Appeals to the NI Valuation Tribunal – Farmers, Farmhouses and Domestic Properties

October 29, 2014

If you are dissatisfied at the capital value placed upon your property (which determines the level of rates you must pay) or you have been told by Land and Property Services that you do not qualify for a particular rate relief, then there are avenues of appeal you can take. For example, the District Valuer for your area can check your valuation again and if you are not happy with the District Valuer’s decision, you can appeal to the Commissioner of Valuation.

If you remain dissatisfied with the Commissioner’s decision, you can make a further appeal to the Northern Ireland Valuation Tribunal. This avenue of appeal applies to domestic properties or properties with a mixed domestic and non-domestic element, where the NAV of the non-domestic element does not exceed £12,500. This article deals with the scenario whereby a farmer is unable to convince Land and Property Services that he is entitled to rate relief by virtue of living in a property occupied in connection with his farm.

A farmhouse is valued in the same way as any other domestic property but there is a 20% reduction if, under Article 39 and Schedule 12 of the Rates (Northern Ireland) Order 1977 (“the 1977 Order”):

1. The dwelling house is occupied in connection with lands used for agricultural purposes; and

2. The house is used as the dwelling of a person whose primary occupation is carrying on or directing agricultural operations on the land

The first condition is a matter of fact and one should look to Schedule One of the 1977 Order which defines “agricultural land” and “agricultural buildings”.

The second condition becomes an issue where the person dwelling in the house has more than one occupation. It then becomes necessary to show their “primary” occupation is.

In the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal case of Ian Wilson v The Commissioner of Valuation [2009] NICA 30 the Lords of Appeal considered the correct approach in deciding a case where the occupier of a dwelling house worked on the farm, but also worked elsewhere.

In this case Mr Wilson lived in a chalet bungalow attached to the family farm of over 36 hectares. He started farming the land in 1996. In addition he had a job with Lisburn City Council where he worked  37 hours per week with a salary of £35,000-£40,000. He averaged 40 hours per week working on the farm with assistance from his wife (the case only centred on the husband’s occupation).

It was not in dispute that the dwelling was occupied in connection with lands used for agricultural purposes. The question to be decided was whether the dwelling was used by a person whose primary occupation was the carrying on or directing of agricultural operations on that land. The Lords of Appeal considered various authorities but agreed that they should follow the decision of the Valuation Tribunal in McCoy v Commissioner of Valuation. In the Ian Wilson case Lord Justice Higgins highlighted the fact that the provision for 20% rate relief was in place to provide relief to those engaged in agricultural operations and the word “primarily” was intended to limit the class of owners entitled to relief.

All three Lords of Appeal agreed that the test of primary occupation was an objective one based on the individual circumstances of the ratepayer. As Lord Justice Girvan stated at paragraph 34:

“the question of what constitutes the primary occupation of a person with two occupations must, however be determined on an objective assessment of the material factors.”

However, the learned Judge went on to accept that a subjective element to the largely objective test could be introduced in certain circumstances:

“If the scales are fairly evenly balanced on the question of which of two occupations is the primary occupation there may be room for taking into consideration the degree of the ratepayer’s subjective sense of commitment to each of the two occupations.”

The test the Valuation Tribunal must apply was succinctly put by Mr Justice McCloskey:

1. Find the material facts; then

2. Form an evaluative judgement based on the material facts it has found.

This decision was confined to the peculiar facts of this particular case. The decision merely sets out the correct approach but every case will turn on its own facts.

Shortly after the decision in Ian Wilson v The Commissioner of Valuation [2009] NICA 30 the NI Valuation Tribunal had to consider the case of David Robinson v The Commissioner for Valuation for Northern Ireland. This case applied the test set down in Ian Wilson v The Commissioner of Valuation and found that a Civil Servant working 37 hours per week in his employment and various hours on the farm, depending on the seasons, did not fulfil the conditions for agricultural relief, as it was not his primary occupation.

This is a general guide and it is not intended nor should it be taken as legal advice.

Should you have queries about the content of this article, please do not hesitate to contact Fergal Maguire.