Business occupiers (and particularly small business owners) welcomed the announcement in the Autumn 2017 Budget that the government is putting an end to the so-called “staircase tax”.
The “staircase tax” acquired its name from the 2015 Supreme Court decision on assessment of business rates in Woolway (VO) v Mazars, which held that a tenant who occupies separate floors in a building is only entitled to treat the floors as part of the same rateable occupation for business rates purposes (known as a hereditament) if it is possible to move between those floors without leaving space that exclusively belongs to the tenant. As a result, where a tenant moves between floors using a common parts staircase or lift, the Mazars test is not met.
If there are two separate hereditaments, the tenant is less likely to be able to claim an allowance for size (quantum relief) to reduce its liability for business rates. Whilst the Mazars decision was not new law, it differed from the practice previously applied by the Valuation Office Agency. That practice was to treat two adjoining floors of a building separated by a floor /ceiling only as a single hereditament where in common occupation.
The government has now taken the next step towards abolishing the “staircase tax” by issuing a consultation which seeks views on how to reinstate the pre-Mazars practice of the VOA. The consultation pre-supposes that the staircase tax will be abolished and seeks views on how that should be implemented. The Department for Communities and Local Government has simultaneously issued a draft Bill (called the Non-Domestic Rating (Property in Common Occupation) Bill) for consideration.
The move is good news for business occupiers and forms part of the government’s Budget pledge to increase the fairness of the business rates system in England. Affected businesses will be able to ask the VOA to recalculate valuations so that bills are based on the previous practice of assessment, backdated to April 2010.
The consultation opened on 29 December 2017 and closes on 23 February 2018.
Woolway (VO) v Mazars  UKSC 53