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Important Council Tax case on test for a “self contained unit”

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In Salisbury v Bunyan (LO) [2021] EWHC 3136 (Admin), Sir Ross Cranston rejected a taxpayer’s appeal that his family home was a single dwelling and upheld the decision of the Listing Officer that the building contained two self-contained units. He gave guidance on the test to be applied to determining whether a unit is “self-contained” and, in particular, to the vexed question of whether the actual use of a space is capable of being relevant to whether a unit is objectively self-contained.

Following an inspection, the Listing Officer had split the family home into two units – band G for the main house and band B for a self-contained for a second floor flat. The taxpayer, Mr Salisbury, argued that the main house was not self-contained from the flat since he used the second floor landing as a living space, specifically as a home office, as shown by the presence of office furniture and IT equipment. Any person wanting to access the second floor flat would have to pass through that office.

The Valuation Tribunal applied a “bricks and mortar” test, focusing on the physical characteristics of the building, and declined to consider the actual use of the landing made by the taxpayer in its assessment of whether the main house was self-contained or not. The taxpayer argued that excluding his use was a legal error and failed to follow the guidance in Coll v Mooney.

The judge recognised that the case law on whether use can be a relevant to the question of whether a unit is self-contained pulled in different directions. Cranston J sought to reconcile the various of lines of authority. He held “it was a matter for the tribunal whether it considered that actual use would have assisted it in reaching a decision by reference to the physical characteristics of the building as to the issue of whether there were two self-contained units…the tribunal obviously concluded that this was not one of those unusual cases where actual use would assist in the task.” What weight the tribunal gave to the use was a matter for its expert judgment.

Sarah Sackman and Aidan Wills acted for the successful Listing Officer, instructed by HMRC

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