Leaked EU FTT will likely hit the City too, whether we want it or not

If you can't beat them, maybe you should think about joining them?

The Financial Times' Alex Barker has seen a draft version of the financial transaction tax which is to be implemented by 11 euro area nations, and writes that it:

casts a wider net than expected by adding anti-avoidance measures to the original plan for an EU-wide levy, so that financial business does not decamp to safe havens.

The plan will levy a 0.1 per cent tax on stock and bond trades, and a 0.01 per cent tax on derivatives. It is imposed on any transaction involving a financial institution with its headquarters in the area, or on any transaction on behalf of a client based in the tax area.

It will also apply to transactions based on where the financial product was issued.

The news makes Britain's decision to opt-out from the tax look increasingly questionable. We already have a transaction tax of 0.5 per cent on any trades involving British stock — called stamp duty — which hasn't impacted on Britain becoming a centre of European finance. And the anti-avoidance measures included in the proposed draft will hit a relatively hefty proportion of trades involving the City.

Overall, around €30bn-€35bn is expected to be raised by the FTT, while similar measures implemented in the UK could raise around £8bn for the exchequer, according to the Robin Hood Tax Campaign, who say:

When our European neighbours are making their City firms pay for the damage they've caused it is shocking that our Government is refusing to get our banks to do the same.

With the UK facing welfare cuts and increased austerity, it is incomprehensible that the Chancellor should turn down the opportunity.

While the move looks likely to be effective on a revenue-raising front, it is less so when it comes to altering behaviour — the other key motivation for financial transaction taxes. The EU has less high-frequency trading (HFT) than the US, and the EU-wide FTT doesn't include a measure proposed by the Hollande government in France which would impose a minuscule tax on requests for quotes. That tax was aimed at stopping a type of HFT — quote spamming — which involves very few actual stock purchases; its absence leaves that abuse open.

Similarly, the value of the tax is low enough that it's unlikely that it will promote the "buy and hold" mentality that many were hoping for. Markets will still be volatile, and speculators will still rule. But hopefully the revenue will help.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.