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HMRC internal manual

VAT Construction

HM Revenue & Customs
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Zero-rating the ‘approved alteration’ of a ‘protected building’: ‘alterations’ and ‘repair or maintenance’: is the work to the fabric of the building

The fabric of a building comprises the elements that characterise the structure as a building, such as walls, roofs, internal surfaces, floors, stairs and landings and all doors and windows.

The fabric of the building also includes plumbing and central heating systems, and mains wiring and lighting systems. This follows the decisions in:

  • Parochial Church Council of Holy Trinity Church, Heath Town Wolverhampton (VTD 13652)
  • All Saints with St Nicholas Church Icklesham (VTD 16321).

The fabric is more extensive in buildings incorporating special design features to enable a particular task to be performed, such as a bell frame in a church.

Fabric does not include items that are not fixed to the building, as illustrated in Holy Trinity Church (VTD 1571). In that case, the church chancel was rearranged. The works included the relocation of the font, holy table, reading desks and pulpit: items that were not fixed to the church. It was held that the works were not an alteration of the fabric of the building.

The installation of furniture and other fitments can alter the fabric of the building, as demonstrated in E C Owen (VTD 18660). In that case, it was held that the installation of wardrobes materially affected:

…the structure of the building and the fabric of the building beyond what could be termed de minimis.

On the other hand, it was decided in Mr & Mrs T Horlick (VTD 17977) that refitting a kitchen did not alter the building.

Those two decisions demonstrate that the facts of the individual cases determine whether the installation alters the building. However, there is greater room to question that such work would require listed building consent compared to alterations on the fabric itself. If there is doubt about this, the planning authority should be consulted (VCONST08370).

Mr M D Plumb (VTD 13621) highlights that the fabric of the building must be altered and not simply more of the original fabric exposed by building work. It was held that the construction of a new car park access and parking space in the grounds of a listed building did not alter the building. The Tribunal stated:

Insofar as the Appellant’s work had the effect of revealing more of the building… than had hitherto been visible, by the fact that he lowered the ground, to allow the creation of a car park, the Tribunal does not consider this amounted to an ‘approved alteration of a protected building’ in that the term alteration must imply something done to a building which changes the building… The work affecting the building here… was insignificant to the fabric of the building. It is true that the creation of a car park involved the removal of a wall [adjacent to the house]… but there is no evidence before the Tribunal that this affected the fabric of the building or that the wall was covered by listing.

In The Vicar and Parochial Church Council of St Petroc Minor (VTD 16450), which concerned the construction of ‘a dry area to prevent water penetration’ through a vestry wall, the Tribunal held that the fabric of the building had not been altered. They stated:

…the fact is that the fabric of the vestry is not altered, in the sense that no stone or other part of the vestry is changed. The fabric of the vestry is as it was. There is a difference between the vestry wall as it appeared before the works and as it appears now… This clearly is a change of aspect, but the Tribunal considers that that is not the test. The test is whether there is ‘any work on the fabric of the building’.