Benson (HM Inspector of Taxes) v Yard Arm Club Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date15 January 1979
Date15 January 1979
CourtChancery Division



(1) Benson (H.M. Inspector of Taxes)
Yard Arm Club Ltd

Income tax - Corporation tax - Capital allowances - Plant - Expenditure on acquisition of ship and conversion to floating restaurant - Whether expenditure on "plant".

In 1962 the Company bought a secondhand ship and converted her into a floating restaurant. The converted hulk had no means of propulsion or steering. She was moored with an attendant barge at a permanent site on the Victoria Embankment. The Inspector refused capital allowances for the cost of the ship and subsequent expenditure upon her for the years 1963-64 to 1965-66 and for subsequent accounting periods up to and including the year to 31 December 1973.

On appeal the General Commissioners upheld the Company's contention that the hulk was plant, on the grounds that it was the principal means of attracting people to the restaurant.

In the High Court the Company did not seek to defend the grounds of the Commissioners' decision, but contended that for the purpose of deciding if something is plant, assets fall into two classes, the first class being land and buildings and structures on land, the second comprising all other assets, including the floating restaurant. The test for the former, it was argued, is stricter: the asset has to play a part in the commercial process. For the second class the asset merely needs to be something kept for permanent employment in the trade; the authorities establishing a rigorous functional test were all concerned with the former class and thus irrelevant. Alternatively, the Company's trade was not merely that of a restaurant, but a floating restaurant. In that specialised trade the hulk had a functional role. The Crown contended that the hulk and its barge were simply the place or setting of the trade and not a means for carrying it on.

The Chancery Division, allowing the Crown's appeal, held (1) that the Company's main argument had no foundation in the authorities even if it were not explicitly inconsistent with them; (2) that its alternative argument was really for an amenity test, not a functional test; the hulk had amenity value in the Company's trade, but it was not plant, because it was the setting of the trade and not the apparatus used for carrying on the trade.

Dixon v. Fitch's Garage Ltd. 50 TC 509; [1976] 1 WLR 215 followed.

In the Court of Appeal it was also contended for the Company that ships and hulks were by their very nature "plant", on the authority of John Hall, Junior & Co. v. Rickman [1906] 1 KB 311, and capital expenditure on them therefore qualified for capital allowances.

The Court of Appeal, dismissing the Company's appeal, held that the hulk and the barge, though chattels, were the premises where the business was carried on and not apparatus employed in the Company's commercial activities. John Hall, Junior & Co. v. Rickman (above) distinguished and explained.


Stated by the Commissioners for the General Purposes of the Income Tax for the Division of Spelthorne in the County of Middlesex pursuant to s 56 of the Taxes Management Act 1970, for the opinion of the High Court of Justice.

1. At a meeting of the said Commissioners at Sunbury Council Chambers, Green Street, Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex, on 15 December 1976, the Yard Arm Club Ltd. (hereinafter called "the Company") appealed against income tax assessments made on the Company under Case 1 of Schedule D in respect of profits from its trade as restaurateurs, as follows:







The Company further appealed against corporation tax assessments made on the Company in respect of profits from its trade as restaurateurs, as follows:

Accounting period




















2. The question for our determination was as follows: whether the Company was entitled to capital allowances in respect of capital expenditure incurred in acquiring the vessel "Hotspur" later known as "Hispaniola" (and referred to here as Hispaniola 1) and the cost of its conversion into a floating restaurant, together with a barge which provided services to it. The expenditure in dispute related to the hull and structure of the vessels, the Revenue having agreed that capital allowances were due in respect of restaurant furniture, sewage pumps etc.

3. Oral evidence was given by Mr. W.R. Watson-Smyth, formerly chairman of the Company.

4. The following documents were proved or admitted before us:

  1. (a) A schedule of the profits assessable and capital allowances for each period if the case were determined in favour of the Revenue (exhibit 1).

  2. (b) A schedule of the profits assessable and capital allowances for each period if the case were determined in favour of the Company (exhibit 2).

  3. (c) A schedule showing summaries of the capital expenditure incurred, the capital allowances granted and the capital allowances disputed for each period (exhibit 3).

  4. (d) Schedules showing details of the capital expenditure incurred (exhibit 4).

  5. (e) A copy of an advertising circular sent to the Board of Inland Revenue (exhibit 5).

  6. (f) Two photographs of Hispaniola 1 (exhibit 6).

  7. (g) The certificate of registration of Hispaniola 1 (exhibit 7).

5. The following facts were proved or admitted:

  1. (i) Hispaniola 1 had been originally built in 1927 for use as a ferry between Southampton and the Isle of Wight. Subsequently it had been sold to a firm in Norfolk who used it as a pleasure craft. It was acquired by the Company for £2,449 in 1962.

  2. (ii) The reason for acquisition of the vessel was in order to convert it into a restaurant club.

  3. (iii) The ship was initially registered as the "Hotspur" at Southampton. Since acquisition by the Company it had been re-registered at Southampton as the "Hispaniola".

  4. (iv) During the conversion of the vessel the engines and boiler were removed and it had thereafter no power or steering ability.

  5. (v) The vessel, after conversion, was towed to a permanent site of the Victoria Embankment, where it was used initially as a floating restaurant club and later as a floating restaurant open to the public at large from 13 August 1963 until 1975 when it was replaced by a larger vessel.

