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HMRC internal manual

VAT Construction

Building materials - Note 22 and Note 23: furniture: what is furniture

The law doesn’t define what ‘furniture’ is. The judgment in McLean Homes (Midlands) Ltd ([1993] STC 335), however, saw the issue as one that is determined by impression. The court stating:

During the course of argument we ranged round a number of different kinds of wardrobes, cupboards, annexes covered by a door, larders and airing cupboards, and all the other different ways in which houses may be designed or adapted to provide convenient places to hang things or to store things. The longer this discussion went on, the more obvious it became to me that whether something was an item of furniture or not was very much a matter of impression. It was quite impossible to characterise an annexe or a closet or a cupboard either as being furniture or as not being furniture without considering whether, accordingly to the natural and ordinary meaning of the words in the context of the statute being interpreted, it could reasonably be described as furniture or not. This was a decision for the tribunal of fact.

The chairman in Edmond Homes Limited (VTD 11567) further considered what furniture is, stating:

I have already mentioned the comment… in the McLean Homes case that whether something is an item of furniture or not is ‘very much a matter of impression’. In the sentence immediately preceding that remark, the learned judge referred to one function of furniture as ‘providing convenient places to hang things or to store things’, ‘things’ presumably being items normally found in a house. Another function of furniture is to decorate a house. Yet another is to provide somewhere for people to sit and to take meals, as in the case of chairs and tables. Still another is the provision of areas for the preparation of food, or for work of various kinds associated with domestic, social or working life.

The functions I have mentioned are not, and are not intended to be, exhaustive. They do, however, illustrate in general terms what does and what does not fall within the ordinary and popular meaning of ‘furniture’.

Items of furniture, therefore, include:

  • beds, chairs, tables, and so on
  • wardrobes, cupboards, and so on
  • dressing tables, bedside cabinets, chests of drawers, linen chests, and so on; which may or may not be part of a range.

Note: When these items are supplied, they are’ loose items of furniture’ and not ‘incorporated’ in the building. It is for that reason that they are not ‘building materials’, rather than because they are furniture (VCONST13300).