If you present us with the problem, we will come up with the solution!

As rating advisers, there are many ways in which we can assist your business to ensure that your rates liabilities are kept to a minimum and that your payment demands are accurate. The following is a description of the most common scenarios in which we are involved.

1. Appeals Against Rating List Entries or Subsequent Notices of Alteration
This is our "bread and butter" work and involves appealing against the assessment appearing in the rating list for each commercial property. Unlike many companies however, we do not automatically lodge appeals against our clients' rating assessments, but instead undertake some initial desktop investigative work which, along with the answers to some questions we will need to ask you about the property, will enable us to recommend whether an appeal is advisable.

Even when we advise against lodging an appeal however, we will continue to monitor the rating list with a view to appealing at a later date if circumstances change, which they often do. It should be noted that an appeal against a 2010 rating list assessment can be backdated to the start of the rating list (1 April 2010) at whatever point in the five year cycle of the list it is lodged.

In some cases we are also able to use our expertise in exploiting little known loopholes to obtain significant additional savings, especially where a rateable value is amended by the valuation office during the course of the rating list.

2. Splits and Merger Appeals
This is another common area of work and involves an appeal to split off an area or floor no longer occupied by the company, thereby creating two (or more) smaller assessments, resulting in an overall decrease in the company's rates liability.

Conversely, where additional space is taken in a building or next door, it may be possible to lodge an appeal to merge the two existing assessments, thereby creating a single new assessment. Potential benefits include a lower value per sq m being applied to the increased floor space and / or an end allowance for poorer layout resulting from the additional space. It should be noted that it is not always to an occupier's benefit to carry out such action and each case needs to be examined on its own merits before agreeing the appropriate course of action. Should a split or merger be carried out unilaterally by the valuation office, they will issue a notice which we can then appeal against, again, if appropriate.

3. Material Changes of Circumstance (MCC) Appeals
MCC appeals are generally lodged when the physical enjoyment of a property is adversely affected by the noise, nuisance and disturbance resulting from nearby building works or infrastructure projects. It can also be a consequence of other factors resulting in a change to the locality, although it should be noted that the valuation office has been increasingly resistant to all but the most obvious forms of MCC as described and has been trying to narrow the definition of what constitutes a valid MCC appeal.

The aim of such an appeal is to obtain a temporary reduction to the rateable value of the affected property for as long as possible and, clearly, with as great a reduction as possible. An appeal can be lodged at any time during the period of the works and can be backdated to the beginning of the project. An MCC appeal is often lodged in addition to a basic rating list appeal and the two should not be seen as mutually exclusive.

4. Empty Rates Management
On 1 April 2008, the government amended the system of empty rates relief applying to most properties. Vacant offices and shops, which had previously attracted a 50% discount to their rates liability following 3 months at 100% relief, now face a full rates charge after the initial 3 months. Meanwhile, industrial and storage buildings which had previously enjoyed 100% relief for as long as the property remained vacant, now attract a full charge after 6 months. There are some exceptions and a temporary measure was introduced in April 2009 to provide relief for owners of smaller properties, but for larger un-lettable properties, this change in legislation can quickly become a crippling burden.

Accordingly, it is more important than ever to ensure that unoccupied properties are carefully managed to ensure that their rates liabilities are kept to a minimum. There are several approaches to this problem, although it must be borne in mind that the government has reserved the right to bring in anti-avoidance legislation if it believes these methods are having a serious impact on the amount of additional revenue they expected to raise from this change in the law. Whichever method is selected (if any) it must be carefully planned and we are able to assist in finding the most appropriate solution in each case.

There are also many other ways in which our advice can benefit your company. The list below is by no means exhaustive and we would be pleased to assist you in whatever way we can and to discuss any concerns you may have in respect of this major outgoing.
  • Checking rates demands for accuracy.
  • Rates auditing - checking that historic rates demands are correct as a mistake in one year can have a knock on effect into subsequent years.
  • Ensuring that the appropriate refunds are issued by the local authority.
  • General rating advice; especially useful when a relocation is being considered or where alterations are planned to an existing property.
  • Appeals against "completion notices".
  • Prior agreement of a rateable value with the valuation officer.
  • Requests for "certificates of rateable value in certain scenarios.
  • "Section 44A" requests to the local authority where a property becomes partially vacant.
  • Completion of Rent Return Forms.
October 2010
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