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COVID forces 300-year-old Stamp Duty tradition into retirement

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 22 Jun 2021

HMRC’s Stamp Duty press machines, used to manually stamp documents to show the duty has been paid, will be officially retired from service on 19 July 2021.

HMRC has announced the retirement date for its Stamp Duty presses, bringing to a close 300 years of tax-related history. From mid-July, an electronic process will be adopted for the remaining transactions which still require physical stamps, such as duty paid on shares purchased on a stock transfer form.

The introduction of the new process took place during the pandemic, as traditional physical stamping could not function under COVID-19 restrictions. Having worked well as the nation was under lockdown, HMRC decided to retain the new approach.

This process change leaves the stamp presses themselves in need of new homes. Three of the presses will be retained by HMRC and installed in the newly-created regional centres as a nod to the department’s history, but an appeal is now being made to search for suitable venues or institutions which might be keen to take on one of the five remaining decommissioned presses, preserving them for posterity.

Stamp Duty press machines (1694 - 2021)

The now-defunct stamp presses are around 100 years old and can trace their origins back to the Victorian era, but the process of stamping documents to show that tax had been paid began in England long before that.

The first ‘stamp duty’ was introduced in 1694 as a temporary measure to fund the ‘Nine Years’ War’ with France. It was paid on all paper, vellum or parchment to be used for legal documents, and payment was indicated by an embossed, colourless stamp - hence the name.

Retiring a rich piece of history

Commenting on the fate of the faithful press machines Angela MacDonald, HMRC’s Deputy CEO and Second Permanent Secretary, said: “In many ways it is sad to see the presses go, almost like seeing a life-long colleague retire, but it is wonderful that HMRC is able to keep and enjoy the stamp presses themselves in many of our new offices, where they will make decorative and informative talking points, acknowledging our past in the very places that are so important to our future.”

The remaining presses, which are now seeking a new home, were designed by the Stamp Office and built by the internal engineering section using parts supplied by Grover and Co, an engineering firm once based in Britannia Works, Wharf Road, London. They are 18-die recording presses, able to stamp various denominations and tally the stamps they embossed every day. The individual dies they could stamp varied in value from 50p to £1m.

“What we’d most like to do is secure long-term homes for the remaining pieces, which are well crafted and represent elements of both British industrial history and financial history,” added MacDonald. Any organisations who may be interested in rehoming a decommissioned stamp press from HMRC, please contact stamp.presses@hmrc.gov.uk to find out more.

New Stamp Duty guidance

With new processes comes new guidance which can be found on gov.uk on the Completing a stock transfer form page and the Pay Stamp Duty page. Similar guidance for sending documents by email applies to adjudication applications as follows:

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