Taxation in the United Kingdom/Stamp taxes



In the United Kingdom, stamp duty is a form of tax charged on instruments (that is, written documents), and requires a physical stamp to be attached to or impressed upon the instrument in question.

The scope of stamp duty has been reduced dramatically in recent years. Apart from transfers of shares and securities, the issue of bearer instruments and certain transactions involving partnerships, stamp duty was largely abolished in the UK from 1 December, 2003. Stamp duty land tax (SDLT), a new transfer tax derived from stamp duty, was introduced for land transactions from 1 December 2003. Stamp duty reserve tax (SDRT) was introduced on agreements to transfer certain shares and other securities in 1986.

Stamp duty reserve tax


Stamp duty reserve tax (SDRT) was introduced under Finance Act 1986 to ensure that a form of tax equivalent to stamp duty would continue to be payable on the transfer of uncertificated shares. At that time, it was expected that the TAURUS share trading system would come into operation. In the event, SDRT was adapted for the charge to trading in uncertificated shares in CREST, and is charged on agreements to transfer shares and other securities. SDRT is not a stamp tax, but a self-assessed transfer tax which is usually collected automatically by stock market participants (such as brokers) when a transaction takes place.

Stamp duty remains in force for shares and securities that are held in certificated form which can only be transferred by using a physical stock transfer form, and runs in parallel to SDRT on agreements to transfer shares. Since 1986, both stamp duty and SDRT have been charged at a rate of 0.5% of the consideration for the transfer of shares (in the case of stamp duty, rounded up to the nearest £5). The same transaction may include an agreement to transfer shares which may trigger a liability to SDRT, and the agreement may later be completed by a transfer of the shares which is liable to stamp duty. Provided that the transfer is stamped within 6 years, the charge to SDRT is cancelled to avoid a double charge.

A higher rate of SDRT at 1.5% is charged for the issue or transfer of shares to a person who operates a depositary receipt scheme or a clearance service (other than CREST, which is exempted). The higher charge compensates for the fact that later transfers of depositary interests or through the clearance services will not attract SDRT.

It is widely expected, although the UK Treasury may wish otherwise, that as a practical matter SDRT will not ultimately survive the introduction of the EU Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID.) which is designed to create a single market in financial services across the EU. As currently operated, SDRT will create a number of tax, legal and operational barriers that could effectively present an uneven playing field. It is totally unclear how UK Tax Authorities could hope to police transctions wholly effected in other member states.

There is little sign that this is clearly understood by the UK Government nor even faintly comprehended by the UK Stamp Office who are still stuck on the concept of imposing SDRT on transactions effected on national exchanges

Stamp duty land tax


Stamp duty land tax (SDLT) is a new tax in land transactions that was introduced by Finance Act 2003 and largely replaces stamp duty with effect from 1 December, 2003. SDLT is not a stamp duty, but a form of self-assessed transfer tax. SDLT is charged on "land transactions" and for typical transactions in land, such as the buying and selling of a residential house, there is little change from stamp duty, except that a tax return is required to be made to the Inland Revenue and documents no longer need to be given a physical stamp. Like any other self-assessed tax, but unlike stamp duty, the Inland Revenue is able to enquire into an SDLT return and raise assessments to recover unpaid SDLT.

For residential house purchases, the current rates in the UK are as follows:

Consideration Rate
up to £125,000 0%
over £125,000 to £250,000 1%
over £250,000 to £500,000 3%
over £500,000 4%

SDLT is not a progressive tax, but rather works on a "slab" basis, so the above percentages apply to the whole of the purchase price. For example, a house priced at £250,000 would attract a SDLT of £2,500, but one of £250,001 would be liable to SDLT of £7,500. Some areas have been designated as disadvantaged areas and have relief from SDLT on residential transactions below a certain level.

In previous years, there had been a high level of house price inflation in the UK but no change in these thresholds, leading to a substantial increase in the revenue from SDLT through fiscal drag. In 2000-01, the Inland Revenue received £2.145bn from residential stamp duty. In 2002-03, it received £3.59bn.[1]

In 2005, the threshold for paying SDLT was raised from £60,000 to £120,000. In 2006, the threshold was further raised to £125,000.

In addition to SDLT on the purchase price for land, SDLT is also charged when a lease is granted. Any premium for the grant is charged to SDLT at the same rates as for the purchase price for a sale of land; SDLT is also charged on the rent payable under the lease, at the rate of 1% of the (discounted) net present value of rent passing under the whole term of the lease. Previously, stamp duty was charged at rate of up to 24% of the annual rent. The amount of SDLT due on the grant of a typical commercial lease generally amounts to a substantial increase from the amount of stamp duty that would have been due previously.

SDLT is also charged on certain transactions involving the transfer of land involving partnerships (transfers of land from or to the partners, or changes in the partners' partnership interests where the partnership owns land).

Whether or not tax is payable Her Majesty's Customs and Revenue require a Return to be received by them within four weeks of the transaction completing failing which they have power to levy a fine on the tax payer - the fine is not for failure to pay the tax but for failure to make the return. When a return is accepted by HMRC they provide a Certificate without which it is impossible to register a change in the land ownership.

Stamp duty