High Court ruling on rates’ mitigation case

A significant recent High Court decision in Public Health England v Harlow District Council [2021] EWHC 909, has sought to provide further clarification on the area of rates mitigation.

In an unprecedented step regarding cases surrounding rates mitigation, the High Court has set a checklist of ‘Propositions of Law to determine when a property is occupied’ and also a ‘Protocol for resolution of disputes about occupation of premises’.

Judge Justice Kerr stated ‘I conclude by thanking counsel for their assistance and expressing the hope that further challenges of this kind in “rates exemption hunting” cases will be few and far between, especially if the guidance in annexes A and B to this judgment is followed. The

possessor of the property in question can, under the law, determine when it is in rateable occupation and when it is not, in order to benefit from the rates exemption which the legislature, in its wisdom, has ordained.’

The case centred on continuous occupation and specifically beneficial occupation as is the rateable occupation ingredient which is perennially the crux of cases on this subject.

The decision in this case will undoubtedly deliver another devastating blow to billing authorities throughout the country whilst offering welcome relief to property owners in these uncertain economic times.  The Autumn Business Rates Review may well see some changes to Empty Rates Relief as the topic featured heavily in the interim report but as it stands property owners will welcome the decision in this latest case.

The judgement can be found here https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2021/909.html