Decision of the Complaints Committee 02185-14 Byrne v Mail Online
Summary of complaint
1. Michael Byrne complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Mail Online had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Osborne scraps hated stamp duty system from midnight and only £1million homes will pay more in dramatic attempt to boost home ownership”, published on 3 December 2014.
2. The article was a report on the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn Statement to Parliament.
3. The complainant said that headline was misleading as it stated that stamp duty is being “scrapped”, and that only homes of £1m will pay more. This was, he said, inconsistent with the claim made in the body of the article that stamp duty would increase from 1 % to 2% on houses sold between £125,000 and £250,000, and that it would increase from 3% to 5% on houses sold between £250,000 and £1,000,000.
4. The newspaper said that under the old system, the rate of stamp duty was imposed on the entire value of the property. Under the new system, stamp duty would only be charged on amount of money above the threshold for that rate. It said that the phrase “hated stamp duty system” in the headline referred to the old system, which was being replaced, and that the headline was therefore not misleading. It said that data from HM Treasury documents published on the day of the Autumn Statement demonstrated that the tax paid on houses above £937,500 will rise under the new system, but tax paid will fall on houses below this level.
5. The newspaper said that the article was updated throughout the day, and that the version of the article under complaint had been published soon after the Chancellor had finished his statement. It said that whilst it was correct to say that “only £1million homes will pay more”, the headline of the article was changed later in the day, and an updated version of the article made clear that stamp duty would be levied on the amount of a property’s value above the relevant threshold. The newspaper published a footnote at the bottom of the article which clarified that the headline on the earlier version of the article referred to the “slab system” of paying stamp duty being abolished, rather than the tax itself.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
Findings of the Committee
7. The Committee recognised that the statement “Osborne scraps hated stamp duty system”, was ambiguous between stamp duty being abolished and a change in the way that stamp duty operated. This ambiguity was resolved when the headline was read in the context of the article, which made clear that the Chancellor had announced a change in how stamp duty operated, rather than its abolition. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
8. The Committee turned to the alleged inconsistency between the headline claim that “only £1million homes will pay more”, with the increases in stamp duty rates reported in the article. The Committee recognised that the increases in stamp duty rates were reported without a clear explanation that under the new system, these higher rates would only be levied on the value of the property above the threshold for that rate. However, the article did explain that the “slab system”, in which the stamp duty paid in a property sale increases sharply at certain thresholds, was being replaced by a new system, in which amounts paid on house sales will rise gradually. In these circumstances, the Committee considered that the manner in which the increased stamp duty rates were reported was not significantly misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1.
9. The Committee acknowledged that the article was updated as the details of the Chancellor’s statement were being established, and it welcomed the publication of a footnote which explained that an earlier headline for the article had been referring to the “slab system” of stamp duty being abolished, rather than the tax itself.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date of complaint: 03/12/2014Date decision issued: 03/03/2015 Back to ruling listing