... to be outraged at this lack of information about 'granny flat' council tax?

(59 Posts)
marykat2004 Fri 07-Feb-14 12:43:19

I've posted this in property and DIY but want to post it here, too, as this thread gets more traffic. Here is the story:

When a house is not a house

Do people know that you can have a house that is one house on the deed, can not be sold or rented out as separate units, but is taxable as separate units?

With many people moving out of London, attracted by bigger, cheaper properties, and with more people working from home, this fact needs to be made public. It needs to be known to all estate agents, builders, building inspectors, conveyancing solicitors, surveyors and most of all the public.

My husband and I bought a house that had an extra kitchen on the top floor. The main kitchen of the 3 story, 4-bedroom terraced house was actually quite small. When the previous owner’s 95-year-old mother had a stroke and many carers were coming into the house, the previous owner installed for herself a kitchen on the top floor.

When we viewed the house we saw potential for work space, as I wanted to work from home myself. We also saw the potential long term benefits for our daughter, who is 9 now. With increasing property prices, it is unlikely she will be able to afford to move out for quite some time, and might like to have some space for herself when she is older. We also saw the potential that if we had health problems, we had the option of staying on the ground floor when recovering from surgery for example (I have had foot surgery and will likely need it again in the future).

The house was sold as a single dwelling. On the deed it is a single dwelling. Planning permission would be required to turn it into flats. Walls would need to be built, with locking doors to separate areas of the house.

When we had the survey done, the surveyor commented that 2 kitchens would be problematic if we were applying for a mortgage. But since we were cash buyers that was not an issue. He said nothing about double council tax.

We moved in in August 2013. We began paying council tax on one house, as the previous had done. We had a letter from the Valuation Office asking about work done by the previous owner. I saw no problem in reporting the work done, but mentioned that at present we were not using the second kitchen. We had decided it was more practical to have the work space on the top floor.

During the sale of the house the previous owner had had to get a building regulation certificate for the arch that was built when she knocked through the bedrooms on the top floor. The second kitchen is mentioned on the building regulation certificate. This is what generated the alert to the valuation office.

Houses with 2 kitchens are not uncommon. If you look on rightmore.co.uk you can find them quite easily. Many, like ours are not separated. They have no separate entrances, no separate utilities, and no locks on any doors. They are being sold as a single dwellings as ours was. I phoned up an estate agent to one of the houses currently on the market and asked if they were aware that these houses, upon sale, would generate two council tax bills. They said they were not aware.

Estate agents take no responsibility for this. Similarly, the conveyancing solicitors also take no responsibility: it states in their terms and conditions that they do not advise on tax, including council tax.

I spoke with the man who issued the building regulation certificate, who was baffled by the situation and said that he never said anything about separate flats, and that the certificate was for the opening of the arch.

After much research I found out that, dating back to 1995, so-called “granny flats” were taxable as separate properties even though they did not have separate entrances and could not be sold or rented out separately.

As a home buyer, buying my first house, after only having a flat in a block, I had no idea that any of this would happen. The previous owner of our house also received a back council tax bill dating to June 2011, when she got the building regulation certificate. She was told she had to pay £2000 immediately, on a house that she had not lived in in 6 months. She is living on a state pension.

We spoke to numerous solicitors, Citizens Advice Bureaux and, several times, the valuation office and the local council tax office. The local council tax office said they only deal with the bills and the valuation office would have to re-evaluate the house. The local council tax office extended our bill due date for 28 days. However, upon receiving our letters of appeal, the valuation office said it could take up to 4 months to re-evaulate the house. Thus meaning we had to pay these back-dated bills that were generated in error.

My husband suffers from mental illness and hearth failure. We bought this house because we thought it was disability-friendly. We bought this house so I could work from home, and look after my husband (I am his carer) and our daughter. Since this stress with the council tax I have been unable to work. I only started my business in October 2013. This is such a difficult time to be starting a business, and then having to deal with this council tax. We can not afford to pay 2 council tax bills.

I want to make the property buying public aware that if someone is attracted to a house with 2 kitchens that they will have to pay double council tax even if the current owner is not paying double. Basically, when someone puts in a kitchen, they don't need planning permission. But when they sell the house, it becomes two flats in the eyes of the Council Tax people, no matter what the deed says. People need to know this.

The previous owner had no idea about “granny flats” or taxes on “granny flats” and never even considered any part of her house a “granny flat”. She merely adapted a space on the top floor for herself, to give her mother and her mother's carers some space.

