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Whether or not the budgetary “sweeties” thrown to retailers by the Chancellor has any noticeable fiscal effect remains to be seen. To put the (temporary) relief into context, one must remember that many of the lower-assessed non-domestic hereditaments already enjoy exemption or part exemption from collection, so the new relief applies, principally, to retail units with rateable values between £18,000 and £51,000. No doubt, though, the recipients of this relief will be suitably grateful.

What is undeniable, though, is that the VOA has received yet another kicking in the courts, this time in relation to ATMs, leading the “Financial Times” to call on the Agency to end its “fiscal alchemy”. While it is yet possible for HMRC to seek the leave of the Supreme Court for a further appeal, at present, cash-strapped local government is looking at the prospect of having to find refunds totalling hundreds of millions of pounds as the thousands of assessments overtaken by the decision of the Court of Appeal, fall to be corrected. Local government, which has already complained to the Agency of slow and/or inefficient service, is getting more frustrated with the situation.

I have to permit myself a wry smile of satisfaction over the decision of the Court of Appeal in the Cardtronics case: a positive beauty parade of talent from Landmark Chambers prevailed in the Court of Appeal, which held that the only other previous decision on ATMs, which I won in 1992, was correct!

The tail of cases stayed until the decision in Monk is now clearing. It is to be hoped that the law on state of repair in rating is returning to that which Lady Farington, in her speech in Committee on the 1999 Bill, said it was intended to be. The humble author of that speech is glad that another part of the fiscal alchemy is coming to an end, and that common sense is prevailing.

Elsewhere, legislation to reverse the decision of the Supreme Court in the Mazars case is now on the statute book, reversing the judgment won by VOA in what became known as the “staircase tax” case. We await the regulations which will enable ratepayers (and not the Agency, please note) to reopen the otherwise-closed 2010 rating lists, to seek the remerger of assessments split by the Agency in consequence of the Supreme Court decision, and thereby to claim the refunds which in many cases will flow from such remergers. Having had a minor hand in the parliamentary process, I again express a degree of quiet satisfaction.

There seems to be a change in attitude in the tribunals, particularly in the Valuation Tribunal for England which, like local government and the VOA, has suffered from financial strictures. VTE, having on several occasions been shown the error of its ways by the Lands Chamber, now appears to be gaining a different perception in the eyes of the professions. The manner in which appeals are now being determined, increases public confidence.

Having departed the Council of IRRV, I am continuing to help with the parliamentary work, accreditations for TEGoVA and, of course, my writing. There is a great deal to do in order to try to clear the problems of Check Challenge Appeal. The Minister, Lord Bourne, who has accepted that the Agency is “… to some extent underfunded” has pronounced himself willing to continue discussions; and I, with my colleagues, will continue to work for a level playing field in rating.

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

©J.P. Scrafton, December 2018.

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