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Surge in stamp duty refunds on second-home surcharge


The value of refunds on the stamp duty surcharge aimed at second home and buy-to-let buyers has surged this year, indicating a rising share is being paid by another group — those who ended up using the property as their main residence.

Second home buyers and buy-to-let investors in England and Northern Ireland have faced an additional surcharge of 3 per cent on top of stamp duty land tax charges since 2016, when then-chancellor George Osborne sought to damp demand from investor-buyers.

The tax also catches those who intend to move their main residence but fail to sell their old property before buying a new one. The rules allow them three years in which to sell their previous main residence and claim back the 3 per cent surcharge.

Research by estate agent Hamptons International found that 37 per cent of the additional tax revenue was refunded in the year to date, up from 25 per cent in 2019.

“The figure has risen far beyond what we expected and suggests that the 3 per cent surcharge is probably catching more people out than was intended — not just investors,” said Aneisha Beveridge, Hamptons research director.

Bar chart of % showing Refunding the stamp duty surcharge

The share of refunds by volume has stayed flat since 2018, at around 13 per cent, indicating that growth in the value of refunds came from higher-value purchases by more affluent homeowners. The average buyer who reclaimed the surcharge had paid £526,000, Hamptons said — slightly more than double the average national house price.

That meant the average buyer in this category had to find an extra £15,780 to pay their stamp duty bill before it was refunded. The stamp duty holiday that ran in England and Northern Ireland from July 2020 to September 2021 did not apply to the additional home surcharge.

A surge in demand during lockdown for more spacious homes and those with outside space led to a decline in average stock levels, according to agents. In its October report on housing market conditions, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said: “The lack of available supply continues to present would-be buyers with limited choice, and remains a key factor underpinning strong house price growth.”

As a result, Beveridge said home movers had been cautious about putting their house on the market before they had found and secured a new property. Those that could afford to own two properties simultaneously had become more willing to buy when they saw the chance to do so, then sell their previous main home “over whatever period they could”, she said.

The growth in the value of refunds suggests the additional stamp duty surcharge should be better designed to hit its intended targets, she added. “In today’s market, where stock is an issue, [the extra stamp duty] is a fair amount of money for people to have to come up with. It is acting as a bit of a drag.” 

HMRC’s October housing transaction figures this week showed a steep fall of 52 per cent on the previous month after buyers raced to complete their purchases ahead of the final phasing out of the stamp duty holiday.

Agents and housing market experts said the slowdown had been expected but transactions were likely to remain sluggish during the seasonal December lull and given tight supply. As a result, though, prices were set to remain at high levels, and pandemic-influenced behaviour would continue into next year.

Lawrence Bowles, senior research analyst at agent Savills, pointed to the growth in activity in parts of the UK untouched by the stamp duty holiday, with October transactions in Scotland 16 per cent above the average for 2017-19.

“This suggests the slowdown across England and Northern Ireland is an artefact of the stamp duty holiday distortion, and that broader housing market activity remains high.”

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