Property agencies are urging retailers to contact their local MPs to complain about the “car crash” business rates appeal system.
The new three-stage appeal system for rates bills, known as “Check Challenge Appeal”, came into effect on 1 April, when the business rates revaluation came into force.
Some property agents are encouraging retailers to write to their local MPs to challenge the “unduly onerous and burdensome appeal rules”.
In a template letter sent out to retailers to fill in and send on, agencies outline their principal concerns about the new system. These include the difficult-to-navigate Valuation Office Agency (VOA) portal, having to provide personal, non-business information, needing to claim for each property separately and providing proof for each property by uploading a rates bill.
The letter suggests that providing the VOA with a list of all the properties occupied by the retailer should suffice, as is the practice in Wales. It also demands that the government provides the VOA with more funding to increase manpower and improve its electronic communications.
John Webber, head of rating at commercial property consultancy Colliers, said: “The new appeals system is unworkable in its current form. The online system is difficult to navigate and it isn’t working for retailers.
“We’re encouraging retailers to speak up, as it is a car crash. When we complain, the government just thinks we’re moaning. We’re hoping that by contacting MPs something will be done about it. Doing nothing isn’t an option.”
Jim Hubbard, British Retail Consortium policy adviser for local engagement, property and planning, said: “Many retailers and property agents have said the system has become more onerous. The system expects upfront evidence [but] businesses [may] lack access to comparable rents. Many are frustrated by the online portal and the details required to claim for each property, which takes significant time given bugs with the system.
“We have highlighted these issues with the VOA, which has given us reassurance that they are dealing with some of these concerns, including improving the website’s language and functionality, and have asked it to put forward a timetable of when businesses can expect these and other fixes.”
A spokesman for the VOA said: “The VOA is continuing to make improvements to the online ‘check and challenge’ service based on customer feedback. Working with our customers we’re looking at all options to improve the service as quickly as possible, particularly for agents and multiple property owners.
“The new system allows businesses to get their issues handled at the right stage, reserving the appeal route for those that most need it, and saving them time and effort.”