The much heralded ‘check, challenge, appeal’ (CCA) regime, which went live on 1st April this year is already set to take its place in the Hall of Fame of Government IT failures after just 3 months.
The reason for failure is not too difficult to find. A combination of poor legislation, ineffective IT systems, a reducing and demotivated workforce and the influence of tax collectors have all conspired to interfere with a ‘level playing-field’ for ratepayers. The list of complaints is long and getting longer:
- The unavailability of Valuation Office staff who even understand the system through the general 03000 501501 ‘helpline’ means that simple enquiries end in ratepayer frustration.
- The onus on ratepayers, some of whom have extensive property portfolios, to register and claim properties before the ‘check’ stage, has proved bewildering and in many cases impossible.
- The need to enter and update each property independently through the Government Gateway portal will inevitably lead to cost and delay for those (not necessarily ‘large’) businesses with most units of assessment.
- The bizarre requirement to request a detailed valuation (that could take up to 20 days to arrive) for fairly simple assessments (car spaces) is unnecessarily slowing a route to appeal.
- There is currently no electronic process available to ‘challenge’ even if the ratepayer makes it through the ‘check’ stage.
- Clear and obvious errors cannot be remedied by a simple email or call, but require a check. There are many examples of demolition or removal scenarios that must proceed through the formal three year process.
The result of the new regime to date has been a severe reduction in the number of potential ‘appeals’. The system seems designed to frustrate appeals in order to restrict the amount of time spent by VOA staff ‘negotiating’ and attending tribunals. The long term consequence is more likely to be a back log of determined ratepayers who believe there assessment to be over-stated.
Montagu Evans, through our involvement with the professional bodies, will continue to lobby Government in an attempt to agree ‘best practice’ in the interests of a functional appeals regime to include:
- A responsive system of enquiry for ratepayers seeking to check their assessments.
- A simplified process to deal with deletions, material changes and corrections.
- A multi-property facility at the Government Gateway portal to allow ratepayers with more than one occupation to lodge multiple check requests efficiently.
- A transparent system of ‘evidence exchange’ in order to reinstate fairness.
- An agreed protocol governing the VOA duty under statute to maintain a correct and reasonable set of rateable values.
- Long term reform in the interests of all parties including taxpayers, local authorities, the Valuation Office and the Valuation Tribunal Service.
As matters stand the system is ‘frozen’. There are less than 1,000 checks in place, but several hundred thousand disgruntled ratepayers. The net result will be much back end loaded litigation and a lot of contempt for a failing process.