In answer to FOI Requests made by Colliers International to the Government's Valuation Office Agency (VOA) concerning "Find My Business Rates" and the "Check Challenge Appeal" system, the VOA revealed that 88% of the 2085 respondents in the period April 1st 2017 to 19 March 2018 said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied (17% and 71% respectively) with the new system and only 2.7% were very satisfied. Any claim by the Government that early teething problems have been ironed out is therefore “delusional” says Colliers.
CCA came into force on 1 April 2017, despite voiced concern from business rates professionals that it had not been properly thought through and requires ratepayers to check the information held on the property by the VOA as the first step in the process. Multiple properties held in a portfolio must each be claimed separately and the identity of the ratepayer must be proven with supporting documentation, making the process cumbersome.
Nearly 600 different respondents felt strongly enough to elaborate on their concerns about the system- complaining about lack of simplicity and clarity, calling for information on previous valuations, the search system to work properly, greater speed and the need for guidance notes about how the whole process worked.
Two main complaints stood out: “It needs to be much easier to contact you” along with “The need for a Freephone number for help” and “I would have liked a text box to be able to explain my reasons for compiling the check.” Users appear frustrated that there is no one that can guide them through the system, no one to explain their issues to and no opportunity to even put forward their reason for challenging their business rates assessment.
The new rating appeals system also fails to provide provision for an agent to submit appeals on behalf of the property owners - adding to the confusion.
CCA was introduced on the day the largest changes to business rates in a generation were published in April 2017. This included significant rate increases across London and the South East alongside a downside transitional scheme for the rest of the UK that offered little respite to rate payers in the depressed areas. This has caused chaos and economic difficulty for many businesses, particularly retailers - as reported in the latest business news.
The ability to appeal against the new rateable values seems now to have become an issue with latest figures revealed in February showing that only around 12,000 properties have begun to be check and challenge their rating assessments and only one has reached appeals stage. According to John Webber, Head of Business Rates at Colliers International, given that there are in the region of 1.8 million rateable hereditaments, these figures imply 99.7% of businesses are happy with their rating assessments, which is of course “laughable.”
Webber continued, " Reading through the responses it is obvious that businesses are confused and frustrated by this new system, which is clearly restricting business owners' rights to appeal. The Government ignored the advice of rating experts when it introduced Check Challenge Appeal which we said was unworkable at the time, and despite our criticisms, rolled on ahead regardless."
He continued, " These figures bear out our concerns. The fact that nearly 90% of over 2000 respondents have registered their dissatisfaction speaks volumes. It is as if ratepayers are being penalised for exercising their right to question their business rates by making it more difficult and expensive. Ratepayers want personal contacts to explain their issues to- yet at the same time the Valuation Office Agency is less and less resourced with lay-offs and further closures of regional offices on the horizon."
As Webber comments further, "The lack of planning, insignificant time to trial the system before it went live and apparent lack of desire by the government to engage with agents and their software providers has resulted in a system close to collapse. With the 2017 rating revaluation producing some of the largest increases in liability in a generation, and 2018 building up further rises, it appears this government has proved again that it neither understands the pressures facing businesses or has a willingness to act on calls to change. "