  6. (vi) The vessel was moved under tow to dry dock for repainting and maintenance every few years (maximum five).

  7. (vii) When the shares of the Company were acquired (in 1967) by Mr. Watson-Smyth and other members of his family, the ship comprised three decks; a hold where the washing-up etc., was done, which was served by a lift from the other decks, a main deck containing bars, toilets and restaurant facilities and an upper deck comprising table facilities and the kitchen. Associated with that was the barge which was necessary for the gangway to come down and slide on. It also contained sewage disposal equipment and waiters' changing rooms, etc. In 1972 a new kitchen was built on the barge.

  8. (viii) The barge was fixed to mooring posts and was able to slide up and down those posts as required by tidal movement. The maximum tidal difference at the site was about 30 ft. The Hispaniola 1 was attached to the barge by ropes and chains and was subject to the vertical tide movement of up to 30 ft. and also to movement up and down river to the extent of some 5 ft. caused by the ebb and flow of the tide. The waves caused it to rock gently from side to side.

  9. (ix) The customers of the restaurant nearly all joined the vessel by way of the gangway from the Victoria Embankment but some came by boat, mooring to the barge. They came, to quote the former chairman, "to get good food somewhere different with views of the river, etc. and a shipboard feeling".

  10. (x) The vessel was intended to be kept in a permanently fixed position although it could be moved if required. It was never intended to carry passengers or cargo on voyages.

  11. (xi) When it was replaced by a larger vessel in 1975 attempts were made to sell Hispaniola 1 but these attempts had failed and a new mooring was being sought at Hammersmith Pier where negotiations with the local authority had reached an advanced stage.

  12. (xii) In the period 1962-73 capital expenditure was incurred as follows:


    1. Cost of hull alterations (including cost of vessel)


    2. Cost of lifts, machinery and furniture


    3. Cost of additional fixtures, etc.



  13. (xiii) Capital allowances have been granted in respect of the expenditure on the items 2 and 3 above. The dispute arises over item 1.

6. We were referred to the following authorities:

Gibson v. Small (1852-54) 4 HL Cas 353

European and Australian Royal Mail Co. Ltd. v. The Peninsular and Orient Steam Navigation Co. (1866) 14 LT 704

The Mac (1882) 7 P 126

Yarmouth v. France ELR(1887) 19 QBD 647

The Gas Float Whitton No. 2 ELRELR(1896) P 42; (1895) 65 LJ P 17; (1895) P 301

Andrews v. Andrews and Mears ELR[1908) 2 K B 567

Polpen Shipping Co., Ltd. v. Commercial Union Assurance Co., Ltd.ELR[1943] K B 161

J. Lyons & Co. v. Attorney-General UNK[1944] 1 All ER 477

Hinton v. Maden & Ireland, Ltd. TAXWLR38 TC 391; [1975] 1 WLR 875

Jarrold v. John Good & Sons TAXWLR40 TC 681; [1963] 1 WLR 214

Barclay Curle & Co. Ltd. v. Commissioners of Inland RevenueTAXWLR45 TC 221; [1969] 1 WLR 675

Cooke v. Beach Station Caravans Ltd. TAXWLR49 TC 514; [1974] 1 WLR 1398

St. Johns School v. Ward TAX49 TC 524;

Munby v. Furlong TAXUNKELR50 TC 491; [1976] STC 72; [1977] Ch 359

Dixon v. Fitch's Garage Ltd. TAXWLR50 TC 509; [1976] 1 WLR 215

7. It was contended on behalf of the Company that:-

  1. (i) Hispaniola 1 was at all material times a ship, was in use for the purposes of the Company's trade as proprietors of a floating restaurant, and therefore all capital expenditure incurred by the Company in purchasing, converting and making improvements to that vessel for use in...

To continue reading

Request your trial
4 cases
  • Shove (Inspector of Taxes) v Lingfield Park 1991 Ltd
    • United Kingdom
    • Chancery Division
    • 11 July 2003
    ... ... been held to be plant, in Cooke v Beach Station Caravans Ltd 49 TC 514, while conversely, in Benson v Yard Arm Club Ltd 53 TC 67, a ship used as a floating restaurant, although a chattel, was held ... ...
  • Shove (Inspector of Taxes) v Lingfield Park 1991 Ltd
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
    • 31 March 2004
    ... ... 2 swimming pools in caravan park held to be provision of plant, not premises or setting) ; Benson v. Yard Arm Club Ltd (1979) 53 TC 67 (purchase and conversion of a vessel and barge to be used as ... ...
  • HM Inspector of Taxes (Atwood) v Anduff Car Wash Ltd
    • United Kingdom
    • Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
    • 17 July 1997
    ... ... As Templeman L.J. said in Benson v Yard Arm Club Ltd. [53 T.C. 67] at page 90E: 'It plainly appears, ... ...
  • Paul Telfer v The Commissioners For Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs, TC 05350
    • United Kingdom
    • First-tier Tribunal (Tax Chamber)
    • 31 August 2016 the carrying out of those duties, being only the place within which they were carried out. He cited Benson v Yard Arm Club Ltd (1975-81) 53 TC 67 in support of this submission. 29. He submitted that the caravans were used to provide Mr and Mrs Telfer with accommodation on the caravan sit......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT