Midnight mini-boom

Stamp duty hike has private client lawyers in a wine-bar whirl

A number of property lawyers were reported to be thrashing out late-night deals in wine bars following last Wednesday’s Budget.

Desperate to help clients avoid the midnight stamp duty increase on homes worth more than £2m, hasty negotiations created a mini-boom for quick-moving property solicitors. Licensees would have been rubbing their hands too, with bumper bar bills oiling the wheels of business.

Generally, the legal community looks forward to the Chancellor’s big day because the more radical the changes, the more people seek their lawyer’s advice.

In his first two Budgets, George Osborne was accused of chasing headlines with big policy lurches, all gleefully received by law firms. But as reaction broke on Thursday morning to this ‘stabilised’ Budget, the hangover started to form.

According to experts in the property field, the new 7 per cent stamp duty rate – a 15 per cent charge for those holding homes in offshore companies – could disincentivise an already sluggish housing market. While this is not likely to have a big impact at the low end of the food chain, at the top-end private client lawyers should find work helping high-net-worth clients extricate themselves from the potential 15 per cent charge.

There can’t be that many owners of £2m-plus homes clamouring to exchange, though, and the new rule offering tax breaks to non-doms who invest in UK companies is not likely to create a stampede for legal advice either. It’s just as well most lawyers will be able to benefit from the new 45p top tax rate.