Bluetooth Transmitter can ease Empty Rates Headache !

The High Court has ruled in an appeal that the siting of a Bluetooth transmitter broadcasting marketing messages from an otherwise vacant warehouse constituted rateable occupation, sufficient to trigger the six-month exemption from non-domestic rates when the use came to an end.

The case of Sunderland City Council v Stirling Investment Properties LLP [2013] related to a 16,000 ft² (1,500 m²) warehouse let to Complete Mobile Marketing under a 43-day tenancy agreement. The tenant installed a Wi-Fi transmitter, measuring approximately 4x4x2 inches (100x100x50 mm), to send marketing and advertising texts to mobile phones on behalf of clients.

Although the Court acknowledged that the rent paid was nominal, it considered that the outgoings borne by the tenant were not (namely the payment of rates), which reflected the value of its occupation of the premises. The Court also concluded that the intended use, although small in terms of the space occupied, nevertheless constituted actual occupation.

This decision is consistent with the High Court’s ruling last year that the storage of 16 pallets of documents by Makro Cash & Carry in a warehouse of 140,000 ft² (13,000 m²) was also sufficient to trigger the six-month exemption from rates, once the period of occupation had exceeded 42 days.

A series of cases relating to similar Wi-Fi marketing use of premises by the Public Safety Charitable Trust were concerned with a slightly different issue, namely whether there had been sufficient occupation to qualify for the 80% charitable relief on non–domestic rates. To be eligible, one must prove that premises are used wholly or mainly for charitable purposes which, in these instances, the Court found that the Trust had failed to do.