Mum’s dream ruined by £9k bill as tiny garden cabin deemed ‘2nd home’

A “retirement dream” has been destroyed after a planning row has left a woman with no choice but to demolish a wood cabin in her garden. Hazel Cullen moved to Wales in 2019 with her lorry driver husband Richard and teenage daughter Megan and immediately began transforming the building into a luxury getaway for holidaymakers.

The 60-year-old was making a tidy profit from the cabin which she had called Woodpecker Lodge but her dream began to unravel after a neighbour alerted Powys County Council.

Mrs Cullen says the neighbour had complained about lights in the lodge and so a valuation officer turned up in March 2020.

The former hairdresser said: “We initially were told everything would be okay but then we were given a council tax bill and were told it was because the cabin was a second home.

“It isn’t a second home. If I wanted to go on holiday to my second home why would I want to do it in my back garden?

“We told them it wasn’t a second home, it’s a cabin, but they weren’t having any of it.

“The council tax on it is going up and up and next year it’s going to be ridiculous. I’ll be losing money on it.”

Wales Online reports that local authorities in Wales have been able to charge a premium of up to 100 percent of the standard rate of council tax on second homes designed to prevent second homeowners from taking over Wales’s top visitor spots.

But under new criteria, councils will have the power to increase council tax premiums to 300 percent.

The Valuation Office Agency assesses properties in Wales for council tax based on whether their primary use is considered domestic or non-domestic.

Supporters of the Wales-only measure say it is necessary to quell soaring house prices and the lack of housing availability, particularly in sought-after coastal locations. But opponents say the policy will cripple Wales’s tourism economy.

Mrs Cullen believes she will pay up to a 300 percent premium on her cabin by the end of the financial year – totalling more than £9,000 annually. This is more than three times the bills in her 11-room country home.

The Welsh Government says it is up to individual councils whether they charge 300 percent. At the moment Powys Council charges a 75 percent premium.

Mrs Cullen, who is originally from Yorkshire, said: “We got it all ready before we got locked down and then had this guy at the gate from the Valuation Office Agency saying: ‘It’s been reported that there has been a light on in the cabin and it’s being lived in.’

“I saw on his laptop that he had all of the information about us from and I let him take pictures.”

She says the cabin, which is no bigger than a standard garage, could not be deemed to be a second home because it just has a bathroom, a bedroom, and a lounge, but does not have a kitchen.

Mrs Cullen added: “I haven’t got a problem with the council tax because it’s band A and that’s fine. But what I’ve got an issue with is that they call it a second home.

“We told the council it’s a bedroom extension and it’s linked to our water and electricity but they’ve decided to class it as a second home and have even give it its own address.

“The premiums are ridiculous. This year they’ve put the premium on it to 75 percent which takes the price up to £2,163. Next year it’s going to be up to 300 percent which will be £9,000.”

“It’s busy but it’s only open for half of the year and it doesn’t merit keeping it open while paying that amount of tax.

“They’ve said they won’t remove the council tax on it unless it becomes derelict so basically I now have to demolish it.

“We love Wales, we love providing tourism in Wales, but this has all made us think: ‘Do we want to live over the border instead?’

“My husband has always lived in Wales and he has said it’s got so bad with all of the charges that he would now consider moving to England to do it instead.

“Here I could turn every room in this house into bed and breakfast accommodation and they wouldn’t charge us a penny extra but I can’t have the cabin outside, which was already there when we got here, without being charged this premium.

“This was my retirement dream but this whole thing has put the kibosh on it.

“It would be such a shame [to have to demolish it] because we love it here and we love the area. So many small local businesses are having difficulties and we always recommend local places and places to go and see.”

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She says it is “common sense” that a cabin in a garden isn’t a second home and added: “[First Minister Mark] Drakeford has a cabin in the bottom of his garden that he stayed in during Covid, presumably because his cabin has all the amenities needed to live in which our cabin hasn’t got.

“Is Mr Drakeford paying second home tax on that? If not why should I?”

A spokesman for Powys County Council said: “The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) will decide if a property is classified as a commercial property or a domestic property.

“Their classification will determine whether the owner is liable to pay either business rates or council tax.

“For a self-catering unit to be classified as a commercial property, from April 1, 2023, the property must: in the previous 12 months, prior to the assessment, been available for letting commercially as self-catering accommodation for 252 days or more; and during the previous 12-month period been commercially let for at least 182 days.

“Owners who want to challenge the classification of their property would need to contact the VOA.

“From April 1, 2023, local authorities are able to charge a council tax premium on periodically occupied properties of up to 30 percent. Currently Powys County Council charges a 75 percent premium.”

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