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Plant and machinery: When is a plant not a plant?

Q: When is a plant not a plant? A: When it's an elephant.

‘The philosopher-statesman, Balfour, is reported to have said it was unnecessary to define a Great Power because, like an elephant, you recognised it when you met it. Unhappily plant in taxing and other statutes is no elephant (though I suppose an elephant might be plant).’

– Lord Justice Stephenson, Cole Bros Ltd v Phillips 1982

It might indeed be plant, particularly if you ride one to work in the morning. Defining plant and machinery in the context of capital allowances is a slippery business, and without a statutory definition judges have had to rely on case law for guidance. So, to obtain the latest legal thinking, ask the ICAEW Library.

The A-Z of Plant & Machinery was first published in 2012 and is now in its fourth edition. Ray Chidell and Lindsay Pentelow have created an accessible, practical guide for determining whether a capital asset can qualify as plant or machinery for capital allowance purposes. The book does not attempt to be exhaustive but summarises the current legal (and governmental) opinions as established by specific cases, from Yarmouth v France in 1882 up to the present day.

From it we learn that a ship is usually a plant (unless it is used as a place of business), that a human being is definitely not (sorry, Mr Holland) and that the humble gazebo shelters a troublesome mixture of legal precedents.

In addition to this specialised work the Library holds numerous books and journal articles on capital allowances which we can send to members. For UK legislation and case law, members can access our legal databases within ICAEW's Business Centre or contact us for free research assistance.

So if you need to know your balustrades from your briefcases and your milking parlours from your motorcycles, saddle up your elephant and contact the Library. You might be able to claim for it.

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