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

June 2011.

Readers will be relieved to learn that the minor tremor reportedly felt in the Blackpool area just before Easter was not in any way connected with the recent Japanese tsunami – it was just the Valuation Office Agency moving the goal posts again! No surprises there, then.

What is it this time? On the face of it, it seems to be no more than a unilateral attempt to move away from the agreement reached between the professions and the Agency on the issue of state of repair and its effect on valuation, following the passing of the 1999 Bill into law. In reality, however, it appears to be a great deal more than that.

There have been mutterings and rumblings for a while, but now the Rating Manual has been amended, so it must all be true. Flotsam is considering re-naming the Manual “The Gospel according to St Wingate”, the immutable law which changeth not, unless the moving finger of the Agency thinks it should, at which point, of course, it does. The Agency has even put up people described as “policy witnesses” both in England and in Hong Kong, who have proclaimed the gospel in previous forms on different issues.

Sadly, there are many heretics out there (namely those advising ratepayers, and apparently, members of the judiciary) who adhere to the outdated view that the Rating Manual is an internal Agency document of advice and giving guidance to Valuation Officers: the policy witnesses have been left, crying in the wilderness – and one of them has vouchsafed that he will: “… never go there again”.

It seems that we now have “The Doctrine of the Perpetual Hereditament”. Mind you, aged though he may be, Flotsam has no memory of seeing Valuation List entries identified as “Bombed site and Premises”. He is somewhat relieved over this as he has thought for many years that there were four ingredients of rateable occupation – you know: the old actual, exclusive, beneficial and not too transient stuff. Clearly, this is now a load of tosh, as increasing numbers of Valuation Officers would have us believe that, once an entry goes into the list, there it stays, no matter what happens to it, unless, perhaps, whatever has been on site is completely removed and replaced by something totally different, and preferably more valuable.

Flotsam has some difficulty in accepting this, as he always thought that if something was incapable of beneficial occupation, then one of the four ingredients of rateable occupation was no longer present, and the hereditament no longer fell to be shown in the rating list as a unit of assessment, in accordance with the requirements of Section 115 General Rate Act 1967. There was some case or other in the House of Lords (RIP) to do with builders’ huts, Flotsam remembers, and the hereditament there was held to be in builders’ hands and so incapable of beneficial occupation.

Not any more, though: the Gospel according to St Wingate apparently teaches us that, ever since the Rating Act 1999, the concept of instantaneous repair has jumped over all of that. That is not what the Minister said in the House of Lords; and the practice statement reproduced in the Gospel and also preserved in the Library of the House of Lords confirms that: but the High Priests of Wingate tell us differently, and their pens are scratching new passages in relation to the practice statement, apparently expanding and explaining it. Does anyone remember “Animal Farm”, when the pigs learned to walk upright and justified it by altering the slogan “Four legs good: two legs bad” to “Four legs good, two legs better”? Flotsam sees similarities with the present situation over “repair”.

It looks as though no stone will be left unturned to maintain the tax base (and if they are turned then it is clearly only for the purpose of repair). If a building is thought to have reached the end of its useful life, and a proposal is made to delete it from the rating list, a ratepayer is faced with all sorts of hoops to jump through, usually a request to provide building costs to restore the premises to the proverbial state of reasonable repair. If the resultant total can be beaten by the Valuation Officer and the Agency’s building surveyor down to a figure lower than their local multiplier of the existing rateable value, then deletion is refused. That multiplier can be three, five or sometimes ten times the rateable value: there is no consistency of approach; and evidence that there had been no demand for the property, for years, and that it was marketed unsuccessfully will be waved away as irrelevant.

On behalf of the ratepaying public, Flotsam would like to ask one of the High Priests of Wingate to descent from on high and tell the mortals down here what it is all about. It would also be appreciated if the network could be taught to apply the teachings of the Gospel in a consistent and transparent manner, until the truth of the Word has been tested and proved in the superior courts (or not…..).


Peter Scrafton

©J.P. Scrafton, 2013

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