WHEN Rishi Sunak was elected MP for Richmond in 2015, he could surely never have imagined the magnitude of the direction his political career would take within the next five years.

A month after being appointed Chancellor in February 2020, he was facing the monumental task of managing the nation’s finances amid the biggest public health crisis in living memory.

Every Budget has implications for us all, but the Budget Mr Sunak will deliver on Wednesday will be truly historic because it comes with the country still having to deal with the unprecedented economic challenges of the pandemic.

When the Chancellor announced a temporary cut in stamp duty last July – raising the starting threshold from £125,000 to £500,000 – Darlington Building Society described it as a “welcome and positive step”.

What we hope for now is at least a phased extension of the stamp duty holiday to provide an important boost to the wider economy.

When Mr Sunak took that important step in July, he applied an end date of the of March 31. Little did anyone know we would be in a third national lockdown seven months later.

The goalposts have moved, and the Chancellor must move with them. A cliff-edge end to the stamp duty holiday on March 31 would unfairly penalise transactions that have inevitably been held up in the pipeline due to the prolonged pandemic.

The stamp duty holiday has been a major factor in the housing and mortgage market showing remarkable resilience during this unprecedented period. It has incentivised house purchase activity in addition to the pent-up demand we were already seeing following the first national lockdown.

What we need to avoid now is some house buyers being hit by stamp duty charges they hadn’t budgeted for, potentially leading to them pulling out of sales, and chains collapsing.

We have already seen a forward looking and sensible decision taken by Government to extend the Help To Buy scheme from March 31 to May 31, allowing legal completions to take place and avoiding significant detriment to those home-buyers where build progress has been delayed due to coronavirus.

Since its launch in 2013, Help To Buy has enabled 278,639 homes to be purchased – 82 per cent of them by first-time buyers. After March 31, it will be replaced by a new Help To Buy scheme, but that will be restricted to first-time buyers only, with regional price caps also being added.

This Budget – like every other Budget in history – comes with a flood of speculation. For example, reports suggest the Chancellor will extend the job retention furlough scheme until the summer.

I hope he will also see the wider economic benefits of extending the stamp duty holiday, with its knock-on effect on jobs in associated areas, such as retailers of furniture and household appliances, decorators, estate agents, and conveyancers.

People will soon have spent 12 months working from home, and many won’t return to their offices to the same extent, so that has created demand for more office space, greater flexibility, and bigger gardens. A stamp duty extension would help maintain the momentum in the housing and mortgage market at a time when an increasing number of people are re-evaluating their living and working conditions.

We all should wish Mr Sunak well with the historic challenge he faces but we, respectfully, suggest that now is not the time to end the stamp duty holiday.

• Darren Ditchburn is Chief Customer Officer for Darlington Building Society