Council Tax

February 12th, 2014

In Corkish (Listing Officer) v Wright [2014] EWHC 237 (Admin), a statutory appeal from a Valuation Tribunal, the issue for the Tribunal had been whether an annex was part of a building which was constructed or adapted for use as separate living accommodation, so as to be amenable to a separate charge for council tax.  Popplewell J derived the following principles from the authorities:

(1) The question is whether the effect of the construction or adaptation is such as to make the relevant building or part of a building reasonably suitable for use as separate living accommodation. What matters is its fitness for that purpose by reference to contemporary standards of what is reasonable, not merely whether it might conceivably be used for such purpose however remote the possibility.

(2) The question is to be answered by reference to the physical characteristics of the building. This is sometimes referred to as a “bricks and mortar test”, but the epithet does not accurately capture the wide range of physical characteristics which may be of relevance including services and fixtures.

(3) This is an objective test. The test is not concerned with when, how or why those characteristics were achieved. The purpose of the construction or adaptation is irrelevant. The test is addressed to the result of the building work, not the circumstances in which it was carried out. Intention is irrelevant.

(4) Whether the test is met is a matter of fact and degree for the Tribunal.

(5) Actual use may in some cases be of some relevance. However actual use is not the test, and even in cases where it may be of some relevance it will not usually be a factor of significant weight. At most it may reinforce a decision reached by reference to the physical characteristics of the building.

(6) If what is being considered is part of a building, the physical characteristics to be considered include those of the remainder of the building as well as the part being considered. Access is one aspect of such characteristics. Separate public access may be a pointer to the part being separate living accommodation; whereas if access is through the remainder of the building this may tell against the part being separate living accommodation. In the latter case different weight may be attached where access is through the living areas of the remainder of the building from the weight to be attached where it is through a hallway. But access is not a factor which can be determinative without considering the other physical aspects of the building. The weight to be attached to it is a matter for the Tribunal.

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