Many large country houses are equipped with stables and other leisure facilities, but if their use is more than merely domestic there could be potential tax consequences. Just that issue arose in a case concerning international-standard equestrian facilities built by a leading dressage rider in the grounds of her home.
After demolishing the property’s existing stables, the woman – who had competed for Great Britain in the Olympics, winning a silver medal – replaced them with a state-of-the-art training yard, all-weather paddocks, accommodation for dozens of horses, an arena, complete with viewing gallery, and accommodation for five grooms. A local authority valuation officer entered the facilities on the non-domestic rating list, with a rateable value of £30,000. The woman’s challenge to that decision was, however, upheld by the Valuation Tribunal for England.
In challenging that ruling before the Upper Tribunal (UT), the valuation officer argued that the facilities had been built on such a grand scale as to dwarf the house in the grounds of which they stood. He submitted that they were entirely stand-alone, with separate access and parking areas, and that they could not be viewed either as appurtenances to, or within the curtilage of, the house.
In dismissing the appeal, however, the UT noted that the planning permission for the facilities stated that they were for the personal and private use of occupiers of the house and not for commercial or competition purposes. The house, although not built on an unusually grand scale, was a substantial property with, amongst other things, nine bedrooms, an indoor swimming pool and a gym.
After accepting the woman’s evidence that she and her husband had never traded from the premises, the UT found that the scale and exceptional quality of the facilities were not decisive and did not require them to be treated differently from a more modest stable block. No fencing or other barrier separated the facilities from the house and the former were intimately associated, or part and parcel, with the latter.
The UT observed that non-domestic rates are a tax on property, not on the activities conducted from property. The woman’s professionalism as an equestrian and the success she had achieved, in part through having use of the facilities, were thus not relevant. Despite their scale, such facilities were of a type commonly treated as appurtenant to substantial country homes and they could thus be viewed as essentially domestic in nature.