Could equestrian businesses and private stabling be facing extra taxes?

An MP has held a debate in Parliament to discuss business rates in rural areas following concerns.

Jake Berry, MP for Rossendale and Darwen, believes the “seemingly new ways” the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) is amassing business rates poses “a direct threat to rural communities and their economy”.

At the debate last month (7 September) Mr Berry cited the case of one of his constituents, Alan Walker, who was contacted on 19 March by the Lancashire VOA telling him they wanted to assess his stables for business rates.

The stabling at Mr Walker’s home was used solely to keep his family’s horses and the planning permission for the stables specifically precludes commercial use.

Mr Walker has launched an appeal against the VOA’s decision but if unsuccessful could be charged £3,000 a year in business rates on his stables in addition to his council tax.

“I was very surprised because I have lived here over 20 years and am already paying high council tax for a house with three bedrooms,” he said. “The only local service I use is to have my bins emptied. My home is completely used for domestic purposes.”

Mr Walker spoke to other horse owners who had been in a similar situation and met with Mr Berry.

“This will affect horse owners all over the country so we need to fight this as it is not fair to pay council tax of £2,000 then have an additional rating of £3,000 on top which would mean paying an additional £1500 in non domestic/business rates,” he said.

Last year similar appeals were launched and won by two horse owners in Devon after they proved the equestrian facilities were within the domestic curtilage (area immediately surrounding house for domestic use) of their properties.

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In August 2014 Katherine Curley appealed and won against a proposal by the VOA to charge non-domestic rates of £1,800 on top of an increased council tax.

Another Devon equestrian property owner Marilyn Hutchings also won her appeal after a year of battling, after the tribunal agreed her photographic evidence showed the stables were in the curtilage of the garden.

The local council had sent her a bill for four years of backdated payment of non-domestic rates after she was visited by a VOA officer.

The British Horse Society (BHS) told H&H it receives more complaints about business rates from riding schools and livery yards than any other issue.

“We have been working with a lobbying company to produce a guidance note with advice on how to talk to the VOA and get rates reviewed,” said Sarah Phillips, of the BHS.

This was given to the BHS’ 850 approved riding centres last month.

A standard letter was also issued to encourage the centres to write to MPs raising their concerns over discrepancies in business rates.

“We are now getting reports back from members that they are receiving replies from their MPs,” said Ms Phillips.

This summer the BHS made a submission to the Government’s business rate review, highlighting the anomalies that exist in the tax system for people who run equestrian premises.

A spokesman for the VOA admitted that in equestrian businesses confusion “can arise in this complex area” and each case needs to be considered on its own facts.

“The legislation regarding stables hasn’t changed since 1988. We assess stables for non-domestic rates unless they meet the criteria for being included in the council tax band of a domestic property,” the VOA spokesman told H&H.

“Generally this is when horses are kept for private purposes, within the boundary of the property and those features are an integral part of the property.”

Readers having problems with stable tax should contact the BHS: www.bhs.org.uk

Ref: H&H 1/10/15