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HM Treasury chief gives buyers glimmer of hope over Stamp Duty deadline

Jesse Norman wouldn't comment on plans to extend or taper the Stamp Duty deadline, but reminded viewers that 'substantial performance' would be test, as well as completion.

Nigel Lewis

stamp duty

Estate agents hoping for a straight answer from the HM Treasury over the ‘will they, won’t they’ on extending the Stamp Duty holiday were disappointed today during the much-anticipated parliamentary debate on the subject.

Financial Secretary to the Treasury Jesse Norman (pictured) responded to the e-petition that has been signed by 138,000+ people.

But, apart from thanking the MPs who spoke during the debate and saying he understood the frustrations of those trying to complete before the deadline, Norman said he couldn’t comment on fiscal policy including whether the deadline would be tapered or extended.

The only glimmer of hope that hundreds of thousands of buyers gained from the session came when Norman reminded the 5,000 people watching that HM Treasury would consider ‘substantial performance’ as well as ‘completion’.

Substantial performance

HM Treasury’s own advice says that ‘substantial performance’ is accepted as a legally recognised term alongside completion. “‘A contract will be substantially performed where the purchaser obtains “the keys to the door” and is entitled to occupy the property (however this is documented)” its own guidance says.

Other MPs speaking included Elliott Coburn, who summarised the arguments on both sides including how conveyancers, lenders and surveyors are struggling to get their work completed in time.

Diane Abbott also spoke about the problems in Hackney, where hackers brought down the borough’s property search capability, leaving thousands unable to progress purchases.

Several MPs quoted TwencyCI research that shows most constituencies in England currently have between 250 and 300 transaction that are likely to miss the deadline.

But the strongest message to come through was that two thirds of those waiting to complete transactions started them because of the Stamp Duty holiday – which will put huge pressure on the Chancellor to make some sort of concession early March during his next budget statement.

Read more about the stamp duty holiday.

Watch the debate.

Industry says

Kevin Shaw, Group Managing Director of Residential Sales at LRG (left): “So much hinges on the housing market in the UK, and there is no doubt that the Stamp Duty holiday is a great window of opportunity for buyers. Whilst it’s looking unlikely that the Holiday will be extended indefinitely, we think it would only be fair for it to be extended until the end of 2021.

“This will allow for buyers that didn’t get through in time to still take advantage of the reduction in Duty, and help keep the housing market thriving.”

Mark Hayward, Chief Policy Adviser, Propertymark: “We welcome today’s important debate on the issue of the Stamp Duty holiday, and are pleased to see that there is clearly cross-party support for a holiday extension or tapered end given the concerning cliff-edge is now only two months away.

“We are continuing to call on the Government to rethink these timings, so pressure on the system can be released to allow transactions to complete and avoid a disorderly and distressing period for movers and businesses throughout the market.”

stamp dutyKaren Rodrigues, sales director, eConveyancer: “It’s unsurprising that the parliamentary Stamp Duty debate hasn’t resulted in an extension to the holiday today. Noise from HM Treasury in recent weeks has very much been that the end of March was a hard deadline.

“This focuses the mind for those who have transactions they want to complete ahead of that date and serves as a timely reminder about the importance of quality conveyancers who understand the importance of excellent customer service and how to use technology to deliver it.”

February 1, 2021

One comment

  1. Substantial performance is a red herring and it is not clear why Jesse Norman mentioned it. Before estate agents and conveyancers get too excited, thinking that there might be a way of backdating the effective date of the property transaction, it is important to know what “substantial performance” means. According to section 44(5) of the Finance Act 2003 a contract is substantially performed when:

    • The purchaser or a connected person takes possession of the whole or substantially the whole of the land , or
    • The whole or a substantial amount of the consideration is paid or provided.

    So while this provision does have some application to commercial property (eg where a development agreement for a lease allows the tenant access for fitting out), and there may be some residential cases where a purchaser gets early access, the truth is that there are very few residential cases where “substantial performance” of the property contract will be made out.

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