The Enterprise Bill is currently going through Parliament. Part of the Bill reforms the business rates appeals system. The government’s changes have been criticised by rates experts and business groups, amid concerns that the changes will act as a ‘barrier to justice’.
The Valuation Office Agency (VOA), which is part of HMRC, is responsible for compiling and maintaining non-domestic rating lists. Currently officers of the VOA are prevented from sharing the information they collect about properties and ratepayers with local government. This means that businesses have to provide the same information twice to the VOA and local government. It can also mean that the properties have to be inspected by both the VOA and the local authority.
The Bill therefore allows the VOA to disclose information to a ‘qualifying person for a qualifying purpose’ such as a local authority.
The changes have been criticised by some people. They say the legislation will act as a ‘barrier to justice’ for businesses seeking to appeal.
Transparency around how business rates or tax on commercial property is measured has long been called for by small businesses. Critics of the bill claim that it has failed to address this issue, as it permits the VOA to share rate measurement information with local authorities but not with individual businesses.
Jerry Schurder, former chairman of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said:
‘In business rates, your own liability depends not on your own property but what’s being paid by lots of other people and you have no right to obtain that information. In any other tax, the taxpayer has the relevant information to make an appeal but not on rates.’
Meanwhile John Allan, national chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses, commented:
‘While we support moves to make it easier to navigate business rates appeals, we have concerns around the proposals in the Bill.
Their primary aim seems to be reducing the number of appeals by making the process more difficult, rather than by addressing the underlying issues, in particular making the appeals system and the VOA more transparent.
If increased transparency is not delivered, then confidence in the business rates system will continue to be undermined.’