News that the VOA (Valuation Office Agency) plans to reduce the number of locations in which it has offices from 52 to 26 will be a nightmare for businesses that want to repeal their business rates liability says Colliers International, the global property consultancy business.

Looking at the list of planned office closures it appears that by 2023, the VOA will only really be in the main UK cities, with a London presence solely in Canary Wharf. Offices in smaller, regional centres will be closed leaving 4 in Scotland and 2 in Wales.

“This is a shambles,” says John Webber, Head of Business Rating at Colliers International. “It’s inconceivable that a time when the VOA has over 200,000 outstanding appeals still in the system and has introduced a new "Check, Challenge, Appeal (CCA) System which businesses find impossible to navigate, that the Government has decided to reduce, rather than boost the number of offices and professionals that can sort out the issues.”

The new appeal system has been pretty unanimously branded a disaster by professional firms and users alike. According to a recent FOI Request made by Colliers to the VOA, nearly 90% of the 847 respondents that were trying to use the new system said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with it, calling for greater clarity, speed and guidance. Many have found it impossible to navigate.

"So now not only is the appeal system making it more cumbersome if not impossible for businesses to appeal their rate bills, but there are fewer places and people to help." continued Webber. "It’s like closing a hospital because there are too many sick people to deal with, in the hope that they’ll just go away. It doesn't solve the issue, just tries to sweep it under the carpet."

Colliers has been a supporter of the VOA and has recommended that the Government invests more in its people and systems so that the backlog of appeals can be dealt with and a proper fit for purpose organisation is created for the future.

Webber continued, “Many businesses have been hammered in the recent business rates revaluation, with some big rate rises and with the uncertainty caused by Brexit, additional costs of the NLW and apprenticeship schemes and interest rate rises, it is a difficult time for many. Both the CBI and FSB called on the Chancellor to freeze business rates given current hardships and sort out reliefs, many of which have been promised but not yet given. Last Wednesday's Budget did little to ease the pain. Despite linking rate rises to CPI rather than RPI, businesses will still see a 0.75 billion rate rise in April 2018. We join the demand that the Government helps support business rather than hindering it." 

Webber concluded, “Cutting the VOA so dramatically is not only bad news for the VOA where it will hit morale as it haemorrhages staff and jobs, but also for businesses who more than ever need to be able to appeal their rate bills in a simple, efficient and fair way.”

The Treasury currently receives a net income of around £26 million from the business rates system.


VOA 2017 to 2023 locations list

2017 locations

2023 locations

Aberdeen

Aberdeen

Bangor

Birmingham

Birmingham

Bristol

Bristol

Cambridge

Bromley

Canary Wharf

Cambridge

Cardiff

Cardiff

Colchester

Carmarthen

Croydon

Chatham

Eastbourne

Colchester

Edinburgh

Coventry

Exeter

Crewe

Folkestone

Durham

Glasgow

Eastbourne

Hull

Edinburgh

Inverness

Enfield

Leeds

Exeter

Liverpool

Folkestone

Manchester

Glasgow

Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Gloucester

Norwich

Halifax

Nottingham

Huddersfield

Plymouth

Hull

Southampton

Inverness

Wembley

Lancaster

Worthing

Leeds

Wrexham

Lincoln

 

Liverpool

 

London CEO (Wingate House)

 

Manchester

 

Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

 

Northampton

 

Norwich

 

Nottingham

 

Oxford

 

Plymouth

 

Preston

 

Reading

 

Redhill (aka Reigate)

 

Rhyl

 

Sheffield

 

Shrewsbury

 

Southampton

 

St Albans

 

St Austell

 

Stoke

 

Swansea

 

Tower Hamlets

 

Wembley

 

Wimbledon

 

Worthing

 

Wrexham

 


Colliers Manifesto for Business Rates Reform includes:

1     Increase funding for VOA in order to deal with existing appeals’ backlog;

2.     Release VOA from pressure exerted by local councils and HM Treasury;

3.     Introduce a register of appeals professionals – removing the ‘cowboy’ element;

4.     Root and branch reform of current business rates exemptions and reliefs.