UK Politics

Budget: Osborne pledges 'aggressive' measures on stamp duty avoidance

Chancellor George Osborne has confirmed he will be "coming after" stamp duty avoidance with "aggressive" new measures in this week's Budget.

He said buying homes through a company to avoid the tax was "unacceptable" and pledged to "come down on that practice like a ton of bricks".

Mr Osborne also told the BBC his would be a Budget "for working people".

Labour said reports that he planned to cut the 50p tax rate on earnings over £150,000 showed he was "out of touch".

Stamp duty starts at 1% of a property's value for homes costing more than £125,000 and goes up to 5% for those costing more than £1m.

TheSunday Timesreports that rock stars are among wealthy people who have bought properties through offshore companies - amounting to millions of pounds in stamp duty forfeited by the UK.

'Very punitive charge'

On BBC One's Andrew Marr Show Mr Osborne said: "Rich people, often foreigners who come to this country, but also some people here in Britain, who put homes into companies to avoid stamp duty - that is completely unacceptable.

"We are going to come down on that practice like a ton of bricks, We are coming after that tax avoidance, we are going to be extremely aggressive in dealing with it, and people are going to face a very punitive charge."

He said there would be new measures announced in the Budget on Wednesday, adding: "People have had their warning. They need to pay stamp duty on the homes they live in."

Middle earners

There has been much speculation that Mr Osborne will use the Budget to announce he is cutting or axing the 50p top rate of tax, paid on earnings over £150,000 - which businesses say discourages enterprise.

He said he did not want to go into specific measures but said it would be a "Budget for working people".

"My priority is to help low and middle earners. That is where the bulk of the effort in the Budget is going to be."

But his Labour shadow Ed Balls said any idea that cutting the top tax rate was a priority was "crazy".

He said the government was guilty of "double standards" - by cutting tax credits for low paid workers while considering relieving the tax burden on top earners.

He told the programme: "For families on middle and low incomes, seeing their petrol prices up, their fuel bills up, their living standards squeezed, youth unemployment rising, the idea that George Osborne is saying the number one priority is to cut taxes for those on £150,000 - they can't be serious; it's totally out of touch."

But Mr Osborne said it would be a "coalition Budget", which he claimed would "satisfy a broad range of public opinion".

Sunday trading

The "major measures" had been sent to the OBR last Monday, he said, and there would be a further meeting on Monday to discuss how it would be presented.

Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable has said replacing the 50p tax with some form of wealth tax was among coalition Budget negotiations.

But backbench Lib Dem MP Stephen Williams, who co-chairs the party's Treasury policy committee, told the BBC's Sunday Politics: "I certainly don't think now would be the right time to announce the abolition or the reduction of the 50p rate of tax; 2012 is going to be quite a difficult year for many families."

The priority should be raising the income tax threshold to take more people out of paying it, he said.

Asked about the plan to stop child benefit payments to parents paying the 40% higher rate of income tax, Mr Osborne said it was right that each section of society made a contribution to tackling the budget deficit but "how we implement the policy is something we will discover on Wednesday".

On planning - another issue that has proved controversial with some Conservative supporters - he said he was "determined" that the rules be shaken up: "We will be publishing new planning rules which I think will make it a lot easier for things to get built in this country while protecting our precious environment."

He also confirmed that he would lift Sunday trading laws for two months during the Olympics and Paralympics.

John Cridland, director general of the CBI, told the BBC's Sunday Politics programme, said he wanted to see £500m of tax cuts - something he described as a "hairshirt proposal" - targeting investment in infrastructure and small businesses.

He said cutting the deficit should be the priority but added: "What we need is as emphatic a growth strategy as we've got a deficit reduction strategy."

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