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There has been quite a lot going on in the weird and wacky world of rating. As many readers know, the “Check, Challenge Appeal” (“CCA”) system of appeals against assessments simply is not working. Leaving aside the requirements of the registration system for rafts if information of more interest to inspectors of taxes and the immigration service, and having no apparent relevance to rating, the process has been shown to be seriously defective, almost to the point of inoperability. Fortunately (if this system is to remain) the IT people at HMRC have been brought in to try to clear up the mess and it is understood that the progress is being made – which must be something of a relief, all round.

On the positive side, one might say, the low number of appeals already made under the new system affords the Valuation Tribunal for England the opportunity to make inroads into their backlog of work from the 2010 lists. It must follow, of course, that this lack of appeals cannot be hailed by the Valuation Office Agency as confirmation of the accuracy of their valuations.

The Government having decided to abrogate the decision of the Supreme Court in Mazars, the provisions of a draft Bill are out for consultation. The intention appears to be that the situation will be restored to that which prevailed before the decision, and so assessments which were split may now be re-merged, once again, with, in many cases, no doubt, quantity and other applicable allowances restored. It would seem that VOA will have to be requested to reinstate split assessments; and I wonder what degree of priority they will be able to give to this task, bearing in mind the need to clear the 2010 list cases, the advent of 2017 list appeals and the tax and “other government departments” work which, in their underfunded state, they still have to do.

Billing authorities will, of course, have to make any refunds consequential upon this volte face; but the Government has said that there will be no compensation for them, if they have (no doubt in good faith) committed and spent the money which previously they were required to collect. They will be left, perhaps, in a state of even greater uncertainty than at present, as to what provision they might need to make in their accounts, against refunds (the Agency apparently being unable to help them as rating proceedings and information are now said to be “taxpayer confidential”). This is another consequence of the new appeals system; and it is, perhaps, appropriate to quote Professor Graham Zellick QC, former president of the Valuation Tribunal for England, as to the approach to the original proposal for CCA: “ I don’t know any other tax that can be levied where the taxpayer does not understand, in full, down to the last detail, the basis on which the tax man has calculated the tax due. It’s unprecedented, it’s unique and it’s wrong.” I cannot disagree with any of that statement which applies to the field of rate collection as forcefully as it does to that of rating valuation.

Decisions of the Lands Chamber in two cases on procedure appeared in December. These are Simpson’s Malt Ltd and Others –v- Jones (VO) and Others [2017] UKUT 0460 (LC) and Hammerson UK Properties PLC –v- Gowlett (VO [2017] UT 0469 (LC) which will require careful study.

Last, but by no means least at this stage, we have the statutory instrument bringing into effect the new power for civil penalties to be imposed by VOA upon those who, in certain circumstances, supply incorrect information. This looks like another attempt to defeat what the VOA used to call “the appeals industry”, as any appeal against a penalty will have to be determined by the Valuation Tribunal; and the appeal against the assessment will not be permitted to be determined until the appeal against the penalty has been determined. The appeal process is already unacceptably slow and we have yet to see whether and, if so, to what extent the situation will improve once the CCA software is sorted out. I can see this adding another year to the appeal process.

There is, indeed, a lot going on!

Click here to review the archive of news bulletins.

Peter Scrafton IRRV (Hons) FCIArb MRSA (Hon) Solicitor (Non-Practising) and Accredited Mediator is a legal and valuation consultant and member of the IRRV Council.

©J.P. Scrafton, March, 2017

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