Warning on March deadline for business rates appeals

A Midlands property expert has waded into the row over changes to the business rate appeals procedure claiming the whole system is “not fit for purpose”.

Ben Truslove, a director of Redditch property agents John Truslove, says reform is badly needed.

He charged: “The Government have managed to address the iniquitous stamp duty rules to the benefit of the housing market – warmly welcomed by sector professionals and the wider public.

“So they surely can sort out business rates where a similar modernisation is desperately required. I am convinced that the failure to act is costing money and jobs.”

Occupiers of commercial premises have until March 31 to submit an appeal against their business rates or potentially risk losing out on five years’ worth of savings.

In the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor announced changes to the rules, in which any appeal submitted after April 1, 2015 and subsequently successful will not be backdated to cover 2010 to 2015. All refunds and savings for the period will be lost.

But there have been complaints of a failure to flag up the revamp, deliberately some suspect.

It has been alleged that the Government is in effect trying to prevent businesses from appealing increases to their rates, a situation which has been described as ‘scandalous’.

Others point out how vital it is to comb the small print following every Budget, given a history of surprises, and suggest that if the rates issue is only now being highlighted then it is the industry’s problem in not being up to speed.

Mr Truslove said: “There are those who are of the view that the appeals deadline for business rates was deliberately buried by the Government … which, though there may be an element of truth in the assertion, is probably a bit harsh.

“However, it seems very wrong that they are potentially denying businesses five years’ worth of rebates. Those who fear all this could see the appeals system reduced to total chaos probably have a point. It may come to pass.

“I urge any local businesses that would like us to appraise whether their rateable value could be reduced, to contact us before the deadline passes. Rather than making hollow promises from a call centre, we will inspect the property in question and give an honest assessment with the benefit of our local knowledge.”

But Mr Truslove said there was “a bigger picture” which was possibly even more important – an on-going Government pledge to carry out a full review of the structure of business rates.

The Chancellor has invited “business groups to engage with us”; an offer Mr Truslove says is too good to miss.

He insisted: “What is totally unfair is that the current revaluation has been postponed for seven years during which we have suffered the worst and longest recession in living memory – no wonder there are still gaps all over our High Streets.

“There is a massive need to restore fairness by introducing bi-annual revaluations. It might not reduce the amount rate-payers actually stump up, but at least it will level the playing field.

“The fundamental flaw is when the rent alters over a short period, say two years, but the rateable value is only altered every five years, then there is a clear disconnect.”

Rateable values are supposed to be based on the annual rent a normal occupier would be able to pay.

Business rates are the third biggest outgoing for most organisations, after rent and staffing costs.