Rates shock for private yards

  • Private horse owners could be charged thousands of pounds in rates on their own facilities in an apparent enforcement crackdown on rateable value of property.

    A Surrey horse owner is to be charged rates on her own private outdoor arena and may also have to pay rates on her six stables, even though the only people who use her riding facilities are her and her grandchildren.

    Pru von Radowitz, who keeps two horses and four ponies at her home near Guildford, first heard that her arena could be rateable when she encountered a valuation officer at her property a month ago. The visit, she believes, was triggered because two years ago she installed, with planning permission and for private use only, a 20x50m sand and rubber outdoor school.

    Mrs von Radowitz requested a visit by a more senior officer, Paul Stearn, who visited her property last week.

    “Mr Stearn told me that schools are chargeable, even if they’ve got planning restrictions,” continues Mrs von Radowitz. “Nothing has changed in the law recently – they just haven’t enforced it until now – and the only time they’re not chargeable is if they’re inside your garden.

    “Mr Stearn had just been to see another property with more than 20 stables, but they counted as being in the garden. He was sympathetic and has horses of his own. But he said that the Valuation Office [VO] allows you two or three stables and rates the rest.”

    Mrs von Radowitz is waiting to find out if the figure of £1,500 a year will be reduced before she decides whether to go through the VO appeals process, which involves putting evidence before a tribunal.

    Paul Stearn declined to comment, but a spokesman for the VO says: “Each case has to be treated on its merits, but the key is whether it’s domestic or not. If it’s considered to be an extra element and not part of the domestic surroundings, even if they’re not making money out of it, it could be rateable.

    Dominic Knollys, who advises BHS Gold members on rating issues, says: “The legislation is vague. Although there’s nothing in the guidelines to say that they should, valuation officers at local level sometimes apply the rule of one loosebox per bedroom in a private house.”

    The VO’s rating manual states: “Equestrian facilities occupied together with a dwelling, and which are used only for horses of the residents of that dwelling, may be treated as domestic provided that they are…belonging to or enjoyed with the living accommodation. Regard must also be given to the relative size of the living accommodation to the stables.”

    Small businesses to get rates relief
    Hundreds of equestrian businesses could benefit from a relief scheme from next year, which allows a deduction of 50% for business properties with a rateable value of £5,000 or less.

    Business with rateable value of £5,000 to £10,000 can also benefit, with relief declining as rateable value increases.

    “Small business relief will affect a lot of equestrian businesses, such as riding schools and livery yards, for the better. We’ve been waiting for this for quite a long time,” says Dominic Knollys, of the the BHS.

    A property’s rateable value depends on location and quality. Smaller yards and riding schools could come within the threshold – a yard of 15-20 loose boxes, a tack room and a 20x40m outdoor school could have a rateable value below £5,000. An indoor arena pushes the rateable value up.

    The new regulations will be finalised in the autumn and businesses will have to register by 31 December 2004. The scheme will become effective from 1 April 2005. For details, contact your local authority.

  • This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (12 August)

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