One of the benefits of building your own home is that you can claim back VAT paid on materials used in the project – but rebate applications have to be made within three months of the property's completion. That time limit came under analysis in a case concerning a couple who took almost 20 years to achieve their grand design.
The couple had long wished to build their own home and obtained planning consent for a detached property in 1998. Work progressed slowly, however. Although they moved in in 2010, windows were not fitted to the property until 2016 and it was only in 2018 that a certificate of completion was issued by the local authority.
After receiving the certificate, the couple promptly applied for a VAT rebate of over £14,000. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), however, refused the application on the basis that the property had been completed in either 2010 or 2016 and that the three-month deadline, set by Regulation 201 of the Value Added Tax Regulations 1995, had therefore long since passed.
Challenging that decision before the First-tier Tribunal (FTT), the couple said that they had relied on advice that they received at a VAT seminar organised by HMRC. They were unaware of Regulation 201 or that the date on which they took up occupation of the property might be viewed as important. They had understood that they had unlimited time in which to finish the project and had swiftly submitted their rebate claim when they considered that the house was complete.
In upholding their appeal and their entitlement to the rebate, the FTT assumed that Regulation 201 was framed in a way which was intended to make it relatively straightforward for taxpayers, and HMRC, to determine when completion of a building has taken place. Uncertainty as to the date of completion was likely to foster dispute and leave taxpayers in an impossible position.
In order for a building to be complete, the FTT found that it must be finished in line with the plans for which planning consent was granted and be capable of fulfilling its purpose as a safe, hygienic and habitable home. In the couple's case, completion was only achieved when the property was finished to a standard equivalent to that which a commercial housebuilder would be required to meet. On that basis, their home was not completed before the certificate of completion was issued and their rebate application was therefore in time.