Businesses Rates appeals systems continues to thwart companies 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 two-year period since the system was introduced (April 1st 2017 to March 31st 2019) only 258,170 properties have been approved by the VOA to begin the Check system and for CCA proceedings, and of these only 82,400 Checks have now been registered- which is less than 5% of the 1.88 million properties assessed for business rates in the country. This means 175,770 are potentially still sitting in the system, not able to get through to the Check stage and will be coming down the line in the months ahead.

The pattern for Challenges is not much better. Of the 12,930 Challenges that have now been registered only around 37% (4,740) of these have been resolved and 6,980 are outstanding. Colliers points out that the 4,740 challenges cleared averages out at less than 198 a month, in the two-year period since CCA began. Last month March 2019, 700 Challenges were cleared but 1440 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.

“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 now 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 is knows it will face with the 2017 list and with the 2021 list on the way too.

Not only that but John Webber continues, “We have heard that because the VOA does not have the manpower to turn around the checks in the system quickly enough, it is “parking” some of the earlier submissions and concentrating on new ones coming in, so it appears to be more successful than it actually is. Some of these “parked” Checks need to be re-submitted which is distorting the figures. People are calling 2017 “The Lost List” because so few appeals are getting through.

“We also understand the VOA is now actively engaging about the 2021 List and case workers are being re-assigned to deal with 2021 Revaluation. But it is naïve to believe that 2017 will 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 get the ball rolling with CCA 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.”