Business rates: Great haste, makes great waste

Tamara Hooper

Policy Manager - South and East UK (RICS)

Non-domestic rates have been a staple and important issue within the news since Government did a root-and-branch consultation in mid-2015; we welcomed the consultation and the focus that it represents.

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Government decisions since then and in the lead up to the new revaluation, were disjointed and piecemeal, and created an uncertain system which became less transparent with each new announcement.

With the Barclay Review's report into the non-domestic rates system in Scotland, and Welsh Government looking to rejuvenate their rating appeals system, the devolved nations appear to be following suit in recognising that the non-domestic rates system is not optimal in its current iteration. However, they must take heed of the lessons of the Government and their handling of the changes. While the industry needs changes to be implemented in a timely manner to reinforce the transparency of the changes, they should not be rushed to meet unrealistic deadlines.

Check, Challenge, Appeal

When introduced, the new Check, Challenge, Appeal system, for which many consultations had been released by Government, aimed to provide a streamlined and efficient system, but had the potential to be slow, bureaucratic and cumbersome. The ease and efficiency of the system were reliant on its website, which went live in April with the release of the new non-domestic rating list, yet the website and its systems were and still are under construction.

The release of the new non-domestic rating list for England on 1 April 2017 was a date that was known for at least two years after it was deferred in 2014. Decisions to make and implement changes were made hastily and to tight deadlines, putting government departments — particularly the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) — under pressure to create a new system, regulations and advice in an unrealistic timeline. This resulted in the many-documented issues that ratepayers and agents at all scales of the system are now facing.

Developing the website

Before the release of the new non-domestic rating list, we shared VOA guidance for the new Check, Challenge, Appeal website and highlighted tips how to use it (including some areas that are not quite fit-for-purpose yet). Some of the issues raised have now been improved, including improvements to the customer dashboard, an option to save progress and return later, and the ability to amend/update account details.

I recommend all RICS professionals read the VOA's guidance. We have worked directly with them to inform them of the needs of both clients and agents to help produce a website that is beneficial to all users and is efficient for all sizes of portfolio and premises. We will continue to facilitate meetings to discuss pressing issues.

Before the website went live in April 2017, we highlighted that the website was in development. The VOA has recently released a timeline of the stages and the improvements they will make at each benchmark to provide greater transparency, something we have consistently called for.

The timeline

By late December 2017, amoungst other changes, there will be:

  • functionality to view submitted check and challenge cases.
  • the ability to link multiple properties at once.
  • improved management of agent permissions.

By March 2018, there will be:

  • a fully digital challenge form.
  • a digital dashboard for correspondence and notifications.
  • online valuations for land and miscellaneous properties.
  • improvements to document upload facilities.
  • access to the application programming interface (API) for shops, warehouses, and factories.

We will continue to support the VOA in the development of the website to make sure both agents and clients have a workable system in which to check and challenge their rates.

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