IS IT ALREADY TIME TO REFORM THE REFORMED BUSINESS RATES SYSTEM?

By Andrew Hulbert, Director of Business Rates

The Valuation Office Agency is having a bad time of it lately, as it comes to light that the new Check, Challenge, Appeal system it now applies to business rates, isn’t going down at all well with rate-payers.

Had the VOA taken concerns from both rate-payers and their agents on board prior to introducing the controversial system on April 1st this year, perhaps some of the negative feedback its now experiencing could have been avoided, given that we all predicted the fall-out from the moment the plans were announced.

Implementing a Revaluation at the same time as attempting to reform the appeal process was always going to set off alarm bells, but four months into the new regime, there are damning accusations that the scheme is effectively preventing appeals being lodged. The fact that the online portal set up for ratepayers to attempt to take themselves through the CCA process has been dismissed as being impossible to operate, the process seems to have caused more chaos than any of us could have foreseen. 

Indeed, it has been reported in the national press that a team from HMRCS has been sent into the VOA to try and solve the problems.

Local Authorities are, understandably, perhaps even less impressed as the VOA has also reformed the requirements of the level of information the council need to provide before they action a request to amend the rating list.  From our understanding these delays are hampering councils and adversely affecting their collection rates.

As the VOA came under fire prior to implementing CCA, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond announced in his Budget that local authorities would be provided with a £300 million fund to deliver discretionary relief to those businesses particularly adversely, and unfairly, affected by the revaluation. These discretionary powers, however, have led to an increased workload for those working within the Authorities.

Given the upcoming reductions in staff at the VOA,  some might argue that the whole CCA system and its inherent difficulties to operate are effectively a cost-cutting exercise to reduce the number of appeals the VOA had to oversee.

Whatever the reasons for disregarding professional opposition to the reforms, the backlash to the new system in its initial months cannot go ignored. With criticism from Billing Authorities, Rating professionals and high profile bodies including CAMRA and the Federation for Small Businesses – the chairman of which, Mike Cherry, dismissed the CCA platform as ‘a total shambles’ – those working at the Valuation Office are now under considerable pressure to reform the reform, as it were.

Having responded to the outcry with an assurance that the system will continue to be improved based on customer feedback, surely we are not alone in looking forward to a welcome VOA U-turn of sorts when it comes to the way that they handle appeals over the coming months.