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Know the Case of Gary Withers v HMRC: Mixed Use Property

Published by UK Property Accountants
Published Date: August 10, 2023
Categories: Case Law, HMRC

Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) plays a vital role in property transactions, ensuring the appropriate tax is paid. However, determining the classification of a property can be a complex matter, as evidenced by a recent case involving Gary Withers (GW) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). 

The case centred around the classification of a property known as Lake Farm and whether the surrounding land should be considered residential or mixed-use for SDLT purposes. This article examines the key arguments, legal considerations, and the Tribunal's decision, shedding light on the implications for similar cases.

Background

GW's SDLT return for the acquisition of Lake Farm was subjected to an enquiry by HMRC, resulting in a closure notice that increased the SDLT amount from GW's self-assessed figure of Β£114,500 to Β£212,500 

Image of two person discussing case background of gary withers

HMRC classified the property as wholly residential, subjecting it to higher rates for additional dwellings. Conversely, GW argued that the property should be considered mixed-use due to non-residential elements.

The Property and Arguments

Lake Farm comprises a dwelling house, an independent annexe, and approximately 39 acres of surrounding land, including gardens, fields, and woodlands. GW highlighted the presence of a grazing agreement, allowing a farmer to graze sheep and cut hay on part of the land for an annual fee.

He contended that the land should be deemed mixed-use due to the independent farmer's commercial activities. GW's primary contention is that the property includes non-residential elements, justifying its classification as mixed-use for SDLT purposes.

A vital aspect of the case revolves around a grazing agreement with a farmer (the Grazer), allowing him to graze sheep and cut hay on a portion of the property's land for a yearly fee.

The Property and Arguments ,Gary Withers v HMRC

GW argues that this commercial arrangement constitutes a separate use and function of the land, meriting mixed-use classification.

On the contrary, HMRC maintains that the property is wholly residential and subject to residential SDLT rates. They argue that the land surrounding the property forms part of its garden or grounds, as per the definition in the Finance Act 2003.

Furthermore, HMRC cites relevant legislation and tribunal decisions supporting their interpretation that "grounds" encompasses all land attached to or surrounding a house, irrespective of active ornamental or recreational use.

Legal Considerations

The case involved an analysis of various factors, including the layout of the land and buildings, the use of the land, and the definition of "grounds" under the Finance Act 2003.

GW argued that the grazing land served a separate commercial purpose, while HMRC maintained that the land formed part of the property's garden or grounds. Previous tribunal decisions and the SDLT Manual were cited to support each party's position.

Tribunal Decision

The Tribunal meticulously assessed the evidence and arguments presented. They acknowledged the extensive grounds and gardens surrounding Lake Farm but concluded that the grazing land and Woodland Trust land should not be classified as part of the property's garden or grounds.

Tribunal Decision

The Tribunal emphasised the need to differentiate between the garden or grounds of a dwelling and land used for a separate, commercial purpose.

They agreed with GW's assertion that the grazing land, managed independently by the Grazer, serves a distinct commercial purpose.

Similarly, the Woodland Trust land, dedicated to environmental protection and rewilding, represents a separate and self-standing function. The Tribunal determined that these areas served different purposes and were used for commercial and environmental reasons.

As a result, GW's appeal was successful, leading to a revised SDLT calculation excluding the disputed land.

Implications

This case highlights the importance of thoroughly analysing the nature and use of land when determining its classification for SDLT purposes.

It emphasises that mere common ownership cannot classify adjacent land as part of the garden or grounds. Instead, the Tribunal focused on the land's function and use, recognising the presence of independent commercial activities and environmental protection efforts.

By classifying the disputed land as non-residential, the SDLT rates applicable to additional dwellings will not be triggered, resulting in a substantial reduction in the SDLT liability.

Conclusion

The case of Lake Farm and the SDLT classification of its surrounding land demonstrates the complexity of determining property classification.

By carefully examining the land's purpose, use, and function, the Tribunal decided to acknowledge the presence of separate commercial and environmental activities.

This ruling provides valuable insights for future cases, emphasising the need to consider the specifics of each property to determine its SDLT classification accurately.

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