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AN ARTICLE by Peter Scrafton FIRRV, FCIArb, MRSA(Hon) Solicitor (Non-Practising)

September 2011.

Following my last piece, I regret to note that none of the High Priests of Wingate has seen fit to respond……. Doubtless they are all getting their thoughts together to come and preach the Word to the faithful at the joint conference which the RICS Rating Diploma Holders are having with the Institute at Telford (or rather they are having their conference, which will form the greater part of the Institute’s Valuer Day as Birmingham City University cannot house the Dip Rats, this year).

It should be a fun outing for the fly on the wall, with the High Priests unshakeably convinced of the unimpeachable truth of their lore, and certain that it is indeed, the law, while the whimpering of the dissenting heretics is drowned beneath lusty throat-clearing and fades before the seraphic smiles of the platform party, as the congregation of the Faithful cheer and wave their copies of the Rating Manual. It is almost a shame that a single decision of the Lands Chamber or the Court of Appeal can (and so frequently does) bring the whole edifice crashing down. (or even a request from a senior Minister).

Moving along among the detritus on the beach, I see that one of the new Agency Board members has been translated from the Ministry of Justice to preside over NNDR matters……. And there I have been for all of these years, fondly believing the Agency when it has proclaimed, time and again, that it has no interest in rate collection matters, and that its staff is directed solely towards the Sublime Objective of reaching the Right Answer. Perhaps they will do so, sooner than we think, and we will hear conversations such as this (hopefully) hypothetical one:-

Ratepayer: Hello, you’ve sent me a rate bill for £25,000. Can you justify it please ?

Caseworker: (for they are no longer valuers) No (or perhaps ‘Yes’): we are right.

Ratepayer: Oh well, let’s start at the beginning – what property does this relate to and for which year? –

Caseworker: Can’t tell you

Ratepayer: Why not?

Caseworker: Because my Group Assessment Officer has decided that you don’t need that information to know we are right.

Ratepayer: At least tell me the level of rent that you are relying on

Caseworker: No: email restrictions and Data Protection considerations make it impossible for me to email or disclose this other information than in person. And I have yet to mention Health and Safety – my safety and your health that is.

Ratepayer: But I have declared all the rents in my latest return forms…..

Caseworker: That’s as may be, but many ratepayers are crooks and I am entitled to believe that you may be unless you can prove otherwise.

Ratepayer: I am NOT a crook!

Caseworker: Have you ever failed to return excess change in any cash transaction during your life ??

Ratepayer: Yes, but...

Caseworker: OK you’ve admitted you are a crook, I am going to end this conversation - its either a cheque for the amount we say is due by return or the bailiffs will be coming for you.

Ratepayer: But can’t I appeal against assessment or collection?

Caseworker: Assessment yes: collection, no. But the time for appeal against assessment is seven days from the date of the raising of the assessment; and as it takes us a week to print the assessment and get it out to you by second class post, you are out of time

Ratepayer: But surely the magistrates……?

Caseworker: No – all gone. We are fully re-integrated with HMRC now and do all our own collection. Much quicker and improves cash flow no end

Ratepayer: But surely I am entitled to know how the bill is calculated?

Caseworker: Yes. If I tell you the rating list is a public document then you can work out the basis from the amount of the rate bill. Nothing else in my opinion is relevant to your argument that you have been overassessed or overcharged.

Ratepayer: But in the past you’d sit down with me or my surveyor and run through the figures....

Caseworker: Well if you had a surveyor then… You see, times have changed. I should have been happy to discuss this with him or her but naturally I would have needed your prior written consent – and as I have already decided that we are right the whole exercise would be futile, wouldn’t it, and cost you a fortune in fees, so I am really saving you money, aren’t I? Anyway, I guarantee I would not have been more helpful……

Ratepayer: More helpful than...?

Caseworker: …….more helpful than I have already been to you – Goodbye!

It couldn’t happen here – could it?

Peter Scrafton

©J.P. Scrafton, 2011

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