A first-time buyer is defined as someone who has never owned a freehold or leasehold interest in a dwelling before and who is purchasing their only or main residence. Residential property anywhere in the world is counted when determining whether someone is a first-time buyer. All purchasers in a joint purchase must be first-time buyers to be eligible for the relief.

First-time buyers in Wales will benefit from today’s changes until April next year, when the matter is devolved to the Welsh Government, which is introducing a land transaction tax.

Chancellor Philip Hammond, told MPs this lunchtime he had received representations for a stamp duty ‘holiday’ for first-time buyers. However, ‘this would only help those ready to purchase now. It would offer nothing for the many who will need to save for many years’, he said.  Hammond said: ‘When we say we will revive the homeowning dream in Britain, we mean it. We do not underestimate the scale of the challenge but today we have made a substantial down-payment.’  His stated aim is to help first-time buyers get onto the housing ladder.  However, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) said this afternoon that the main effect of the stamp duty cuts will be to raise house prices, by 0.3%. ‘Thus the main gainers from the policy are people who already own property,’ the OBR added. It added that only 3,500 first-time buyers will benefit and that the measure could be abused by non-first-time buyers.  This might therefore be an unexpected windfall for first-time buyers already in the process of purchasing the first home but we shall have to wait and see what the net benefit might be over coming years.

However as a family lawyer who routinely deals with the consequences of separation,I am concerned that couples may be deterred from buying a property in joint names if only one of them is a first-time buyer.  To qualify for the relief, all of the buyers have to be first-time buyers.  If the purchase goes ahead in the name of the first time buyer only, this leaves their partner vulnerable if there is a separation as they have no automatic right to a share in the property.  There is no such thing in law as a common law husband or wife.  Is this lack of equality worth the stamp duty saving?  Sometimes, the interests of a partner who contributes financially to a property without actually owning it legally can be protected by a Declaration of Trust or a Cohabitation Agreement.  However, would the Treasury then consider this an attempt to avoid tax and pursue the buyer for stamp duty anyway?