Business rates consultation a ‘rare opportunity’, experts say  

A general view shows shoppers on the high street in Scunthorpe, north east England. (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby / AFP via Getty Images)

The consultation over the proposals to disclose more information by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) on business rates valuations presents a ‘rare opportunity’ for the public to have their say in the workings of a government body, an expert has said.

The VOA is responsible for setting the ‘rateable value’ of a property in England or Wales, which is used by the local councils to calculate the business rates for the property. The online consultation, which closes on 7 June, focuses on three specific areas: what extra information should be provided, what you need to judge if a valuation is accurate and fair, and what you consider sensitive data.

Commenting on the need of the business rates payers to know about their taxes from the VOA, Clare Whitfield, head of surveying and operations at RVA Surveyors, said: “The lack of ability to communicate with a VOA caseworker directly from the outset means that no support and guidance from the VOA is given until someone has begun their case.”

“All too often we hear from clients that the convoluted portal called Government Gateway that is used to file cases to reduce business rates, with multiple layers and requirements that are needed to set up the account – all of which you need before claiming your property then engaging the minefield of lodging a case through the Check Challenge Appeal process. This process alone can take up to three years, and a wealth of surveying knowledge that is needed to provide the exacting information and evidence that the VOA require.”

Noting that business rates have been a constant, and rising, cost for many businesses, even before recent years and the current pressures of inflation on outgoing costs, Whitfield said many will see increases through the rating list even with certain reliefs.

“A complete reform or more frequent valuations have often been a hotly debated topic when it comes to overhauling the UK’s business rates tax system. Perhaps this is the ultimate goal of the VOA’s current undertaking. A survey in which to determine the popularity of more frequent valuations, as well as other concerns people may have about this particular tax,” Whitfield said.

“No matter the amount of positive changes brought in however, it will have been too late for the thousands of businesses that have had to close their doors for good.”