Now here's a novel idea: Digitising Victorian-era stamp duty machines

UK Office of Tax Simplification wants to scrap 'anachronistic and cumbersome' process

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Government tech often gets slagged off for being old and clunky. But spare a thought for the folks issuing stamp duty, who have to handle machines from the 1870s which "close down" at 2pm every day to be cleaned.

In a report this week [PDF], the Office of Tax Simplification urged the government to digitise paper stamp duty on shares, in line with the digital options for stamp duty land tax and stamp duty reserve tax.

Stamp duty is still administered by impressing forms with physical stamps, a process that began in 1694, which the OTS described as "anachronistic and cumbersome".

The body said it was "high time to reform, simplify and digitise stamp duty".

According to the report, the current stamping press machines with coloured inks for the dies were first introduced in the 1870s. "These machines 'close down' at 2pm every day, so they can be carefully cleaned, maintained and prepared for the next day, including manually changing the date stamp," it said.

The machines have stamps of different values, ranging from £5 up to £1m, of which there is only one machine with that highest value stamping die. Where the stamp duty payable is higher than this, multiple impressions are required, the report said.

Should the Birmingham Stamp Office be inaccessible for any reason, transfer instruments must be sent elsewhere to a "backup" machine which has a highest value stamp of £50,000.

But wait, there is a "same-day" stamping facility for time-sensitive transactions.

All that's needed is for an agent to request an appointment and travel to Birmingham to get the relevant document stamped. However, just 50 such requests are granted each year. That is despite the consultation finding "a far greater number of transactions would make use of a same-day stamping service if it was readily available".

It said: "This report's core recommendations address the main practical frustrations which taxpayers experience, pointing the way to digitising the tax and speeding up the process for all concerned, in particular to facilitate same-day registration of documents where desired."

Hat-tip to reader Rich Greenhill for this spot. ®


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