In May of this year, the UK Supreme Court handed down its judgment in Hurstwood Properties (A) Ltd v Rossendale Borough Council  UKSC 16 ('Hurstwood'), a test case for around 55 other similar claims relating to business rates avoidance schemes, used by companies attempting to avoid the payment of non-domestic rates on empty properties.
The claimants in the case were various local authorities which were, in essence, seeking to make the ultimate beneficiaries of the schemes liable for the relevant rates, in place of certain Special Purpose Vehicles ("SPVs") which had been incorporated purely for the purposes of the schemes and which were, on the face of it, the entities with which the relevant liabilities resided. One of the ways in which the claimants sought to achieve this was by arguing that the Court should "pierce the corporate veil", essentially ignoring the separate legal personality of the SPVs, and instead attributing their liability for the rates to those ultimate beneficiaries. The Supreme Court not only refused to do so on the particular facts at issue in the case, but also expressed much wider ranging concerns as to whether it was ever appropriate to "pierce the veil" and ignore the separate legal personality of a company. In doing so, it distanced itself somewhat for its prior judgment on this topic, in Prest v Petrodel Resources  UKSC 34 ('Prest'), which had left the door ajar for arguments of this type to be made.