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Farmer obtains agricultural exemption from business rates for redundant retail warehouse used for storage

Mairead McErlean, Dispute Resolution Lawyer, helped her client to appeal against a Valuation Tribunal decision on the application of the agricultural exemption from business rates under paragraph 3(a) of Schedule 5 to the Local Government Finance Act 1988 (LGFA 1988).

Mairead’s client, a farmer, ran a mixed arable and livestock farm spread across several parcels of land. For 18 months the farmer used a redundant retail warehouse, which immediately adjoined his land, to store agricultural machinery and animal feed.  He had made alterations to the warehouse to facilitate this, but some items belonging to its previous retail use remained as, on the farmer’s evidence, it was not necessary or financially viable to remove them. The farmer applied to the valuation office to have the building deleted from the rating list for that period. The valuation officer refused and the Valuation Tribunal upheld that decision.

Mairead, together with David Parker, Head of Savills’ National Rating Team, assisted her client with an appeal to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber). The Upper Tribunal found that the building was an agricultural building for the purposes of the exemption because:

  • The building was occupied together with the farmer’s adjoining pasture and other land.
  • The building was used solely in connection with the agricultural operations carried on agricultural land, including the immediately adjacent land but extending to the remainder of the appellant’s land which was managed as a single agricultural unit.

The building was therefore deleted from the rating list for the relevant period.

Important points to note from the Upper Tribunal’s decision are:

  • the motive for the use is irrelevant;
  • it was irrelevant that the use had not been necessary;
  • it was also irrelevant that the use was temporary;
  • the correct focus when applying the test is on the use itself;
  • the availability of a building for letting or sale cannot be said to be a use;
  • the presence of redundant items abandoned by a previous occupier does not amount to the use of a building for storage of those items; and
  • carpets and wooden flooring attached to the floor, suspended ceilings and a mezzanine were all parts of the building itself, rather than items stored there. Their presence did not amount to a use for storage of those items.

If you would like further information or advice please contact Mairead McErlean on 01908 689333.

Wootton (t/a EF Wootton & Son) v Gill (Valuation Officer) [2015] UKUT 548 (LC) (Martin Rodger QC, Deputy President