This has caused extreme stress to all involved: a pensioner with no family who has a new house to look after; a mentally and physically disabled man and his carer, and a child who is being affected by the stress that her parents are under.

Had we known about this “law” where a house is house on the deed but not in the eyes of the Council tax, we would have chosen another house.

Estate agents need to tell people about this. Conveyancing solicitors need to know this. And builders who put in kitchens without needing planning permission also need to be aware of this.

ComposHat Fri 07-Feb-14 13:00:45

Meh...you bought a property with a separate annexe and are being charged as such. The fact you want to do something else with the living unit is neither here nor there. Should have looked into it before buying the house.

The annexe will be band A or B plus they attract a 50% council tax discount so (going by my council tax) no more than 400quid a year.

Rosa Fri 07-Feb-14 13:04:16

Surely it would cost less to 'remove the kitchen units' therefore eliminating the second kitchen and look at re installing it as and when you need it.

I agree that if the people moving I to the property or buying it, are one family, that includes disabled adults (not pensioners) or teenagers 16-21, then the Council Tax should be set as one property.

On a side note, teens taking training courses that cause the Child Benefit to stop, or staying with a non claiming carer, shouldn't be hit, either.

It makes a mockery of Disability Benefits and Widowed Parents Allowance being set higher, because you lose out anyway on CT and HB.

ComposHat Fri 07-Feb-14 13:09:23

And really? The stress has made you unable to work for four months? Pull thr other one?

rallytog1 Fri 07-Feb-14 13:09:30

I think this has got to be about more than the presence of a kitchen. I have a utility room in which the fridge, slow cooker, and bread maker live, as well as a sink. I could make all meals in there, as well as wash up afterwards. Does that make it a second kitchen? Who decides what counts as a kitchen?

Have you seen the planning permission in full from the work the previous owner did? I just wonder if she got permission for a slightly more separate entity than what she actually ended up doing, or that she has carried out work that was not permitted. The fact that the council saw fit to contact you about work done by the previous owner suggests to me that they suspected she had done something different to what they have permission for.

Either way, something seems not quite right. Could you get someone from the planning department round to assess what has been done?

Finola1step Fri 07-Feb-14 13:09:50

In the politest possible way, it does sound like that you are making a bigger deal about this than needs be.

If you remove the kitchen, will it solve the problem?

Are you financially able to pay the two council tax bills?

It would appear that this situation is over taking your thoughts more than it deserves.

Mintyy Fri 07-Feb-14 13:10:20

Sorry, too long for me.

Thanks - we are thinking of converting the basement into a flat for our eldest disabled son to use with carers, will keep an eye on what it means for him. Wonder how they define 'a kitchen'

vickibee Fri 07-Feb-14 13:15:42

Make ths kitchen into a bathroom for the top flooe instead, assuning plumbing/sewerage is there.
Under new c tax rules in our area if a property is unoocupied for more than one year you have to pay a 150% charge, would this apply if it is not being used?

WooWooOwl Fri 07-Feb-14 13:15:44

I sympathise with you, but I find it hard to believe that you can honestly blame this for you not working.

We came across a similar issue when we applied to the valuation people for a reduction in our council tax after we found out that the people in the other side of our semi were paying less than us. We had put in a downstairs toilet when we moved in, and the guy that came to do the valuation said that we could go down a band and pay less on the council tax because the property didn't have the extra room when we bought it, but that because of the extra toilet, the people we sell the house to in future will have to pay the next band up.

It makes no sense at all.

ProfPlumSpeaking Fri 07-Feb-14 13:21:31

1. If this has only just happened then you can appeal the valuation officers' decision.
2. The same happened to us. I informed the council that the reality was that we used the house as a single dwelling and wanted to pay council tax on that basis, but if they insisted that we had two properties by virtue of having a second kitchen (there was a cooker point in the basement, but no cooker) then I wanted to claim second home exemption on the main part of the house. This reduced our total bill considerably below what it would be for a large single dwelling. Amazingly, they then decided that we were one house after all.

cakebar Fri 07-Feb-14 13:21:43

Would taking the kitchen out be an option?

TunipTheUnconquerable Fri 07-Feb-14 13:23:10

You need to appeal. I looked into this a few years ago when I was thinking about buying a house with an annexe - a relative of mine was on a valuation tribunal, and there is no way it is as clear cut as this.

Or, as other people have suggested, just take out the kitchen!

DamnBamboo Fri 07-Feb-14 13:31:12

Buyer beware.
Go back to your solicitors if you feel you have a real case, but this is not news at all.
I agree with Compos post.

Why on earth can't you work because of this? I don't get it.

