Job cuts at the department responsible for overseeing business rates are expected to pile more frustration on to firms already hit by confusion and delays from a new “check, challenge, appeal” system.
Adrian Smith, founder of Hull-based AS Rating, said the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) is planning to streamline its online service after acknowledging that it is creating great difficulties for ratepayers. But he added that any benefits are likely to be undone as the Government presses ahead with plans to cut 1,000 VOA jobs by 2021.
It appears to me that the Government has rushed the introduction of the new system to fit in with the timetable for job cuts. The system has massive flaws which are causing huge complications and delays but the government is pressing ahead with the job cuts regardless.
The rates revaluation which took effect on 1 April this year has created various anomalies and left some people facing higher bills because of inaccurate rateable values. The new system makes provision for ratepayers to use the “check, challenge, appeal” facility on the VOA website, but the reality is that some business owners don’t have the time or the technical skills to work through the complicated process.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has called on the VOA to make changes to the system and the Institute of Revenues Rating and Valuation (IRRV) placed the subject at the top of the agenda for its annual Rating Diploma Holders’ Conference.
Mary Hardman, Chief Valuer at the VOA, told the IRRV audience that improvements will be made to the online service by the end of this year, with more planned for spring 2018.
It was clear she recognised there are problems with the system. They need more people to sort this out but instead they are facing job cuts, with properties likely to be assessed from the plans rather than by proper inspections.
“The job cuts will affect the ability of the VOA to carry out a professional service and I think the system will get worse before it gets better, with ratepayers becoming more frustrated. Any improvements that result from streamlining the online system are likely to be at least cancelled out by the loss of more staff.”
Adrian, who operates across the UK, said questions have arisen from business people making assumptions about information which they have heard from other people involved in rating issues. There have also been specific questions from people who want to know about their rates liability for only occupying part of a property, and who are concerned about having to pay rates on premises undergoing major refurbishment.
The main source of frustration is the requirement for a business owner to register on the VOA website before they can check a rateable value and then consider whether to challenge it and appeal against it.
Unlike the procedure with other taxes, ratepayers even have to register themselves before they can appoint an agent to investigate the matter. There are business owners who have no idea of what is involved and therefore no idea whether their payments are correct.
“Imagine the problems you would have if they used a similar system for self-assessment and made it more difficult for accountants to register on behalf of businesses. The Government should take the burden off the ratepayers and hand it to people who are comfortable with it. Instead they are just frustrating the ratepayers and making it more difficult for them to find out whether they are being treated fairly.”