VOA to focus on fairness and transparency iStock

In a move that promises to revolutionise Britain's business rates system, the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) has taken an audacious step forward by launching an online consultation. This bold initiative aims to disclose more information on business rates valuations, empowering the public to have their say on this crucial issue. As the VOA strives to make informed decisions, it seeks to tap into the invaluable perspectives of a diverse range of stakeholders. From occupants and tenants of non-domestic properties to landlords, business representative bodies, and local authorities, everyone's voice counts.

Spanning from March 15, 2023, to June 7, 2023, this groundbreaking consultation opens up an unprecedented opportunity for the populace to shape the future of business rates. The VOA emphasises that participants can choose to respond to specific questions, providing focused insights from their unique vantage points. With a keen focus on fairness and transparency, the VOA is specifically interested in the additional information that should be shared about business rates valuations, the criteria for judging valuation fairness, and the identification of sensitive data.

The announcement of this consultation has ignited a fiery debate among individuals and experts. Industry insiders have long grappled with the contentious topic of more frequent valuations in an effort to overhaul Britain's business rates tax system. Pressat, in a release, reported that as businesses contend with rising costs, from energy prices to wages and supply chain disruptions, taxes and interest rates have soared to combat inflationary pressures. This issue has divided opinion, leaving some ardently in favour of regular valuations while others question their efficacy

According to the VOA, there are a wide variety of different types of properties within the 2.1 million properties valued by the VOA; and around one-third of properties − more than 700,000 − pay no rates due to small business rates relief (SBRR). SBRR is a government initiative aimed at providing financial support to small businesses. It reduces business rates for eligible properties, providing a much-needed boost to the finances of small-business owners. In addition to reducing business rates, the program also provides eligible businesses with access to government-backed loans and grants, helping to provide the financial support needed to grow and expand.

Proponents argue that frequent valuations are a crucial step toward a fairer system. Anthony Hughes, the Managing Director of RVA Surveyors, attests to the pervasive discussions surrounding business rates tax reform. While he acknowledges the importance of more frequent valuations, he highlights the broader context. Hughes emphasises that the value of commercial properties can fluctuate based on changes in space utilisation and overall market conditions. He insists that unless meticulous on-site inspections are conducted for each property, the VOA cannot guarantee an equitable tax burden.

Delving deeper into the consultation, a comprehensive report published on gov.uk in March 2023 sheds light on the proposal and its practical implications. The consultation aims to address concerns, garner stakeholder views, and elucidate the mechanics of the proposed disclosure framework. However, the VOA acknowledges that achieving transparency necessitates carefully considering diverse circumstances. The nature and extent of information shared with ratepayers will differ based on property types, and some valuation evidence may contain sensitive details.

Crucially, the report highlights the multifaceted impacts that will be estimated in the wake of the consultation. These include economic consequences, effects on individuals and households, equalities considerations, implications for businesses and civil society organisations, impacts on government agencies, and various other factors. The consultation's meticulous approach ensures that no stone is left unturned in assessing the far-reaching consequences of potential changes to the business rates system.

With regards to confidentiality, the report reassures respondents that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), including the VOA, are firmly committed to safeguarding their personal information. All data shared will be held securely for a period of two years following the consultation's conclusion, after which it will be permanently deleted. This stringent privacy protocol ensures that participants can confidently express their views without compromising their personal data

As the VOA spearheads this audacious consultation, the nation braces for a seismic shift in the realm of business rates. With the power now in the hands of the public and stakeholders, the destiny of Britain's taxation and benefits support system hangs in the balance. The consultation's outcome will shape the landscape for businesses, landlords, and entrepreneurs across the country.