A HAMPSHIRE college will receive a £55,000 tax rebate after a tribunal ruled that haute cuisine served at its in-house restaurant is exempt from VAT.

MJ’s restaurant at Brockenhurst College is open to the public and offers fine dining so good it has been praised by celebrity chefs including James Martin and Raymond Blanc.

Run by catering students, the popular eatery charges heavily discounted prices and does not make a profit.

The college has waged a long-running battle with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and has reclaimed almost four years’ of VAT it had wrongly paid on meals served at MJ’s.

Staff were victorious at an initial hearing and HMRC has now lost its appeal against the ruling.

MJ’s, which is open Monday to Friday, offers local groups and individuals the chance to enjoy a threecourse meal for as little as £15, the objective being to provide students with practical experience. The college claimed that the restaurant was “tantamount to a classroom” and that the students were the true beneficiaries of the venue.

HMRC lawyers argued that diners benefitted from the service, which meant that VAT was chargeable even on the rock bottom prices they paid.

However, Upper Tribunal judge Roger Berner ruled that the restaurant aimed to meet the educational needs of the students and was therefore VAT-exempt.

MJ’s is named after Michael J Snell, who was principal of the college from 1989 to 2006.

Head of the department John MacArther said: “Having a fullyoperational restaurant in which students train on a regular basis gives them outstanding levels of industry experience.”

Principal Di Roberts said that the rebate would be used to enhance the provision of the college’s catering and hospitality courses.

She added: “Brock offers the perfect location for students to develop skills needed to secure exciting careers in this fast-paced sector.

“Our excellent links with renowned local hotels and restaurants means they also have access to work placements that are second to none.”