Businesses Rates Appeals Systems almost grinding to a halt as lack of manpower at the VOA starts to bear fruit 

John Webber, Head of Rating, Colliers International. Copyright Nick Cunard / NCSM Media.

Latest figures released by the Government on CCA, the “Check Challenge Appeal” Business Rates Appeals System illustrate a time bomb about to explode as the backlog of claims grows and the VOA, the Government’s Valuation Agency is not properly resourced to deal with this.

The VOA’s figures show that in the 27-month period since the system was introduced (April 1st 2017 to 30th June 2019) only 100,740 Checks have now been registered which is only just 5.3% of the 1.88 million properties assessed for business rates in the country. 64,440 seem to have been in the last year and 18,340 were registered in the last three months, showing that the numbers challenging the system are growing and that rate payers are starting to push their claims forward, even if the process is slow.

The pattern for Challenges is not much better. Of the 17,010 Challenges that have now been registered only around 37% (6,300) of these have been resolved and 10,710 (63%) are incomplete or outstanding. Colliers points out that the 6,300 challenges cleared averages out at 233 a month, in the 27-month period since CCA began. In June 2019 only 470 Challenges were resolved but 1410 Challenges were submitted and this differential between the two figures appears to be growing every month. It is not difficult to see that the system is going to increasingly struggle to clear such challenges and the situation will only get worse.

Interestingly those who do manage to get through the system are seeing some success in getting the results they want. Of the 89,440 checks resolved , 67.6% of rate payers are succeeding in getting a reduction to their rate bills and of the 6,300 challenges resolved 60.1% are also seeing a reduction. These are high percentages compared to traditional success rates of around 25% and indicate that perseverance through the complicated system is likely to bear fruit.

“Over complicated procedures, lack of guidance and a largely un-navigable new on-line portal discouraged many companies from starting the whole CCA process, despite many with good cases for challenging their bills,” said John Webber, Head of Business Rates at Colliers International. “It now looks like more companies are gritting their teeth and are registering, but the slow rate at which they are being processed is alarming.”

Colliers believe that lack of manpower at the VOA is a big issue. When the VOA introduced the new CCA system it thought it would be able to shed numbers and several employees “retired.” However, the VO has now been contacting former staff with a view to returning to help with the backlog it knows it will face with the 2017 list and with the 2021 list on the way too.

This is backed up by the VOA’s own accounts. As of 31/3/2012 the VOA had 3564 full time staff in 72 offices. These managed to clear 236,000 appeals in 2012/3. By comparison as of 31 March 2019, the VOA has 3,200 staff in only 43 offices. They managed to clear 76,300 appeals in 2018/9 – so a third of the numbers of 2012/3. (56,570 were 2010 appeals and 19,730 from the 2017 list). And these VOA workers are now dealing with the 2021 Revaluation as well as 2010 and 2017.

Colliers Director of Rating, Guy Richardson continues, ““The VOA is now focussing on the 2021 Revaluation and case workers are being re-assigned from appeal work. But it is naïve to believe that 2017 will just go away. We are also worried that some companies may miss the deadline for the 2017 list as this deadline date is now being disputed. We therefore suggest that if businesses have any concern about their rate bills, they need to consider submitting a Check now.”

As Webber comments further, “The lack of planning, insignificant time to trial the system before it went live, lack of desire by the government to engage with agents and their software providers and total understaffing of the VOA has resulted in an appeal system unfit for purpose. With the 2017 rating revaluation producing some of the largest increases in liability in a generation, and 2018/9 and 2019/20 building up further rises, the government can’t carry on ignoring the calls from business for reform and providing a decent appeal system.”