With Britain expected to depart the European Union by October 31 and still no deal in place, it’s fair to say now is a sensitive time in British politics. However, negotiating Brexit is not the only major challenge confronting the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. The British economy, while hardly in dire straits, is in need of assurances from the government that it will support British industries and the sectors fundamental to productivity and growth.
Moreover, in the face of many pessimistic predictions, it is positive to see that Britain has retained its reputation as a leading destination for investment, particularly where residential and commercial property are concerned. However, more needs to be done to increase supply and ensure more investors are able to access bricks and mortar investments. To achieve this, I believe wide ranging tax reforms are required.
During his leadership campaign, Johnson repeatedly stated that his first budget would include £20 billion worth of tax cuts in an attempt to put “rocket boosters” under the economy. The bulk of this cut comes in the form of raising the income threshold for the higher tax bracket rate from £50,000 to £80,000. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimates that this would deliver a tax boost of almost £2500 a year to approximately four million people.
Indeed, the prospect of a no-deal Brexit has given rise to some innovative tax proposals. This is primarily because our economy will need to be tweaked to accommodate a move to new trade terms. For example, the government recently announced a draft proposal to create 10 duty-free ports and airports. The plan is designed to “turbocharge” growth and reposition Britain as a hub for global trade by removing arduous taxes as well as the need for extensive border checks.
However, Johnson’s most significant tax proposals, around changes to stamp duty, have little to do with Brexit and much to do with long term trends in the British housing market. During the Conservative leadership contest, Johnson floated the idea of shifting stamp duty liability from the person buying the home to the person selling it. This idea has long been popular with estate agents and some market analysts, who believe the idea could reignite housing transcations after a period of relative stagnation.
Moreover, Johnson’s touted reforms to stamp duty don’t end there. He has suggested scrapping the tax altogether on properties valued at below £500,000 and reducing the rate payable on homes valued at £1.5 million and above from 12% to 7%. According to analysis by estate agent Savills, Johnson’s plan would have meant that of property transactions conducted in 2018/19, an additional 300,000 would have been exempt from paying stamp duty.
The significance of this change cannot be overstated as it would remove overnight one of the biggest impediments to completing a property purchase. Consequently, any move to lessen the burden of stamp duty is likely to be welcomed in the property markets, not least because stamp duty has long been blamed for making it more difficult for first-time buyers to get a foot on the ladder.
Overall, I think Johnson’s latest round of tax proposals are a step in the right direction. However, a more dynamic and wide-ranging program of tax reforms could go even further to resolving some of the underlying problems within the housing market. Consequently, the government should proactively seek to implement policies like tax relief for SME housebuilders and a review of inheritance tax.
As we head towards a likely budget in the autumn, we should expect to see Johnson and Chancellor Sajid Javid begin to outline their domestic agenda in more detail. And while Brexit remains the most pressing challenge, providing clarity for both homeowners and investors will prove an essential task over the next few months.
Paresh Raja, CEO, Market Financial Solutions
Paresh Raja is the founder and CEO of Market Financial Solutions (MFS) – a London-based bridging loan provider. Prior to establishing MFS in 2006, Paresh worked as a senior professional consultant in one of the top five management consultancy firms, and also set up an independent investment group.