Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) is a self-assessed tax. The onus is on the taxpayer to make the necessary land transaction return, calculate the tax and pay it across. This is a fundamental change from the old Stamp Duty regime which taxed documents of transfer, so it was possible to delay paying the duty in many cases simply by not executing the document. Transactions not bearing stamps were not enforceable in the courts and in practice that meant that Stamp Duty was often not paid until the document had to be relied upon. One of the prime reasons for the introduction of SDLT was to prevent the use of these ‘resting on contract’ arrangements, which are no longer be possible.
Under self-assessment, failure to pay the duty chargeable is be subject to a tough regime of penalties. Self-assessment has been HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) best friend since it was first introduced several years ago. It turns the taxpayer into a tax inspector and tax calculator and makes them responsible for any error in the calculation or payment. It is primarily the purchaser of the asset concerned who will be responsible for paying the tax. The transaction must be reported and the tax paid within 30 days, with interest and penalties applying for transgressions of the deadline. HMRC operated a ‘soft touch’ approach in the early months of the tax, even to the extent of attempting to fix incomplete or incorrect returns, but this has now ceased.
SDLT applies to transactions involving any estate, interest or right over land, which includes transactions involving covenants and variations of leases.
A higher (plus three per cent) rate is paid on residential properties where the owner already owns one such property or more.
There are exemptions for acquisitions of property in specified disadvantaged areas.
There are some interesting technicalities in SDLT. The definition of a ‘chargeable interest’ excludes licences but not leases, which makes the definition between the two even more important than it is has been in the past.
Options involving land are also caught by the SDLT rules, which also impact on some transactions between companies and ‘related persons’. There are a number of complexities in the transitional arrangements which can also trap the unwary.
Current rates of SDLT for different types of transaction can be seen on the HM Revenue and Customs website.