New website to help firms challenge business rates is a 'nightmare'

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 19 Apr 2017

Companies in East Yorkshire could fold as a result of a "nightmare" online system designed to help them challenge their rates liability, business leaders have warned.

Business rates are a major overhead for many businesses and a recent revaluation process has, produced winners and losers.

Some saw their business rates reduced as the result of a cut in the rateable value (RV) of their property, and some qualified for 100 per cent rates relief as the threshold was doubled to £12,000. Others were hit with sizeable increases, prompting the Chancellor to try and soften the blow with measures in this year's Budget.

Adrian Smith of AS Rating in Hessle said the new 'check, challenge, appeal' website, which is being phased in by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), could trip up a lot of users with rigid and time-consuming processes.

He said: "Businesses and their agents need to register with the Government Gateway, identify whether they should challenge their assessment and then start the procedure. Then they wait for up to 18 months, and some businesses could fold in that time.

"It is a nightmare and people will find it very difficult to deal with it."

The new rating list came into effect on April 1 but the website is still under construction, with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors warning it is likely to be developed piecemeal, with completion not due until 2018.

Ratepayers who want to check their rating assessment must register through the Government Gateway.

If they wish to challenge their valuation, they must then compare their property with others of similar age, size and character in their area and set out why they think their valuation is incorrect.

If their challenge is dismissed, or if the VOA has not responded within 18 months, they have the right to appeal to a Valuation Tribunal.

Mr Smith said: "The new website is the essential tool for businesses to check their valuations and, if appropriate, challenge and appeal. It is complicated and time consuming and has been imposed by the Government, who don't seem to be aware of the problems it will cause.

"Some business owners have still not received their rates bills, and those who have may find them inaccurate because the calculations do not allow for the changes in the Budget."

Specific concerns are that individuals may have to submit their own applications for small business relief, whereas in the past some local authorities made the change automatically.

Some new properties may not yet have a valuation, but the occupiers will still become liable for the full, backdated amount once a figure is set.

Mr Smith said: "If someone thinks their assessment is incorrect it is up to them to tell the VOA what they think the assessment should be and why, and that means going through a long-winded process.

"The mood among business people is still one of concern and confusion and I think it is going to get worse because the system will become clogged up."

Last week, the Mail reported how the East Yorkshire branch of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) was calling on Hull City Council to reimburse rates to businesses that claimed they had been left out of pocket by the public realm works.

However, anticipated backlogs to the new system mean Hull businesses seeking to challenge rates paid in previous years could well find themselves at the back of the queue.

Businesses which face a large increase or decrease could also find their calculations thrown into disarray by the transitional system which introduces changes gradually.

Tom Penrose, director at PPH Commercial said: "There is a massive anomaly in the system. In London, for example, the RV of some premises has gone up dramatically, whereas locally we have seen examples of the RV of a building fall from £150,000 to £50,000.

"These changes are being phased in, which benefits a business in London who will see their business rates increase slowly.

"In Hull, however, rates will decrease by a small percentage at a time, meaning they are effectively at a disadvantage."

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