Rating Manual section 1: statutory authority and legal background

Part 4: Valuation Officers and local authorities

The Valuation Office Agency's (VOA) technical manual for the rating of business (non-domestic) property.

1. Introduction

1.1 Valuation officers (VOs) have a statutory duty to compile and maintain Rating Lists for each billing authority area. Billing authorities (BAs) are responsible for the calculation and collection of rates payable. The statutory rights and obligations around these duties result in the necessity for a good working relationship between VOs and BAs.

1.2 The purpose of this section is to set out the relationship between VOs and BAs. Although much of the content will apply equally in England and Wales, the Rates Retention Scheme, Renewable Energy Projects and Enterprise Zones relate solely to England.

2. The rates retention scheme

2.1 The Local Government Finance Act 2012 (LGFA 2012), which received Royal Assent on 31 October 2012 and took effect in England from 1 April 2013, further encouraged local authorities (LAs), both BAs and precepting authorities, and VOs to work effectively together. LGFA 2012 is part of the government’s Localism Agenda and introduces the Rates Retention Scheme. The scheme means that LA budgets will be directly affected by increases and falls in rates collected. This has not been the case since prior to 1990 and increases the need for LAs and VOs to work effectively together.

2.2 Under the Rates Retention Scheme, LAs are required, for budgeting purposes, to forecast changes to the rates collection over the forthcoming year. LAs will require information from VOs to assist with their understanding of potential risk and likely growth and will want to proactively assist VO’s in their statutory duty to maintain a fair and accurate list.

2.3 To develop and foster good working relationships with all LAs, the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) has appointed Relationship Managers who form part of the VOA Rates Retention team. Relationship Managers will:

  • Build and manage strong working relationships with LAs, usually with finance departments; providing information that will feed into strategic decisions that local authorities will be making over their budgeting and spending.
  • Promote engagement and support from LAs in helping VOs maintain accurate lists. For example, by encouraging use of e-BARS (electronic BA reports), provision of occupier lists, schedules of rents, BA reference numbers and serving of completion notices.

2.4 To further support LAs, a dedicated webpage on the VOA corporate website provides links and pointers on the information and assistance that is available to authorities including a dedicated Rates Retention team inbox for enquiries – ratesretention@voa.gsi.gov.uk.

2.5 This section examines the relationship between VOs and LAs, with particular reference to statutory obligations on both parts. Whilst the scheme only applies to England, any caseworkers in Wales involved in settling appeals in England will also need to be aware of the Rates Retention scheme and Renewable Energy Certificates.

3. Reserved

4. Reserved

5. VO and provision of information

5.1 All enquiries from local authorities received by VOs in connection with the Rates Retention Scheme, particularly in relation to outstanding proposals or appeals, should be directed to the Local Authority Relationship Manager via the Rates Retention inbox (ratesretention@voa.gsi.gov.uk). The appropriate Relationship Manager will then liaise with the Business Unit in order to respond to the enquiry.

5.2 Under s18(1) of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 (CRCA), the VOA, as an executive agency of the HMRC’s, is required to treat all ratepayer specific information (including information about their property) as confidential unless (s18(2)) disclosure relates to one of the VO’s statutory functions. Supply of information to LAs about specific proposals or appeals or other ratepayer information must comply with CRCA along with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and Data Protection Act 1998, where appropriate.

5.3 Requests for information from LAs dealt with by the VOA Rates Retention team generally fall into the following categories:

5.3.1 Anticipated changes in RV – it is important that VOs do not speculate about possible changes in RV. The possibility and extent of alterations to a list should not be discussed with local authorities, or any other third parties, until the VO has made a written offer to settle a proposal, whether by agreement or withdrawal, to the ratepayer or their agent. This equally applies where the alteration may or may not be carried out by VO notice.

5.3.2 Specific details of a proposal or appeal – a broad description of a proposal or appeal can be provided such as the general grounds of appeal including information contained within the proposal as this is a public document available for inspection on request. Much of this information is already available via the Rating List on the VOA corporate website. However opinions of possible RV reduction or any evidence provided by the ratepayer or their agent, including the ratepayer’s valuation, can not be disclosed.

5.3.3 Request for programming information – formal programming details (excluding draft or holding programmes) relating to individual proposals or appeals may be provided, such as start and target dates and what these dates represent. General information about VOs formal programmes may also be provided, but not lists of the proposals included within the programmes.

5.3.4 Requests for statistical information (such as counts of proposals and appeals, average changes to rating lists, average time taken to clear) – VOA statistical data is the responsibility of VOA Analytical Services and is regulated by the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. Official statistical are published on the VOA corporate website. Requests for statistical information beyond that already published should be referred to Analytical Services via the Statistics inbox statistics@voa.gsi.gov.uk. It is important that statistical information is supplied through the proper channels and not from ad hoc downloads from operational databases.

5.3.5 Requests for data (such as rating lists and summary valuations) - should be referred to the Information Management and Disclosure Team via their inbox imd@voa.gsi.gov.uk

5.4 This is by no means an exhaustive list of possible enquires. As a general rule, if there is any doubt whether the enquiry could be Rates Retention Scheme related or what can be disclosed in response, the enquiry should be forwarded to the Rates Retention team via the Rates Retention inbox ratesretention@voa.gsi.gov.uk.

