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High Court clarifies the law on multiple Council Tax bands

DATE: 16 Mar 2016

The High Court (Lang J) has delivered an important decision on the operation of the Council Tax regime in cases where it is alleged that a single dwelling should contain more than one Council Tax band. Regulations require that each “self-contained unit” in a residential property must have a separate band, and a unit is self-contained if it is “constructed or adapted for use as separate living accommodation”.

Coll (LO) v Mooney [2016] EWHC 485 (Admin) concerned a Grade II Listed house in Hastings. The house had previously contained a basement flat, which had a separate Council Tax band. In 2014, following their purchase of the house, the Mooneys converted the basement kitchen into a utility room. The Valuation Tribunal for England held that although the basement utility room could be used for food preparation, the effect of the conversion was that the basement was no longer a separate self-contained unit and so could not be separately banded.

Lang J upheld the Valuation Tribunal’s decision. She found that the classic formulation of the test for self-containment advanced by the Listing Officer – the so-called “bricks and mortar” approach – did not properly reflect the nature of the legislative test. The correct approach was more sophisticated, and required all relevant physical characteristics to be taken into account, including physical features installed for essential living functions, as well as the characteristics of the wider property.

Lang J held that the legislative test was not automatically met where a unit of property was capable of use as separate accommodation: the true test was whether it was actually constructed or adapted for that purpose. The Listing Officer’s error was to focus on “how the lower ground floor could have been differently constructed or adapted, and disregarding how it was actually constructed or adapted for use” (para 28).

Further, the tribunal had been entitled to take into account the fact that, as a listed building, the property was subject to restrictions on how it could be physically adapted.

Luke Wilcox appeared for the successful taxpayer.