FIRST-TIME buyers in Reading saved £4 million on stamp tax last year under a new Government scheme.

The policy, designed to help people onto the housing ladder, scrapped Stamp Duty Land Tax for first-time buyers paying up to £300,000 for their home, and reduced it by £5,000 for those paying up to £500,000.

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But the Association of Accounting Technicians argues the scheme is "of little or no use" to people in the South East, and has joined other critics in calling for further reforms.

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Figures from HM Revenue and Customs show 1,100 first-time buyers in Reading benefited from the tax relief scheme in 2018-19 – the first full financial year since it was introduced.

The tax authority estimates it lost a total of £4 million in tax income in the area, meaning each buyer will have saved an average of £3,600.

This was higher than the average amount saved across the South East, where 41,000 buyers benefitted from the scheme.

In total, first-time buyers across the region kept £131 million that would otherwise have gone to the taxman.

Phil Hall, head of public affairs and policy at the Association of Accounting Technicians, said changing the system so that sellers paid stamp duty rather than buyers would be fairer and more effective.

“There is clearly no denying that First-Time Buyer Relief has helped tens of thousands of buyers, but it’s doing so in an expensive, inefficient and patchy manner," he said.

"FTBR has already cost the taxpayer £520 million in its first year of operation and it’s expected to cost almost £700 million a year by 2022-23.

"It’s also worth highlighting that FTBR is of little or no use to most first-time buyers in the most populated parts of the country – London and the South East – where the average house price is well above the £300,000 threshold.

"This problem could easily be addressed by switching stamp duty liability from the buyer to the seller, which would see every first-time buyer exempted from stamp duty irrespective of the cost of the house."

HMRC took in £46 million in stamp duty from property sales in Reading during the year, of which £23 million was from residential sales.

The average tax paid by each buyer was £7,797, compared to an average of £8,086 across England and Northern Ireland.

Property taxes are administered separately in Scotland and Wales.

Hew Edgar, from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, argued that the new scheme was in danger of flooding the market with first-time buyers.

He said: "Unless [the scheme] is balanced out with an increase in supply, support for those taking subsequent steps, and incentives for those who wish to or who should downsize, we will experience a congested market with limited fluidity.”

HM Treasury has been approached for comment.