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

September 2013.

You sore abused the rating rules

The aero club to screw

Bury that decision, as deeply as you can –

Oh Mr Hazell – what a clever boy you am!

(pace Mr Porter)

The case, West London Aero Club –v- Hazell (VO) (Appeal 035510474737/165N05) was taken following legal advice through the appropriate VOA channels; but the hammering administered by the President (a QC and thrice a Professor of Law at London University) indicates that the advice may not have been as sound as the VOA might have hoped. Flotsam understands that the decision has been appealed; and so we will see, in due course, who was right, and why.

To Flotsam, the whole concept seems to be one of another attempt to move the goal posts in order to raise more revenue, using procedures which would be forbidden to a ratepayer. Perhaps the concept of res judicata in rating is going the way of the concept of double jeopardy in criminal law. However, for the moment, enough said on the subject of that particular case.

Mr Hazell, it has to be observed, enjoys a very particular reputation among rating surveyors who have dealt with him. In another case, when it was pointed out to him that his valuation, prepared in connection with Valuation Tribunal proceedings, contained a reasonably substantial building which was already separately assessed, he (correctly) removed it, but somehow, his valuation remained the same as it had been, prior to the removal of the “offending” building; while later, before the tribunal, he apparently assured it that a jet aircraft could not land on a particular runway, turn round and taxi back, even though he had, in the company of the ratepayer’s surveyors, watch such an aircraft do just that, only a few hours prior to his statement. Truly, as the Agency erases s41 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 from its memory, and becomes ever more a tax inspectorate, Mr Hazell’s rapid promotion is assured.

Lest it be thought that Flotsam be running a witch hunt against an individual, it should be added that a certain member of the rating Bar remarked, to Flotsam, but a few weeks since, that he had recently been cross-examining an Agency caseworker (they don’t use the term “valuer” any more, as it seems to be outmoded) and the Agency person did not even know what s41 was!!!!!! What hope is there for the rating system, if ignorance at that level is paraded in public, for all to observe?

Flotsam has heard of the burial of “inconvenient” decisions in several parts of the country, and invites all readers to send to him, in care of the Editor, examples which they have encountered, personally. These examples, suitably verified, will be passed on to those who might be able to make positive use of them in the public interest. Sometimes, it would appear that the denizens of Wingate House simply do not know what the network is actually doing, notwithstanding whatever decrees they may issue, in the Manual, or otherwise.

The biggest mass grave in rating is, of course, that wherein lies the rental evidence in the possession of the Agency. We have all been told that the VOA’s evidence is the scheme for the locality in which the subject lies; but questions as to the source of the scheme are fobbed off. We wait to see exactly what the President will propose in place of Practice Statement A7.1; but there is some hope that it might be some sort of equivalent of Katyn Wood. The next meeting of the Valuation Tribunal Users’ Group, at which a draft practice statement might be expected to be put forward for discussion, will take place later in July than this piece is being written; but all parts of the profession may be assured of careful consideration of any draft by all concerned, and of attentive hearing by the Professor and his team.

So much of the difficulty may appear to stem from lack of funding, as much as anything else. Flotsam never ceases to mention this, in the same breath as some lamentable occurrences, as lack of money is ever a problem. It is going to get no better, perhaps, with DCLG accused of being “in the red” and funding for local government, likely to fall, yet again, until 2016.

On a brighter note, however, Flotsam is extremely pleased to see that the new degree course in valuation, accredited by IRRV, has been launched by the newly-promoted Royal Agricultural University. This course teaches mainly by online distance methods and so, in the tradition of the Institute, is particularly suitable for those who need to hold down a full-time job and cannot afford to take three years out to read for a degree, but who yet wish to add to their knowledge and to further their careers. The course (unlike others) teaches valuation for statutory purposes; and the first group of students is all from……. the VOA! A big “Hoorah!” to the Agency from Flotsam for this for being far-sighted and investing in education in this way.

Last, but not least, Flotsam owes an (unsolicited) apology to Mary Portas for having suggested that it was she who planted the idea of the 100% empty rate in the mind of Gordon Brown’s Treasury: it was Kate Barker. Never let it be said that Flotsam will not admit to inaccuracies where they arise and are drawn to notice.


Peter Scrafton

©J.P. Scrafton, 2013

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