At Autumn Statement 2013, the government announced it would open up a discussion with businesses and local authorities about long-term administrative reform to business rates in England after 2017. This paper summarises the government’s interim findings on the administrative reform of business rates and sets out how the government proposes to respond to businesses’ calls for clearer billing, better sharing of information and a more efficient appeals system.
Annex A: Analysis of the impact of more frequent revaluations on business rates bills
Annex A to the government’s interim findings on business rates administration provides analysis carried out by the Valuation Office Agency to show how more frequent revaluations might affect business rate bills.
The government has heard a wide range of views from businesses, their representatives and local authorities about how often revaluations of non-domestic properties should take place. Opinion is divided and there is no clear consensus on whether the government should revalue properties more often than it does now. The government therefore wants to continue the discussion with stakeholders and has published this document to inform that ongoing discussion.
The government is grateful to everyone who responded to the interim findings of its review of business rates administration.
The complexity of business rates and the burden of dealing with the system remain major concerns for ratepayers. The interim findings focused on three areas where the government proposed to bring forward practical improvements to the business rates system:
- a more efficient appeals system
- better sharing of information, and
- simpler billing and collection
Since the publication of the interim findings in December 2014, 62 stakeholders have submitted responses and progress has been made on all three themes.
A summary of responses can be found here and an update on each theme is set out below.
A more efficient appeals system
The interim findings identified that too many rating appeals are made with little supporting evidence and that they take too long to resolve. There is widespread agreement about the urgent need to introduce a more efficient system so that businesses can be confident that their valuations are correct and that they are paying the right amount of business rates.
The interim findings suggested that a revised appeals system should be built around three stages - check, challenge and appeal. This will provide a structured and transparent approach in which there are clear expectations on all sides about timescales, requirements and action. It will ensure earlier, more effective engagement between the parties and make sure that only appeals that really need to be heard by the Valuation Tribunal go through to appeal stage. Respondents to the interim findings paper broadly agreed with the proposed system which is outlined below.
The check stage will ensure that facts are validated by the ratepayer and agreed as far as possible. If necessary the Valuation List will be corrected to reflect the facts. Where facts cannot be agreed, the differences will be clearly established.
The challenge stage allows a ratepayer to challenge the rating assessment. They will put forward an alternative valuation and supporting evidence, and there will then be an opportunity for further discussion between the parties as necessary. The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) will issue a decision on whether the Valuation List will be changed.
The appeal stage allows a ratepayer to appeal to the Valuation Tribunal for England (VTE). The VTE will consider and make a decision on the case.
These proposals will be taken forward via enabling legislation in the current session’s Enterprise Bill, and the government will be consulting on the details of implementation shortly. Its aim is that the new system will be in place, following the next business rates revaluation, in 2017.
Better sharing of information
The government also committed to set up a forum of ratepayers, their representatives, landlords and local authorities to bring forward practical improvements to how the VOA gathers, uses and shares information. This forum met twice in February and officials are taking forward work to ensure that relevant information can be shared efficiently. The VOA is engaging with customers to develop improved digital contact and to ensure that the information it provides on the valuation basis and any requests for information is clear. The Enterprise Bill will provide a gateway which will allow for the VOA to share information with local government to improve the system for both ratepayers and local government.
Billing and collection
The interim findings committed to set up a billing and collection forum that would bring forward practical improvements to the billing system including consideration of digital options. The government will also consider best practice guidance for standard and clear bills. The government’s manifesto committed to provide clearer billing by 2017.
A billing forum is now up and running comprising both business representatives and local authority experts. A sub-group of the forum has been set up to look in detail at options for standardising billing. Aspects of that work include compiling an inventory of information that must appear on bills, considering design options and the presentation of explanatory text (including information appearing on both central and local government websites), and considering implementation options (including software issues).
The first phase of the digital options work strand is establishing an evidence base of options currently being offered by local authorities and identifying barriers to going further. That is being developed through a survey of local authorities. Based on that work, a range of options will be developed to overcome barriers identified.
The full forum will meet over the summer to consider work undertaken so far. Further updates on this work will be published on this webpage in due course.
Summary of actions
The government will:
- consult further with stakeholders on the proposed appeals system ahead of enabling legislation being considered in Parliament in the Enterprise Bill
- include provisions on improved information sharing between the VOA and local authorities as part of the Enterprise Bill
- continue work across Government to reduce the ratepayer burden of sharing the same information with multiple government bodies
- continue work with local authorities and ratepayer representatives to further standardise billing and investigate digital channels to ease the burden on ratepayers of receiving, understanding and paying business rates bills.
The government commits to making these practical improvements to the business rates system by 2017. This work will complement the work of the ongoing review of business rates due to report by the end of 2015.