CIL The Merciless

Failing to serve a CIL notice can have huge consequences, as R (Shropshire Council) v Secretary of State (Mr C M G Ockleton, vice president of the Upper Tribunal, sitting as a High Court judge, 16 January 2019) illustrates.

Mr Jones, a self-builder, secured planning permission for a large new home with triple garage. Good news.

He received a liability notice for CIL assessing the amount of CIL that would be payable on commencement of the development as £36,891.43. Bad news.

He then applied for and secured full relief from CIL, relying on the self-building exemption. Good news.

In order not to lose the benefit of the relief, regulation 54B (6) provides that a “person who is granted an exemption for self-build housing ceases to be eligible for that exemption if a commencement notice is not submitted to the collecting authority before the day the chargeable development is commenced.”

You can see what is going to come next.

There was a section 106 agreement under which Mr Jones was obliged to notify the council when works pursuant to the planning permission were to begin, as the commencement date triggered a contribution of £9,000 under the agreement. Mr Jones sent the council an email with a heading referring to the section 106 agreement, notifying the council that works would commence the next day, which the council acknowledged, under the same heading.

Mr Jones didn’t send a separate commencement notice in the form required by the CIL Regulations.

The worst of news: he then receives a demand notice requiring the full £39,891.43 on the ground that the development had commenced without a commencement notice being sent to the council plus a surcharge of £2,500 for “invalid commencement“.

Mr Jones responded with a letter of horror and apology, saying that he knew about the Regulations and thought that he had given sufficient notice of commencement by his email of 10 July. The relevant Council official replied in sympathetic terms but pointing out that the CIL process is separate from the planning process and is controlled very precisely by national regulations in relation to which the local authority had no discretion.”

Mr Jones, then instructed solicitors and counsel (good money after bad) and after various exchanges his representatives appealed against the demand notice (or rather a replacement demand notice that the council issued, given that the deadline for appealing against the first demand notice had passed).

Good news: The inspector allowed his appeal: the inspector “accepted that “on a literal interpretation of the Regulations” the email did not include particulars required by Form 6 (the form specified for the purpose under reg 67) and failed to identify the LN reference, but that the “oversight” was not fatal to Mr Jones’ case, because the email did refer to the relevant site and planning permission and unambiguously specified the intended date of commencement. In these circumstances, at para 10, he held that “in practice, substance, form and all intent and purposes the email communication has the same effect as Form 6”. He said he was content that “the purpose behind CIL reg 67 has been satisfied in spirit at least” and “the apparent failure to strictly comply with the terms of reg 67(2) should be put aside”. There was in any event no prejudice to the collecting authority because it was aware of the date.”

Alarm bells ring – “satisfied in spirit at least” when you are dealing with the CIL Regulations??

Bad news: the council challenges the appeal decision in the High Court and the Secretary of State consents to judgment, leaving poor Mr Jones to fight on. Potentially £40k+ down and now in High Court litigation, with exposure to paying the council’s legal costs if he loses.

Even worse news: the High Court finds for the council:

First, the email did not amount to a valid commencement notice because it did not comply with the requirements of regulation 67 (2, which requires that it must:

(a) be submitted in writing on a form published by the Secretary of State (or a form to substantially the same effect);

(b) identify the liability notice issued in respect of the chargeable development;

(c) state the intended commencement date of the chargeable development; and

(d) include the other particulars specified or referred to in the form.”

Secondly, the case law does “not justify a process of simply looking to see the apparent purpose of the regulations and treating any act fulfilling that purpose as sufficient to comply with them. The Regulations make perfectly clear that the consequence of failure to comply is loss of the exemption; and failure to comply means failure to submit a notice under reg 67.

Finally the judge rejected the submission by Saira Sheikh QC “that in the circumstances of the present case the court should in its discretion refuse to grant relief to the Council. The requirements and the forms for fulfilling them are readily available, were made available to Mr Jones, and he accepted that he knew a commencement notice needed to be given. Only when the consequences of his failure were brought home to him in a substantial charge did Mr Jones claim that an email sent to the Council on an entirely different topic was his attempt to comply with the detailed requirements of which he was aware. There is no trace of any waiver or attempted waiver by the Council, and I do not see that Mr Jones could properly have interpreted the reply to his email in relation to s 106 as a waiver of the obligation to submit a commencement notice if he wished to maintain his self-build exemption. The argument based on the Inspector’s view that the Council should have told him (again) that he needed to submit a commencement notice is without merit: the Inspector was simply wrong about that. No system of administration could survive a duty imposed on a recipient of an email on one subject to remind its sender of all other notices on different subjects that he might want to send. The fact that the penalties are discretionary does not mean that the imposition of CIL itself is discretionary: it is not. The Council seems to have behaved as sympathetically as they could, imposing a minimum interest charge; and maintaining the imposition of the surcharge, in the absence of which Mr Jones would have no right of appeal. His difficulties have been caud maintaining the imposition of the surcharge, in the absence of which Mr Jones would have no right of appeal. His difficulties have been caused entirely by his own acts and I see no good reason to relieve him from the consequences at the expense of the ratepayers of Shropshire.

What an unforgiving process this is. As commented by solicitor David Brock in a tweet when Town Legal circulated this case yesterday:

The complications and traps of the CIL Regulations and self-builders are not really compatible. Which is odd given that Government encourages self- and custom-house building

Of course, the Government will say that it already has proposals in hand to deal with injustices such as this, in its consultation document Reforming developer contributions: Technical consultation on draft regulations. In Mr Jones’ situation there would now be (once the draft regulations are finalised and in force) “a surcharge equal to 20 per cent of the notional chargeable amount or £2,500, whichever is the lower amount.”

Clearly, the proposals will assist but cases such as that of Mr Jones illustrate both the absurdly rigid nature of the system but also the curious approach of charging authorities, on the one hand sympathetic, but on the other hand going out of the way to take court proceedings to overturn an inspector’s decision that might be said to have arrived at a morally right outcome by the wrong legal reasoning (which would admittedly have created a terrible precedent). And as for that sentence in the judgment…

“His difficulties have been caused entirely by his own acts and I see no good reason to relieve him from the consequences at the expense of the ratepayers of Shropshire“.

First of all, whilst mercy is not possible under the regulations and it is difficult to see how the legal answer could have been any different, surely a little sympathy expressed for Mr Jones might have been appropriate and secondly, this betrays some degree of misunderstanding as to the modern system of local government finance and I wonder how much money from CIL receipts Shropshire Council already has sitting in its accounts, to which it now adds this windfall?

Simon Ricketts, 19 January 2019

Personal views, et cetera

PS Good news last week: obviously subscribe to Tom Dobson’s new blog, Man Plans God Laughs, last week’s piece being on that consultation document. (NB pic below is of Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless – who would obviously have enjoyed CIL – rather than of Tom, where the relationship is more nuanced).

Author: simonicity

Partner at boutique planning firm, Town Legal LLP, but this blog represents my personal views only.

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