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HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have challenged a number of property-based trading businesses, seeking to deprive them of the Inheritance Tax (IHT) and Capital Gains Tax advantages that are normally available.
In a recent case, HMRC sought to persuade the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) that a 30- acre land holding, operated as a livery stable, was not 'relevant business property' for the purposes of Business Property Relief (BPR), which provides relief from IHT on the transfer of relevant business assets. Agricultural property also attracts relief in the same way and HMRC also rejected the contention that the property qualified on that basis.
Under IHT law, property that is relevant business property is valued at nil for IHT purposes, so passes free of tax to the beneficiaries under a deceased owner's will.
The property concerned was worth more than £300,000 and would carry an IHT charge of over £120,000 if BPR were not applicable.
There was no dispute that the property had been used by the deceased for operating a business. However, HMRC took the view that it was 'a business which consists mainly of holding investments'. If that were the case, BPR would not apply.
HMRC's argument pointed to the fact that each horse only received about ten minutes per day of 'one-to-one' time and to the very modest profits of the business as indications that the land was being held for investment returns, not used in the furtherance of a 'real business'.
As in all cases of this type, the decision was made on the specific facts. In this instance, the owner of the livery stable provided services (such as worming and providing a daily check of each horse's health) which went beyond the provision of simple letting of grazing land plus stabling. HMRC's challenge therefore failed.
The view of the FTT was that the Inheritance Tax Act 1984 'is essentially driving at businesses which can properly be characterised as investment businesses, that is, where there is little or no element of trading or the provision of services in consideration of monies received'.
What is of importance is that the HMRC challenges in recent cases do seem to stress relative lack of profitability as an indicator that BPR should not apply.