A password will be e-mailed to you.

Retail Reflections: Businesses don’t rate appeals’ system; we’re closed – it’s raining!

Alan Monahan writes: I suspect that to nobody’s great surprise businesses remain totally let down by CCA, the new Business Rates Appeals System.

I’ve touched on this before, but now rating experts at Colliers International, the commercial property people, have solid evidence that it is clearly not working and is causing distress to retailers

In answer to Freedom of Information requests to the Government’s Valuation Office Agency (VOA) concerning ‘Find My Business Rates’ and the ‘Check Challenge Appeal’ system, the VOA revealed that 88% of the 2,085 respondents in the period April 1st 2017 to 19th March 2018 said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the new system. Only 2.7% were very satisfied.

As Colliers says, any claim by the Government that early teething problems have been ironed out is therefore ‘delusional’.

Two main complaints stood out: ‘it needs to be much easier to contact you’, along with ‘The need for a Freephone number for help’ and ‘I would have liked a text box to be able to explain my reasons for compiling the check’.

Colliers says that users appear frustrated that there is no one that can guide them through the system; no one to explain their issues to and no opportunity to even put forward their reason for challenging their business rates assessment.

The new rating appeals system also fails to allow an agent to submit appeals on behalf of the property owners – adding to the confusion.

GCA was introduced on the day the largest changes to business rates in a generation were published in April 2017. This included significant rate increases across London and the South-East alongside a downside transitional scheme for the rest of the UK that offered little respite to rate payers in the depressed areas, causing chaos and economic difficulty for many businesses – particularly retailers.

Latest figures show that the ability to appeal against the new rateable values have become an issue as only around 12,000 properties have begun to check and challenge their rating assessments and only one has reached the appeals stage!

John Webber, Colliers’s head of business rates, says that these figures imply 99.7% of businesses are happy with their rating assessments. But given there are some 1.8 million rateable hereditaments this is ‘laughable’.

It is. And ratepayers are being penalised for exercising their right to question their business rates by making it more difficult and expensive.

Meanwhile, across the English Channel …

The restaurant owner could only offer a Gallic shrug and point a finger to the leaden skies when I asked why his town was almost totally closed for business on a weekday.

I wondered if it would be churlish to question his expressive response and the decision-making of shop and café proprietors who had shut their doors. After all, it had been raining chats and chiens non-stop in the delightful town of Pézenas in southern France. Who would venture out in weather like this? Of course, you’ve guessed, the Brits – or ‘Roast Beefs’ as some of the French cheerfully describe us

Yes, in these parts mad dogs and Englishmen were not only welcome to the midday sun when it shone. They could also exclusively ‘enjoy’ navigating pavements and cobblestones resembling white-water rafting routes while going absolutely nowhere. My wife instantly regretted her choice of open-toed sandals.

Our French adventure began when we were picked up early one morning at Béziers Airport by old friends who have lived in France for more than a decade. They had promised some retail therapy and were suitably prepared with umbrellas when we greeted each other. The unanimous decision was made to press on to Pézenas and book into our hotel, a gorgeous, converted old distillery where we would stay overnight.

Despite the torrential rain, we saw enough to appreciate the fine architecture on offer – If not the gift and antique shops – before moving on the next day to our friends’ home outside Castres.

During the car journey I pondered that the almost wholesale closure of such an attractive town could never happen in Britain. What if the good shopkeepers of Stratford-upon-Avon decided to shut their doors every time the heavens opened? There would be an outcry!

But then, we are separated from the French by more than just the Channel: our cultures are entirely different. You may be a Francophile and say ‘Vive la difference’. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ll go with ‘Vive la certitude’ as I like to know that shops will be open even if it’s raining and will not shut at midday and reopen at 2ish if I’m lucky.

One more thing: a visit to a ‘Goya exhibition’ was thoughtfully planned by our friends. Great! But this proved to be something of a disappointment as there was only one painting on view by the Spanish artist. You’d never get away with that in the UK. See what I mean about certainty?

However, the adjoining gardens, reminiscent of those by Capability Brown, looked really interesting. Sadly, they could only be viewed at a distance from the museum (which charged for entry) and not accessed.

The sun did eventually deign to appear at the end of our wet but enjoyable five-day holiday. Our hosts mentioned in a subsequent email that their neighbours had taken visitors to Pézenas almost immediately after we left France. ‘It was sunny and their friends told us it was so pretty and the architecture and shops – particularly those selling antiques – were brilliant.’

C’est la vie! My wife got her retail fix the day after we returned home.

It wasn’t raining and the shops were open.