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The surprising reasons first-time buyers won’t qualify for the stamp duty cut

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
Stamp duty was cut last month for first-time buyers buying property worth up to £300,000. But there are surprising reasons you could fall foul of the qualifying criteria.

The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, last month extended an olive branch to first-time buyers who have struggled to get on the ever-more expensive property market.

Effective from 22 November 2017, the stamp duty cut is valid for first-time buyers of property worth up to £300,000 and it will also apply to the first £300,000 for properties worth up to £500,000.

It is expected to help more than a million first-time buyers get onto the housing ladder in the next five years. Essentially, the measure will cut tax for 95% of all first-time buyers while 80% would be lifted out of paying the tax at all.

But the detailed guidance notes accompanying the Budget announcement have highlighted some surprising scenarios where first-time buyers won’t be eligible for the stamp duty relief. Instead they’ll pay the standard stamp duty rate or the 3% stamp duty surcharge on buy-to-let or second homes:

  • 0% on property purchase of £0 – £125,000 (3% for the surcharge)
  • 2% on property purchase of £125,001 – £250,000 (5% for the surcharge)
  • 5% on property purchase of £250,001 – £925,000 (8% for the surcharge)
  • 10% on property purchase of £925,001 – £1.5m (13% for the surcharge).

Here are three points  you need to be aware of:

1) Buy-to-let

There are a number of lenders that offer buy-to-let mortgages for first-time buyers. Major lender Barclays recently announced the launch of its buy-to-let scheme for pure first-time-buyers, essentially changing the landscape, helping to bring the landlord proposition to the fore.

The deals are available to pure first-time buyers who do not own a property, whether as a single or joint applicant. This is a new development in a market which to date has only accepted buy-to-let applications from first-time buyers purchasing jointly with an existing property owner.

While an attractive and inclusive feature, there is a big problem for first-time buyers going down the buy-to-let route.

In order to claim the stamp duty relief, the purchaser must be a first-time buyer. But HMRC defines a first-time buyer as a “purchaser who intends to occupy the property as their only or main residence”.

Therefore, a first-time buyer going down the buy-to-let route doesn’t meet the criteria.

For joint buy-to-let mortgage applications where one person is a first-time-buyer and the other already owns property, the purchase will also be subject to the stamp duty surcharge.

See’s Struggling first-time buyers: could buy-to-let be the answer? for more information.

2) Shared ownership

Shared ownership schemes are designed to help first-time buyers onto the property ladder. They enable people to buy between 25% and 75% of a property and pay rent on the remainder which is owned by the local housing association.

The technical guidance on shared ownership and stamp duty relief states: “Relief can only be claimed in respect of the grant of a shared ownership lease or the declaration of a shared ownership trust where ‘market value’ treatment applies.

“In such a case relief applies as usual to the relevant consideration under that treatment. Where “market value” treatment does not apply or has not been opted for, relief cannot be claimed in respect of any of the transactions involved in shared ownership schemes”.

This means that for a first-time buyer looking to buy a shared ownership property, the stamp duty relief only applies where they elect to be taxed on the full or market value of the property (worth up to £500,000), rather than the buyer’s share (25%-75% for instance). So for a shared ownership property which costs £600,000 (irrelevant of what share is owned) the stamp duty relief isn’t available.

However, if a property costs £200,000 and the buyer owns 25% (£50,000) or 75% (£150,000), whether they declare the ‘full market value’ or not, they will be eligible for the stamp duty relief as they won’t pay on either the initial portion purchased or any staircasing payments.

3) Short lease

Flats and maisonettes tend to be bought on a leasehold basis but in recent years, houses have also been sold in this way, rather than being treated as a freehold purchase.

The stamp duty relief applies on all dwellings to be occupied by the property buyer.

The guidance states: “A purchase is a purchase of a major interest if the interest acquired is a freehold or leasehold interest; for this purpose, an acquisition (whether by grant or transfer) of a lease with less than 21 years to expiry from the effective date, is not treated as a major interest”.

HMRC confirms that where a first-time buyer is looking to buy a leasehold property with less than 21 years left remaining on the lease, it’s not considered a ‘major interest’, so the stamp duty relief won’t apply. Instead, the standard rate of stamp duty will need to be paid.

If you’re buying a property with a short lease, you may struggle to get a mortgage and extending the lease can be expensive. See’s guide on Buying a property with a short lease for more information.

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