Changes to the procedure for contesting business rates have been dismissed as inadequate by an expert who says the new system is no more than a hidden rates increase.
Adrian Smith, founder of Adrian Smith Rating, said the low numbers of businesses embarking on the check, challenge, appeal (CCA) process for business rates is an indication that they find it too complicated.
The result is that people decide it is not worth the trouble of going through the process themselves or the expense of appointing an agent. They end up paying more money to the Government, and it’s basically a hidden rates increase.
A report by business rates specialist Colliers International, which has offices throughout the UK, shows there are 1.85 million non-domestic properties on the rating list. Current figures show there are more than 130,000 appeals outstanding from the list that was introduced in 2010, yet the VOA says only 23,770 checks were registered under the new system by the end of March this year. Of those, 18,400 were resolved and 5,370 remained outstanding.
According to the calculations by Colliers, which are based on figures from the VOA, the rateable value has only been challenged on 1.3 per cent of the rateable properties in England.
Some might interpret the low numbers as evidence that the new system is working well, but the opposite is the case. The number of checks is low simply because many people don’t understand how to contest their rateable value, can’t afford to engage professional advice and are left with no option but to pay more than they should.
Changes have been made to the check, challenge, appeal (CCA) process to allow a business which owns several properties to register them all at the same time and to register an agent as part of their company. However a business which has only one property still has to complete its own registration process, and demonstrate specialist knowledge.
A Freedom of Information request submitted by Colliers to the VOA established that 90 per cent of 2,000 respondents were dissatisfied wit the new system, reinforcing the view among business rates specialists that the system is not fit for purpose.
As a result of the public outcry there have been changes, but for the vast majority of businesses they make no difference at all. The registration process has been simplified for the bigger businesses which have more property, but they still have to address the complications of the next stage.
The VOA used to visit business premises to set the rateable. Now they regularly do it without leaving their desks, but experience shows that in reality properties to not always match the specification shown in planning documents or development proposals, and the result is that a rating assessment can be based on incorrect survey data.
In the past a business could contact the VOA, express their concerns and ask them to check their property. Now they have to do it themselves, and the average ratepayer is not going to know about the details of their business premises that can influence rateable value up or down.