High Court ruling – Atos Services Ltd v Fylde Borough Council

There has been so many updates regarding business rates and Covid-19 it’s easy to forget that there is life beyond lockdown.

However, the appeal wheels are still grinding, albeit slowly and remotely, and the courts are still at work with rulings coming out that have long term implications for businesses.

Take this decision that has been handed down by the High Court in respect of liability for business rates in Atos Services Ltd v Fylde B C [2020] EWHC 647 (QB).

The issue was whether there was liability for business rates when the relevant person doesn’t occupy the entire property which is the subject of a single entry in the rating list.

The appellant Atos occupied Serco House in Lytham St Annes, but during the relevant period various parts were let to and occupied by various sub-tenants. There was no single occupation of the property, the occupation by the various parties was not a joint occupation and Atos did not control those occupations (in rating terms it didn’t enjoy paramount control).

For the rating enthusiasts among us Mr Justice Saini gives an interesting and informative review of case law relevant to rates liability.

The main issue between the parties was whether Atos was liable pay the rates in respect of the entire property. Mr Justice Saini held that whilst Atos had a physical presence in the property that presence was not sufficient to constitute rateable occupation because the occupation was not exclusive.

In essence the fact that occupation was not exclusive was the start and end of the case and Atos escaped liability for business rates.

He had ruled that a person is only in rateable occupation if he occupies the whole unit as a whole. Fylde then argued the remedy for ATOS was to seek an amendment of the description of the hereditament in the rating list, and that it was obliged in law to collect the disputed sum.

Justice Sanai said: “Each side accuses the other of inviting a radical departure from what is claimed to be the orthodox position in the world of rating law. In my judgment, the judge was right to dismiss the council’s applications for summary judgment and striking-out, and to hold that ATOS was (in principle) entitled to repayment of the disputed sum.”

This case that is sure to have future precedent for appeals brought in the future. You can see the full ruling here: ATOS IT Services Ltd v Fylde Borough Council 2020 EWHC 647 (QB)