It is not only farmhouses and barns that benefit from the exemption of agricultural buildings from non-domestic rates. However, the Upper Tribunal (UT) has ruled in a guideline case that it does not extend to office and warehouse spaces occupied by a seed breeding company. This was because of their lack of any direct association with the land.
Strains of seed developed by the company were trialled and multiplied for the market on many farmers’ fields. These ranged from Kent to Aberdeen. Its office and warehouse spaces, used respectively for administration and storage, were adjoined by a meadow. This meadow was once used for growing seed, but had in recent times been let for grazing.
The company appealed to the UT after a local authority valuation officer refused its application under Schedule 5 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988. The application contained proposals to delete its office and warehouse spaces from the local rating list. This was the basis that they were occupied together with agricultural land and were used solely in connection with agricultural operations on that or other land.
In ruling on the matter, the UT acknowledged that it did not matter for the purposes of rateable occupation that the far-flung landholdings used for trialling and multiplying the seeds did not belong to the company. However, the seeds were grown not by the company but by farmers under contract. The resulting crops belonged to the farmers, not the company.
Although the fields concerned were occupied for the company’s purposes, at least during the growing season, it could not be said that the company was in actual occupation of them. The company was properly viewed as a visitor to the relevant land. Additionally, the level of supervision it exercised over farmers was insufficient to render it an occupier. The valuation officer was thus correct to find that the office and warehouse spaces were not agricultural buildings to which the exemption from non-domestic rates applied.