Last year’s consultation on draft regulations closed in October, so the Government’s clarification of an appeals process starting this April is long overdue.
We have strong concerns that the approach set out in draft regulations goes too far in trying to deter spurious appeals. There seems to be an assumption of bad faith on the part of many of those appealing. The draft regulations promise an unforgiving system that gives leeway to the valuation office, but demands prompt decisions and high standards of care from the ratepayer.
We need a system that’s transparent and easy for the ratepayer to understand. Reform shouldn’t be about reducing the number of appeals or maximizing revenue collected. We know there’s a problem with a backlog of appeals from the 2010 revaluation and the substantial changes in the 2017 revaluation promise to trigger a similar reaction. We understand the desire to cut the volume of appeals, but that cannot be at the expense of openness, fairness and a level playing field between the valuation office and the ratepayer.
Our greatest concern is in the new definition of “inaccurate” rateable values that are therefore appealable. Inaccurate now means “outside the bounds of reasonable professional judgement”. Without any further detail in the regulations, and no body of case law to guide interpretation, this is a very soft and uncertain test that allows a large, and expensive, margin of error. In effect, the valuation office can refuse to correct the rating list on the ground that it was “pretty close”.
An efficient appeals system would allow the reason to be discovered quickly when something was manifestly wrong. Under the new system, the valuation office has no obligation to share information until the appeal stage is reached. At both the check and challenge stages, the valuation officer can withhold relevant information. The result is that the ratepayer has to launch an appeal to see information and the reason for a mistake may not come to light until years down the line, years in which businesses can be undermined by inflated bills.
The new appeals system is too free with its fines. Of course there should be penalties for knowingly providing false information, but who is going to decide whether a ratepayer was reckless or careless in the information they provided? The ratepayer is not being given the benefit of the doubt enjoyed under the new process by the valuations officer.”