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Business rates: a financial ticking time bomb (Part 1)

If you would like to be alerted when Part 2 is published please email julie.draper@jpplaw.co.uk

If you are one of a growing number of businesses facing financial crisis following the business rates revaluation earlier this year, options for reducing your outgoings to keep the business afloat are likely to be high on your list of priorities.  You may also have thought about whether you can challenge your assessment or take advantage of available exemptions or reliefs.

In the first of a two-part series of articles on this subject,we look at the circumstances in which a challenge may be possible.

The second article will look at available exemptions and reliefs, options for reducing your overheads and the process you will need to go through if you decide your business is no longer financially viable.

Challenging an assessment

If you think that the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) has got the rateable value of your property wrong, then you can query this by raising the matter with them and asking for a review.  To do this, you will need to go through a structured process known as 'check, challenge, appeal'.

Check

The check part of the process requires you to identify the property being queried and examine a series of facts that the VOA will have relied upon in assessing rateable value.  This checking process needs to be completed within 12 months from the date on which a check was first initiated. If any of the facts relied on by the VOA are found to be inaccurate, a request for reassessment can be made.

Challenge

If the facts are correct, but the rateable value is still believed to be wrong, a formal challenge can be brought but this must be done within four months of the checking process being completed.

A challenge will require you to:

  • confirm the grounds on which you say the assessment is wrong;
  • suggest an alternative rateable value or rating list entry, as appropriate; and
  • provide evidence to support the alternative suggestion(s) made. 

It is important to frame your challenge appropriately and obtain comprehensive and compelling evidence at this stage as, save for in limited circumstances, the grounds for challenge and evidence submitted in support will not be allowed to be amended or extended upon during the challenge process. In addition, if an appeal against the VOA's ultimate decision is required it is only the grounds for challenge and evidence provided in support to the VOA that will be considered by the appeal tribunal.  For this reason, [name of solicitor] suggests that before you embark on a challenge, you seek advice and guidance from your solicitor and a ratings surveyor about what is needed to present your case in the best possible light.

Advice is also suggested at this stage to ensure that everything is presented correctly, and is capable of full substantiation, given that there are penalties for knowingly, recklessly or carelessly providing evidence which is ultimately shown to be false.

A response to your challenge will be provided and negotiations can then commence to try to resolve the matter.  If an agreement cannot be reached, the VOA will issue a reasoned decision which you are free to either accept or reject. This should be done within 18 months of the challenge being made.

Appeal

If you are unhappy with the outcome of the challenge, you can appeal to the Valuation Tribunal Service.  This must be done within four months of the VOA decision being made or after 18 months have expired from the date on which the challenge was initiated. Again, if an appeal looks likely it is important that you seek legal advice to protect your position and ensure all relevant evidence is presented on your behalf, including any new evidence which may have come to light since your challenge to the VOA was determined.

A fee of between £150 to £300 will be payable at the appeals stage, but will be reduced by a third if the matter can be dealt with without the need for an in-person hearing and will be fully refunded in the event your appeal is successful.

For a confidential discussion about rates, or any other corporate or commercial needs, please contact Mark Glenister on (0)20 3468 3064 or by email to info@jpplaw.co.uk

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