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IHT Break Estate Criticised for Limiting Public Access to Land

We found a recent article published on The Argus news website of particular interest the other day, as it throws up some interesting points on inheritance tax (IHT) and certain loopholes surrounding the charge. The Firle Estate, situated near Lewes, covers hundreds of acres of the South Downs National Park and has been made exempt from IHT in exchange for opening up its land to the public.

The estate – which also incorporates Firle House and Tilton Farm – has come under fire, however, for limiting public access to the grounds. The Gage family, who have been in possession of the estate since the 1400s, do not pay IHT so long as they keep the grounds in good condition and grant access to members of the public. IHT is charged at 40% of the value of an estate which is worth over £325,000 – a significant amount.

The deal struck with HMRC to reduce IHT was in a bid to protect the estate's "heritage assets for the benefit of the public." However, the Gage family have been criticised as they have only provided two points of access for the public and they are in the form of short, unmarked footpaths.

Chris Smith, a member of the Open Spaces Society (OSS) stated that: "it is shameful that the government has not demanded more public access in return for this lucrative tax loophole."

In a statement from the family's spokesperson, it was claimed that: "the conditional exemption for the Firle Estate covers approximately half of the estate including Firle Place and contains several conditions relating to public access all of which are complied with."

Where do you stand on this form of IHT avoidance? Do you think granting public access makes up for not paying IHT?