Rates for unoccupied property: how empty is empty?

Published:  04 January, 2013

Relief from business rates when property is empty applies only if the property is totally unoccupied says Katherine Pearson at law form Mills & Reeve LLP. A recent case concerned the storage of papers in a warehouse.

The papers took up around 0.2% of the floor area of the building, which was in excess of 13,000sq m in total. Despite that, and the arguments of the local authority, the court appeared to have little difficulty in deciding that the storage of the documents was not so minimal that there was no occupation and so only when the storage ended did a six-month rates exemption period began.

The court acknowledged that ratepayers "can and do organise their affairs to avoid paying rates", but that it was for the Government to reform the legislation if the judgment was found to be unpalatable. "One can imagine that, in view of the savings made by the ratepayer in this case, reform will happen sooner rather than later," she says.

All property attracts a period of relief from business rates when it first becomes empty. In the case of industrial and warehouse premises this period amounts to six months. It is accepted that this six-month period can be triggered again if the premises subsequently become empty so long as they are occupied for a period of at least six weeks in between. 

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