Business rates appeal too difficult to start, businesses claim
An overhaul to the system that allows companies to challenge their business rates bills has resulted in a service that is “unfair”, experts have warned.
Almost nine in ten companies who are in the early stages of appealing against their rates bills are still dissatisfied with the new approach, according to a government survey.
This is despite official efforts to tackle weaknesses with a system that representatives of businesses say has made it unreasonably difficult to challenge bills that may be too high.
In the five months to August 8, of respondents who were in the first stage of making an appeal 86 per cent said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the new system.
Business rates are a tax on commercial property that brings in about £29 billion a year. A new three-stage “check, challenge and appeal” system was introduced alongside the first revaluation of business rates for seven years in 2017, when about half a million properties were hit with rate rises.
Many high street retailers, both large and small, have complained about the impact that the revaluation of business rates has had on their companies.
The new system was intended, in part, to reduce the number of what the government claims are speculative appeals which are seen as a waste public resources.
When combined with a previous government survey, the research suggests that 87 per cent of businesses in the “check” stage who have offered their view on the service said they were unimpressed.
The findings were revealed after a freedom of information request to the Valuation Office Agency, which administers business rates.
The government has acknowledged some teething problems with the system but experts said the findings suggest that promised improvements are not having much effect.
There has been a marked drop in the number of appeals registered since the new approach was introduced. The government sees this as evidence of success.
A spokesman for the VOA noted that satisfaction with the new approach was rising among those who had got past the “check” stage of the process and now stood at more than half of users.
“This suggests the improvements we’ve made are having a real positive impact.”
He added that the high dissatisfaction rate for those in the initial stages of an appeal “is not representative” of broader attitudes to the system.
More than two thirds of those that complete an appeal achieve a reduction to their bill.
However, representatives of businesses argue that it has become far too difficult to begin a challenge against a bill that may be incorrect.
The freedom of information request was made by John Webber, head of business rating at Colliers International, a commercial property adviser.
He said: “Over-complicated procedures, lack of guidance and a largely unnavigable new online portal are discouraging those with good cases from challenging their bills.”
Only 1.9 per cent of the properties in England have had a “check” registered against them.
“There are many companies deserving fairness, but the low participation shows that many find it too expensive or time consuming to pursue,” Mr Webber said.
By James Hurley at The Times