- By Chris Grose, rating director, Hartnell Taylor Cook
Business rates are set to change from the 1 April 2023 and the deadline for rates appeals against the existing 2017 list is fast approaching. Time is very much of the essence for retailers that could be overpaying as savings can be backdated as far as April 2017.
The outlook for retailers wanting to lower their rates is positive. Based on Valuation Office statistical commentary published following the Autumn Budget last year, rates for retail properties have fallen by 10 per cent on average since the last rating valuation date.
However, the word ‘average’ is very much key here. Our experience shows that some areas within town centres have seen significant increases. And this is particularly in communities where independents are present.
So, what can you do to ensure that rating valuations are a fair reflection of your property?
Sharing is caring
Retailers should be working together. Rateable values are based on rents, and by sharing rental information, retailers can ensure the best possible case is given to the Valuation Office. Retailers can also benefit from working together when they are agreeing rents whether that’s when taking on a lease, at a rent review, or a lease renewal. Most landlords, of course, seek to maximise rents for their gain so tenants should collaborate to ensure that the rents offered are at market rates.
In addition, it’s easy to ignore incentives that can drastically change the calculation of rateable values such as rent-free periods or tenant break clauses. Collating information from tenant to tenant will paint a better picture of rental information across the board, making it easier to present a case to the Valuation Office or to ensure that details submitted for rates are as accurate as possible.
Other ways of saving money with rates include appeals for disturbance caused by building works or roadworks and reductions due to partly occupied or empty properties, if these apply.
Check, challenge, appeal
The 2017 Rating List saw the introduction of the ‘Check, Challenge, Appeal’ process for appealing business rates, which has only made it more difficult to get rates reduced. However, agents for national retailers are still likely to be submitting protective action for their clients before the deadline, and independents should be doing the same.
The process first involves registering for a government gateway account and checking whether your property details are correct. You can then send a ‘check case’ online to let the Valuation Office know if your property details are correct or if you need to change them. At this first stage, the office may accept your changes and alter your rates accordingly. Where the necessary research has been done, this can lead to a reduction, especially if neighbouring properties have already had reductions.
Once the Valuation Officer determines the check, if still not satisfied, you move on to the challenge stage. This involves providing a valuation and your evidence for seeking a lower assessment. This is where the research of neighbouring rents is vital. The more information that can be given to support a lower assessment the better. If an appeal becomes necessary, only the information used at the challenge stage can be used, which is why it’s important to share.
In the event the challenge does not give the desired outcome, an appeal may be served on the independent valuation tribunal. There is a fee for appealing, however, if a reduction is achieved it is refunded. Some cases are settled by agreement before the tribunal, and if an appearance is necessary, the case will be heard by an independent panel who hear the evidence from both parties.
How to get help
The deadline for appealing the current 2017 List assessments is on 31 March 2023, so there is very limited time to protect your position.
If you’re still unsure on how to go about the process, there are plenty of firms offering rating services. However, care should be taken to ensure they are reputable; many ratepayers have shared horror stories on rating agents. Ensure you check with the RICS and/or IRRV for registered firms in your area, and double check that any documentation that states they are registered with these organisations is legitimate by checking the organisation’s official website.
Chris Grose is rating director for independent property consultancy Hartnell Taylor Cook. Visit htc.uk.com to read more.