Comment by Archie Courage, managing director of SDLT.co.uk

Or… LBTT – what to do from 1st April (it’s no joke!)

From April this year homebuyers of property in Scotland will be required to complete Land and Buildings Transaction Tax returns (LBTT) instead of the Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) return. Interestingly an official statement on this subject quoted “guidance is currently in development and will be available in early 2015, well in advance of LBTT coming into effect”. It is now 17 March and LBTT commences on 1 April. There is growing concern about whether an online solution will realistically be available in time for April fools day. SDLT.co.uk think not and are advising advocates to hold off and use their paper LBTT form instead.

As the first legal software supplier to release a working solution to the Finance Act 2003’s, Stamp Duty Land Tax requirement, we at SDLT.co.uk have observed and experienced the pain of working to tight deadlines, often hampered by political objectives; coupled with inaccurate technical design documentation that raises more questions and which often hasn’t been proven in either a live or test environment it is their experience that Tax solutions shouldn’t be rushed, but also it is essential that engagement with tax software solution experts is sort early on. Indeed through heavy involvement with the HMRC’s Stamp Taxes working party, SDLT.co.uk have worked tirelessly to provide customers with both a desktop and online Stamp Duty Land Tax return solution that has an impressive quality rating of 99.23%.

It comes as no surprise therefore that when SDLT.co.uk engaged with the Revenue Scotland with a view of providing their customers in Scotland with the next property tax solution that they anticipated testing would be done in early 2015, “well in advance of LBTT commencing”. With Revenue Scotland advertising roadshows and online demos to Law Firms in February this implied matters would be concluded in plenty of time.

However, it is now Tueaday 17th March with no detailed technical design specifications and very little in the spirit of openness from Revenue Scotland that was displayed by HMRC’s own Stamp Taxes team. Statements as recent as early March like “we are updating our documentation and will publish in when its complete” do not inspire any confidence that such an important devolutionary change to Scottish Taxes is well under way, in confident hands and ready for implementation in just 15 days’ time. You can almost hear the smug sniggering from Westminster!

Software providers (referred to as TPV’s Third Party Vendors) are still waiting for Revenue Scotland to provide promised documentation and a test environment; with less than 15 days, leaving software suppliers very little time to code, test and role out a solution for 1st April. Many may be wondering; if Revenue Scotland can’t provide essential information to leading expert Tax software specialist providers, then are they ready themselves?

In view of these tight deadlines and an, as yet unproven online solution from Revenue Scotland, SDLT.co.uk are advising their customers not to attempt to file any Land and Building Transaction Tax returns online but instead to use the paper form until such time as a proven workable online solution is evident. Thank Goodness there is a paper version, which of course is, as yet unfinished itself, by Revenue Scotland but will be so by 1st April. One would assume the lack of a paper version at this stage is connected to the lack of official accurate technical documentation also. Chicken and Egg.

Whilst it is anticipated that many property advocates will have read press on LBTT and concluded their own opinions of whether it will ready in time, to assist both SDLT.co.uk customers and all Scottish law firms who are unsure what to do from 1 April, I suggest that whilst it sounds extraordinary for me to be saying this, Our clients don’t need to be bleeding edge and test a rushed solution from Revenue Scotland, they should elect to save themselves hassle and grief and use the paper version which we shall supply. The best use of a solicitors precious time will for the time being to use an electronic copy of the paper version, whilst Revenue Scotland get their house in order, I would have it a guess that the summer will be when a proper e-submission solution is robust enough for solicitors to engage in.

The LBTT form for printing on paper, provided by SDLT.co.uk will be free to use, property practitioners simply need to register their interest by letting us know your name and email address so we can send the form to you and keep you up to date on what is really happening. email to info@sdlt.co.uk