Business rates continues to make the headlines for all the wrong reasons. There are a few issues which charities should be aware of and possible changes down the road! Whilst charities may currently get 80% mandatory rates relief most end up paying the remainder. And who knows what the future may bring?
The HM Treasury Fundamental Review of Business Rates: Call for Evidence has finished and we await their response. The Government response was promised in part in the Autumn. As Winter officially starts on 21st December, they have 3 weeks to share their recommendation!
Retail and Hospitality Relief – Possible extension into 2021/22
There is no doubt that the Government must step in and provide further support to the retail sector through its business rates strategy if we are to avoid further mass store closures and job losses.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the iniquities of the business rates system was having a negative impact on the bricks and mortar retail sector -the largest sector contributing to the £26 billion net tax take, paying between a quarter and a third (around £7.625 million) of the total bill. 2019 was the Year of the Retail CVA (creditors voluntary arrangement) as the impact of too high business rates, increased employment costs and competition from on-line rivals who don’t pay rates all, took their toll.
So, what should the Government do to help this sector?
They should immediately announce an six to twelve month extension of the current 100% business rates holiday (the Expanded Retail Discount) for the retail and hospitality sectors in 2020/2021, due to end next March; giving the sector time to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week several retail chief executives clubbed together to urge the Government to grant some form of extension or even a tapering of reliefs. It is indeed inconceivable that retailers would be able to take back their business rates commitments in April, particularly as they have missed their normal lucrative November trading period.
Material Change in Circumstance (MCC) appeals – Is COVID-19 an MCC ?
COVID-19 and the effect of is arguably the most significant MCC in the history of rating! As background it is worth explaining what an MCC is and how things may play out over the coming weeks to help businesses affected. High level discussions are taking place with the Rating Surveyors Association and the VOA (Valuation Office Agency). Colliers are one of 7 agents involved.
The Rateable Value of a particular hereditament is taken to be an amount equal to the rent at which it is estimated that hereditament might reasonably be expected to let from year to year, subject to a number of assumptions.
Para 2(6) of Schedule 6 of the 1988 Local Government Finance Act states that, where an alteration to the List is to be made post compilation, whether unilaterally or as a result of a proposal or appeal decision, certain matters that are to be taken into consideration in determining that alteration are to be taken as they are on the Material Day.
Those matters are set out in Para 2(7) and are as follows:
- (a) matters affecting the physical state or physical enjoyment of the hereditament,
- (b) the mode or category of occupation of the hereditament,
- (c) the quantity of minerals or other substances in or extracted from the hereditament,
- (cc) the quantity of refuse or waste material which is brought onto and permanently deposited on the hereditament,
- (d) matters affecting the physical state of the locality in which the hereditament is situated or which, though not affecting the physical state of the locality, are nonetheless physically manifest there, and
- (e) the use or occupation of other premises situated in the locality of the hereditament.
A change in one of these matters between compilation and a later point in time is taken to be a material change in circumstances (MCC).
It has been agreed between the parties that the various responses to COVID-19 do indeed constitute a change in the matters referred to in Para 2(7) of the Act. We have agreed that these changes include not only the restrictions imposed by legislation but also the guidance introduced by government that has had a material effect on the manner in which property can be occupied. This guidance has come to be colloquially known as the COVID-secure guidance and sets out, among other things, the requirement to provide for social distancing.
Over the coming weeks further groups will be set up to pin the VOA down to allowances it is therefore important that charities take advice from their existing rating agents to look at submitting either proposals in Wales or Checks in England. Appeals are also being discussed in Scotland.
Partial Occupation – non retail
Although much of the publicity and focus has been on retail there are many sectors including offices which although have been only lightly used and people encouraged to work from home have not received any rate relief. It is important for these non-retail uses to be at the front of the queue for MCC appeals as set out above as well as looking at discretionary relief directly with Billing Authorities. Given the work undertaken by charities and the goodwill with Billing Authorities that may be route to pursue in tandem with the above. Again, please seek advice from your rating advisors.
Wider Reform following HM Treasury Call for Evidence
The Government must introduce proper business rates reform. The current system is outdated and puts bricks and mortar retailers at a disadvantage to purely on-line rivals or to other sectors. Colliers has long campaigned for reform and has submitted recommendations to the Government’s on-going consultation on business rates. We urge for an immediate reduction in the multiplier to £0.30, reform of the reliefs system, annual valuations, making the tax more in line with property values, greater transparency between VOA and rate payer and a reform of the appeals system. We also support the introduction of an on-line sales tax ring fenced for the finance of local government, reducing the tax take from business rates applied across the board and supporting a reduction in the Uniform Business Rate (UBR), making taxation fairer for all parties. Although the Government have said they will report on Tranche 1 in the Autumn – reliefs and multipliers, they are due to report on much wider reform in the Spring.
The next Revaluation – 2023 Rating List
Although there is still work to be done on the existing 2017 Rating List, particularly with COVID-19, it is worth noting that the Government are now committed to a revaluation in 2023. This is important because the valuation date – the antecedent valuation date (AVD) is set 2 years before the list becomes live. Thus, the AVD is based on rental values on 1 April 2021 – only just over 3 months away! This could be a silver lining to a black cloud of COVID-19 as undoubtedly rental values in many places will be significantly lower next April than they were for the current rating list in April 2015. The VOA are currently involved in sending out forms of return asking for the supply of up to date rental information. These need to be filled in and returned although we believe as values may continue to fall up to April next year these requests may be somewhat premature.
John Webber is Head of Rating at Colliers International
CTG’s response to the call for evidence can be read here.