... 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.

3littlefrogs Fri 07-Feb-14 19:36:57

It is when you sell the house that the second council tax is applied. AFAIK.

MiscellaneousAssortment Fri 07-Feb-14 23:03:55

Oh OP flowers, you have NOT failed at life. You are stressed and anxious and everything is falling on your shoulders. It's alot for one person to be responsible for and it's really easy to feel overwhelmed and crushed, and then it becomes very hard to prioritise and see clearly.

Like another poster, I'd suggest going to your gp and sharing how stressed and miserable you are. They may be able to help. You need to take care of yourself as well as your dp and dc. It's easy to forget that.

And on a very practical note, how disabled is your dp? Have you/ he asked adult social services for an assessment to see if they will give you any help caring? It sounds so tough, starting a business, being a mum and being a carer.

sashh Sat 08-Feb-14 06:20:28


Because you are converting for a disabled person your council tax (if you have to pay it on the flat) will be a band lower than it should be.

However if/when you sell, even if you sell to someone in the same situation the council tax will rise because the next person didn't do the conversion.

Is there anyone else who would like to go back to rates?

Thanks sassh - but if I didn't have a kitchen down there it wouldn't count as an annexe? Maybe I could put in an easy to remove kitchen hmm

And council tax seems full of these loopholes. I was stung years ago living as a student with someone on benefits. Made me liable for council tax despite being a student.

marykat2004 Sat 08-Feb-14 09:03:34

Plumpilicious. Excellent summary of what I have read most of already. The VO language is so vague and contradictory that they seem to always win. Hence no solicitor will take them on.

It's good people with disabled family members are being made aware of these issues. You can get exemptions for the disabled person but if they pass away you immediately have to start paying council tax on 2 properties.

Finally, installing kitchen facilities does not require planning permission but when you go to sell it the buyer will likely have to pay.

marykat2004 Sat 08-Feb-14 09:09:58

As for how we are living, it is a rapidly dwindling savings from the sale of the flat. Moving was a chance to set up working from home and going self employed. We are living way beyond our means and will run out of savings at some point. I have gone from being a carer and doing a bit of voluntary work to trying to be self employed working at home. Clearly have bitten off more than I can chew sad

ToBeSure Sat 08-Feb-14 09:20:15

OP this is an interesting thread. (Hope you ignore the confused posters]
). I hope it's just a matter that the council have been over officious. If not, then I guess you will have to remove the kitchen.
Good luck.

Yv0nne Mon 04-Aug-14 20:56:05

Hi MaryKat. I TOTALLY understand what you say and what you have suffered. Almost exactly the same happened to me and my disabled parents. You have to have experienced it to know how it can affect your health, and it MOST CERTAINLY CAN. I have taken my case to the Parliamentary Ombudsman as I am certain the situation contributed to my parents health conditions worsening. and contributed to me losing my parents at an early age (70 and 71). So easy to say " we should have looked into it before purchase", but if the solicitor and estate agent are not aware it wouldn't cross your mind to question it. Our case (too involved to put here), was a little more complicated, and even our solicitor that we hired that specialised in planning/VOA/Council matters, said it was just plain harassment and he charged us less due to sympathising. Best wishes to you.

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