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27 Apr 2020

Over 660 stately homes now rely on public visits – up 20% in 10 years

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There are now 660 stately homes in the UK that will be hit by the coronavirus as they depend on usage by the public for at least part of their upkeep, shows a study by Boodle Hatfield, the leading private wealth law firm.

A decade ago (2009), just 550 stately homes depended on public visits for income from tours, retail, sales of food and drinks or hire for weddings and conferences.

As COVID-19 forced a nationwide lockdown earlier this year, stately homes were one of many attractions forced to close their doors.

Boodle Hatfield says that over the last ten years, more stately homes have begun opening to the public as owners of landed estates seek to diversify their income from their properties.

The growth in stately home openings means that around 40% of the UK’s 1,650 stately homes* are now accessible to the public.

In recent years many have opened businesses such as vineyards, conference facilities and farm shops, in order to grow and protect revenues, which have traditionally been limited primarily to agriculture. Opening properties to the public can contribute to the funds needed for upkeep and prevent the buildings falling into disrepair.

The firm explains that opening to the public also plays a vital role in protecting the UK’s cultural and architectural heritage. Homes or land of historic or architectural significance can be passed to heirs without charge of Inheritance Tax so long as they are made accessible to public visitors for part of the year and satisfy various other conditions. Previously, heirs were often forced to sell the houses to pay inheritance tax bills. Often homes sold for this reason were converted into hotels.

There were once more than 5,000 stately homes in the UK but many have been lost over the last century after their owners were unable to invest the sums needed for upkeep.

Hayden Bailey, Partner at Boodle Hatfield, says: “If Government support can help the sector make its way through the next few months then stately homes and estates could benefit from a medium-term shift from foreign holidays to staycations.”

“More and more estate owners have been transforming their homes into small businesses and becoming a tourist attraction that focuses on visitor experience can be a key part of that.”

“By opening up their estates, the public gets access to houses that are an important part of our cultural heritage. It was once much more common for large estates to have to be broken up and sold, simply because the upkeep was impossible to pay otherwise. Now those properties are being kept for the nation to enjoy.”

This article first appeared in eprivateclient on 27 April 2020.