ProfPlumSpeaking Fri 07-Feb-14 13:32:27

Incidentally, lots of orthodox Jewish families have 2 kitchens for religious reasons - to separate dairy from meat. I can't believe that they all have to pay 2 lots of council tax for that reason. That would be discriminatory. So kitchens can;t be the be all and end all - they are just evidence of 2 dwellings but can be countered with evidence showing that there really is only the one.

Also meant to say that if, when she is older, your DD does use the annexe as a separate living space as you anticipate then you will need to pay the 2 lots of council tax a it really will be two dwellings.

3littlefrogs Fri 07-Feb-14 13:32:33

IME this is pretty well publicised by social services, planning departments and charities for the elderly.

Any "granny extension" must be very clearly part of the main house, (i.e. be accessible via internal doors)and must not have a separate kitchen if it is not to be considered a separate dwelling and subject to council tax.

However, your situation does sound as if this is a mistake on the part of the council, as the top floor of your home is not an extension with a separate entrance.

I would take out the kitchen and get the planning officer round to inspect.

Waspie Fri 07-Feb-14 13:46:09

OP, where do you get 1995 from? The LGFA 1992 provides for this and is simply an extension of the 1967 rating act. Had the District Valuer known of the creation of a separate rateable unit (the "granny annex") they would have banded it when it occurred.

As others have said, remove the kitchen and get the DV round to revalue the property as one hereditament (rateable unit).

If you want to read the legislation, the LGFA 1992 and also Statutory Instrument 549 "The Council Tax (Chargeable Dwellings) Order 1992" are online.

Not sure why you've had to take 4 months off work to cope with this though. Either the DV and the CT office could have told you what you needed to do to get the property revalued as a single unit. The CTax office can suspend your granny annex bill for you however the bills haven't been "generated in error" as you put it. the CT office is obliged to bill in accordance with the valuation list. Presumably the original property band reduced when the revaluation occurred? So you need to expect that if, for example, you currently have a house with a Band E and an annex with a band A when the revaluation is done you could end up with one property in Band G.

If the valuation office refuse to revalue, you can appeal to the Valuation Tribunal (but there are time limits so check this out). I must say that most DV's I've ever worked with would want to see demonstrable evidence of the separation of the annex dwelling - such as separate entrance, locks on doors etc... before valuing separately.

Your OP is very sensationalist and short on actual facts.

Waspie Fri 07-Feb-14 13:52:35

Also, you may wish to look into whether you qualify for disabled band reduction (DBR). The provision is that if you have a room (or more than one) for the exclusive use of a disabled person - such as a downstairs bathroom which has been adapted for use by someone using a wheelchair, you can get a band reduction of one band. So if your house is banded as E then you will be charged at band D.

The regs. on how to qualify are very tight but your council tax office can give you more info. if you feel that it may be relevant to you. Gov Linky

Bowlersarm Fri 07-Feb-14 13:58:36

the surveyor commented that 2 kitchens would be problematic if we were applying for a mortgage

OP - why didn't this ring alarm bells? Why didn't you follow this up at the time? The surveyor actually bought it to your attention.

ComposHat Fri 07-Feb-14 14:01:29

Looking at the figures a band E house with a band A flat( with 50% ddiscount) is cheaper than if the whole structure was redesignated as a single large band g family home.

This really is a stupid fuss over nothing.

marykat2004 Fri 07-Feb-14 14:11:27

It is only the last 3 weeks that I have been unable to work because this has taken up all my time. 3 weeks is a lot of time when you are just trying to start out self-employed. 4 months is the time we might have to wait for the revaluation.

There is no 'annex.' what was added was a kitchen on the top floor. It is open plan with another room (wall knocked through) so no chance to become a bathroom.

I think some of you are confirming that I am actually mentally ill and need help. Thank you

ComposHat Fri 07-Feb-14 14:23:14

No we aren't making any comment about your mental health, just you've blown this out of all proportion. Even if youve 'only' spent three weeks on thia that is 120 hours worth of unnecessary fretting and faffing.

TunipTheUnconquerable Fri 07-Feb-14 14:28:02

OP, I read your sentence 'Since this stress with the council tax I have been unable to work' as meaning that the stress had stopped you from working, which does sound like an extreme reaction. If anyone is making assumptions about your mental health I'd guess that they're just reading it the same way as I did - it's just unfortunate the sentence came out that way, rather than anyone meaning to be unkind.

horsetowater Fri 07-Feb-14 14:28:04

Of course you pay council tax for two households.

A separate kitchen generally means a separate household. Stop ranting and get over this!

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