: George Osborne has confirmed in an interview with Sky News that he is "looking very closely" at SDLT avoidance. In his words, these are "wealthy people who just avoid stamp duty when they buy and sell a home. That is something I've made clear is unacceptable".

Interestingly, he was not asked specifically about stamp duty but volunteered his comments in response to a question about the Liberal Democrat proposals for a mansion tax and more council tax bands.

So it looks like some form of SDLT charge on transfers of shares in property owning companies is inevitable. However, a lot of questions remain about what form it will take, such as:

  • will it only apply to residential property? The Chancellor's reference to "wealthy people" avoiding SDLT on homes and the general context of the comments in the interview suggest that high value houses are likely to be the target, at least for now;
  • will it only catch overseas companies? The sort of planning being targeted tends not to involve UK companies for inheritance and capital gains tax reasons. However, limiting the charge to non-UK companies would run the risk of infringing EU law; and
  • what test will be used to decide whether a company is caught? A sole or main asset test is a strong possibility but is likely to be accompanied by anti-avoidance measures to prevent flooding a company with other assets or using tiered structures.

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