In the context of Council Tax, the High Court has emphasised that it is the physical characteristics of premises, not the intention of their owners, that is decisive when it comes to assessing whether they constitute self-contained living accommodation.
The case concerned a garage, attached to a three-storey town house, which had been converted into an annex. The single-storey room, which measured less than 13 square metres, contained a kitchen work surface, sink, storage cupboards and a fridge. However, it lacked its own cooking facilities and could only be accessed through a door into the hallway of the main house.
A local authority listing officer took the view that the annex was a self-contained unit, designed to be used as separate living accommodation, and thus stood to be separately charged to Council Tax. That decision was, however, overturned by the Valuation Tribunal for England (the Tribunal).
In upholding the listing officer’s appeal and remitting the matter for reconsideration, the Court found that the Tribunal had applied the wrong legal test in that it had focused on the owners’ intention to use the annex in conjunction with the main house rather than the physical characteristics of the premises.
The Court emphasised that, on a true interpretation of the Council Tax (Chargeable Dwellings) Order 1992, the correct test was whether the annex had been constructed or adapted in such a way as to make it reasonably suitable for use as separate living accommodation.
That test, sometimes referred to as a ‘bricks and mortar test’, was an objective one and was not concerned with when, how or why the characteristics of the premises were achieved. The purpose of the construction or adaptation and the intended use to which the premises were to be put were also irrelevant.