Make a plot a home

You get relief from Capital Gains Tax on a gain on the disposal of an interest in a dwelling-house which has been your main residence throughout your period of ownership.  If it hasn’t been your residence throughout the period of ownership, it’s likely that part of the gain will remain chargeable to tax.  So the ‘period of ownership’ can in some cases be crucially important.

But when does your ‘period of ownership’ of the dwelling-house begin?

For example, if you’ve built a house on land that you’ve owned for years, does the ‘period of ownership’ begin when you acquired the land or when the dwelling-house came into existence?

Advisers (and HMRC) thought the question had been settled long ago by a Special Commissioners’ decision on the very point (Henke, [2006] STC (SCD) 561): it’s the date you acquired the land.  And the Court of Appeal, in Higgins [2019] EWCA Civ 1860, seems to have proceeded on the assumption that Henke was correctly decided.

Nonetheless the First-tier Tribunal decided last year that Henke was wrong.  We commented on it here.  Now, in [2023] UKUT 242 (TCC) the Upper Tribunal, rejecting HMRC’s appeal, have agreed: the ‘period of ownership’ runs from the day you start to own the dwelling-house you dispose of, not the underlying land.

The decision, while of assistance to taxpayers (especially self-builders), raises some questions and some anomalies.  At what point in the build process do you start to own a dwelling-house rather than a building site? How derelict does a property need to be before its refurbishment and extension turns it into a different dwelling-house with its own period of ownership?  How does the rule work when you convert a non-residential property into a dwelling-house?

The Upper Tribunal recognised the complexities potentially arising from their decision but were unpersuaded that they opened the door to construe the phrase in the way HMRC wished: “we find that a textual analysis of the words does not result in ambiguity; in our judgment HMRC’s interpretation plainly is not “equally open” as the taxpayers’.”

Will the Court of Appeal have their say?  We must wait and see.  Meanwhile, the law is for the time being settled.

For more information on property taxes and reliefs, please get in touch with your usual BKL contact or use our enquiry form.



Sam Inkersole

In 2022, Sam won the Taxation’s Rising Star award at the Taxation Awards in and was named in the Accountancy Age 35 Under 35.

Jon Wedge

While Jon’s client work focuses on the financial services sector, he also oversees the firm’s assurance service, as well as supporting the trainees following in his footsteps.


Elana joined us in 2017 as an ACA trainee, after graduating from Durham University where she had studied languages. She is now a manager in our assurance team.


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