GERALD EVE SLAMS WELSH GOVERNMENT’S BUSINESS RATES APPEALS PROPOSALS

Property consultancy Gerald Eve has slammed the Welsh Government’s proposals for the new business rates appeals process as ‘flawed’, ‘unfair’ and ‘designed to penalise ratepayers’.

The Welsh Government published a consultation paper on Tuesday 17th October, outlining its preferences for the new arrangements and seeking feedback from businesses. At issue is the process by which ratepayers can challenge the rates valuations of their properties, which determine how large their business rates bills are.

A similar consultation in England resulted in a new ‘Check, Challenge, Appeal’ (CCA) system from April 2017, which the Government and the Valuation Office Agency, which prepares rates valuations, claim improves the process, but ratepayers have decried as being hugely unfair and imposing a punitive burden on those appealing. The Federation of Small Businesses has described CCA as ‘shambolic’. The Welsh Government claims to be avoiding the same problems, but closer examination of its preferred arrangements reveals a process that mirrors the flawed English system, with some added elements of further concern.

Commenting on the consultation paper, Helen Edwards, senior associate and business rates expert at Gerald Eve’s Cardiff office, said: “While the consultation paper claims it is trying to avoid the issues faced by the English ‘Check, Challenge, Appeal’ system, a closer reading of the proposals show a process that is strikingly similar. Some efficiencies are found in the merging of stages, but otherwise the flawed ‘Check, Challenge, Appeal’ process has been swallowed hook, line and sinker, and it’s Welsh firms that will be penalised.

“Worse, they are proposing that successful appeals would only be backdated to the date the appeal was made, irrespective of how long a valuation has been incorrect. A full refund potentially wouldn’t be paid if an appeal wasn’t lodged instantly, but the obstacle course proposed by the Welsh Government would mean that it will take businesses months to reach the stage when they are in a position to appeal. The result would be an extremely unfair process designed to penalise ratepayers through no fault of their own.

“We undertook a freedom of information request in England that showed no business support for the ‘Check, Challenge, Appeal’ system, and it is disappointing that the Welsh Government hasn’t learned from events across the border. The appropriate way to remove unnecessary appeals is through VOA transparency and accuracy, not by making the process so onerous it is avoided. The Welsh Government needs to be genuinely open to businesses’ and other stakeholders’ responses to this consultation if a fair and fit for purpose appeals system is to be adopted.”