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HMRC internal manual

VAT Land and Property

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Exemption: relevance of European legislation to interpretation of Group 1, Schedule 9

The UK land exemption in Group 1, Schedule 9 must be interpreted consistently with the European legislation on which it is based, as far as it is possible to do so. This principle of consistent interpretation was established by the ECJ in the case of Marleasing SA v La Comercial Internacional de Ailmentacion SA Case C 106/89 and has been confirmed by subsequent cases. It means that where a phrase within Group 1, such as ‘licence to occupy’, would ordinarily be capable of being interpreted in a number of different ways, it is necessary, for VAT purposes, to look to the equivalent European legislation as an aid to understanding the UK legislation. In the case of Sinclair Collis [2001] STC 989, for example, the House of Lords found that the phrase ‘licence to occupy’ within Group 1 should not be given a wider meaning than the equivalent community phrase, ‘leasing or letting of immovable property’. Before referring the case to the ECJ, Lord Slynn (with whom Lord Steyn agreed), stated:

‘It is thus plain that the words ‘licence to occupy land’ in the 1994 Act cannot go wider than the words ‘leasing or letting of immovable property’ in the Sixth Directive’ [emphasis added]

In most cases, it will be clear whether the grant of an interest in, right over or licence to occupy land has taken place. Notice 742 Land and property provides guidance on these terms. Where it is not clear (on the basis of the guidance in Notice 742), it may be necessary to look to the European legislation as an aid to interpreting the UK legislation.