Married couples and civil partners who separate in circumstances that are likely to be permanent will not have to pay the higher rates of Stamp Duty (a surcharge of 3% above the current rates) when one of them buys a new home before the family home has been sold/transferred.
On separating in these circumstances, married couples/civil partners will no longer be treated as one unit for the purposes of the higher rates, so that property owned by their spouse will be ignored when determining if an additional property is being purchased.
The effect of this exemption is that someone who is separated, but not yet divorced, can purchase a new home without having to pay the 3% surcharge as they will be seen to be replacing their main residence and the main residence test will apply (please see previous Burges Salmon article: Budget 2016 Update: Additional 3% SDLT on additional residential properties).
However, each case will be fact-specific and the key issue will be whether the couple are separated in circumstances that are likely to be permanent. If they have not yet separated permanently, the 3% surcharge may have to be paid initially, but may then be reclaimed within three years if the separation/divorce becomes permanent.