AHDB claims victory against ornamental plant grower in horticulture levy dispute

AHDB has won a case against RC Smith Plants, which refused to pay the AHDB horticulture levy after disputing the organisation's definition of 'retail'.

Smith said most of the plants he grew were sold as retail plants to the "end user" but a judge has found otherwise.

Smith claimed following the case that a precedent has been set on packing charges and said he is preparing further comment.

AHDB said: "Richard Smith believed AHDB’s definition of ‘retail’ in its guidance on completing the levy return form was wrong, and refused to pay what AHDB had invoiced as being due. Back in 2011, after protracted discussions with him, AHDB sued him for the outstanding horticulture levy, in order to obtain a judicial decision that would finally settle the dispute and obtain any levy due. The court analysed the matter in 2011, and found in AHDB’s favour. "

Smith disputed the matter and refused to pay.

AHDB again decided to sue for the outstanding levy and a hearing was held in Nuneaton County Court on 10 September 2015 to determine whether his defence had merit, and if so this would have led to a date being set for the case to be heard.

Smith had three lines of defence. First, the disputed definition of ‘retail’, as used in the statutory formula for calculating the ‘adjusted sales figure’ on which levy is due. The judge considered the 2011 analysis that had been made by a different judge. He decided that this was thorough and correct and that AHDB’s definition was appropriate to use.

Second, that Smith was entitled to a reduction for packing costs, as per the statutory formula for calculating the ‘adjusted sales figure’. The judge found that AHDB had already made such an allowance in each of the years for which levy was outstanding.

Third, that Smith was unable to understand the figures used by AHDB in calculating the levy due. These were figures provided by Smith in his levy return. The judge examined the figures and found them to be clear. The court therefore found that there was no merit in the defence put forward by Smith and awarded AHDB outstanding levy of £3783.14 together with statutory interest and a proportion of costs, to be paid within 14 days.

AHDB said: "AHDB regrets that this does not represent the full costs to the horticulture sector, because some legal costs were not awarded and it didn’t include staff time, all of which has to be paid from horticulture levy. However, AHDB is not willing to allow recalcitrant levy payers to avoid paying levy and thus to be subsidised by those who do make proper payments."

In relation to packing costs, AHDB’s guidance "has consistently made it clear that these are the costs incurred in packing horticultural products ready for sales to customers, and that it does not include costs incurred in growing the products.

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