5.5 The Enterprise Act has created a permissive ‘information gateway’ broadening the range of NDR information that the VOA can share with local government. A permissive gateway means that where the information requested falls within a category of occupiers and/or properties that the VOA have deemed to be sensitive or restricted the VOA will not share certain, or on occasion any information, in relation to them. Further information on the Local Authority Information Gateway can be found in the NDR Procedures manual. Note the gateway only applies to Local Authorities in England.

6. BA duties to assist in maintaining rating lists

6.1 BAs have statutory obligations to assist VOs in maintaining a fair and accurate list for their authority area. The following sets out these responsibilities:

6.1.1 Billing Authority Reports (BARs) – Schedule 6 (1) of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 (LGFA 1988) states that ‘if in the course of the exercise of its functions any information comes to the notice of a billing authority which leads it to suppose that a list requires alteration it shall be the authority’s duty to inform the valuation officer who has the duty to maintain the list.’ This duty is exercised by issuing BARs to the VO.

6.1.2 Completion Notices - Schedule 4A para 1(1) LGFA 1988 states that ‘if it comes to the notice of a billing authority that the work remaining to be done on a new building in its area is such that the building can reasonably be expected to be completed within 3 months, the authority shall serve a notice under this paragraph on the owner of the building as soon as is reasonably practicable unless the valuation officer otherwise directs in writing.’ This applies to a whole building or part of a building and to existing buildings converted into different units of occupation.

Further details relating to completion notices are covered in RM section 3: Part 3 Unoccupied Hereditaments and Completion Notices.

6.1.3 Forms of Return – Under LGFA 1988 Sch 9, para 5(1) a VO may serve a notice on a person who is an owner or occupier of a hereditament requesting the supply of information which the VO reasonably believes will assist him in carrying out functions conferred or imposed on him by or under this Part.

Where a LA occupies or is the landlord to a number of hereditaments, the information required by the VO can be supplied under the Valuation Office Rating Contact scheme (VORC). This allows the information to be provided electronically and by schedule rather than via individual forms.

6.1.4 Occupier Lists – Para 5H, schedule 9 LGFA 1988 allows for the provision of occupier information by BAs to VOs in connection with Forms of Returns and associated penalty notices.

6.2 In some circumstances VO’s in England may provide information via the Local Authority Information Gateway further information and the protocols to follow are in the NDR Procedures manual. Note the gateway only applies to Local Authorities in England.

Before the BA may access the dataset they must have a signed Information Sharing Protocol and Information Sharing Agreement in place.

There is no reciprocal provision that allows VOs in Wales to provide occupier information to BAs. Provision of such information is prohibited by CRCA s18(1) in Wales – see 5.2 above

7. Billing authorities requesting copies of proposals

Under regulation 9 of the Non-Domestic Rating (Alteration of Lists and Appeals) (England) Regulations 2009 a billing authority (BA), as a relevant authority, can request copies of a specific class or classes of proposal. Where such a request is made, within six weeks of the receipt of a proposal falling within the class or classes specified, the VO shall send a copy to that Authority.

Further details on who should receive copies of proposals under Regulation 9 are contained within [RM Section 7 Part 1].

Relevant authorities who wish to receive copies of proposals under Regulation 9 should serve notice in writing via the appropriate Unit inbox. There is no requirement for a specific form of words to be used, however class or classes of proposals required should be stated.

When a request is received into a Unit inbox, the Local Authority Relationship Manager should be contacted via the Rates Retention inbox.

The Rates Retention team will agree a procedure with the BA and the Local Office for supply of the proposals.

Usually copies of proposals (both received electronically and hardcopies stored within EDRM) will be printed and posted to the BA once a week. This should be followed by an email to the BA contact and copied to Rates Retention inbox to confirm numbers of proposals to be sent, or a nil return as applicable.

It is worth noting that billing authorities are currently provided with lists of outstanding proposals on a regular basis and, depending on the reason for request, this may prove to be of greater assistance.

8. BA rights to make proposals

8.1 A LA is able to make a proposal to alter the rating list where they are an ‘interested person’; that is, that they have an interest in the hereditament such as being the occupier or landlord.

8.2 A BA is a ‘relevant authority’ if the hereditament is situated within the BA’s area. In these circumstances the BA has limited rights to make proposals to alter the list. Grounds on which Billing Authorities (BAs) may make proposals as a ‘relevant authority’ are covered in RM Section 7 Part 1.

9. Reserved

10. VO and estimates of rateable value

10.1 An estimated assessment for a new non-domestic property, or for an existing non-domestic property to which alterations or improvements are proposed, may be provided by VOs. There is no statutory obligation to provide such estimates but VOs may assist where adequate information (usually including a plan) is provided. VOs should treat a request for an estimate from a BA in the same way as a request from a potential ratepayer. Further details are covered in RM Section 2 Part 3 RV Estimates.