Business rates

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at anyone who is experiencing problems with some aspect of their business rates account and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I have a problem with my business rates. Can the Ombudsman help me?

In some cases, yes. But there are some matters we are not allowed to look at by law:

  • We cannot look at the level of business rates as this has been decided by central Government.
  • We cannot deal with complaints about the rateable value of your property as you can appeal about this to the Valuation Tribunal.
  • We do not look at councils' decisions that you are liable for the business rates. The Magistrates’ Court decides rates liability when a council applies for a liability order. The court is the body which should make the decision and we will not interfere with this. If the court has decided you are liable we cannot reconsider this.
  • We cannot consider complaints about what happened during court proceedings, from the issue of a summons for a liability order hearing to the decision of the court.

But we can consider other complaints about the way the council has dealt with your business rates.

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the final outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

To complain to the Ombudsman phone our helpline on 0300 061 0614 (8.30am to 5.00pm, Mondays to Fridays). You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of our advisers.

You can text us on 0762 481 1595.

You can complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it went about dealing with your business rates account which has caused you problems. Some of the issues we can look at are if the council:

  • failed to give you information you should have (such as entitlement to reductions in the rates or your right of appeal to the Valuation Tribunal)
  • delayed in dealing with disputes, issuing bills or applications for discretionary rate relief
  • made mistakes in dealing with your payments such as failing to credit them to your account, or assigning them to the wrong account
  • continued to take recovery action against you when it shouldn’t, such as when you have already paid off the debt, or you are keeping to an agreed arrangement to pay the debt by standing order or direct debit
  • failed to pass on important information to the enforcement agents (bailiffs), such as that you have cleared your arrears, or
  • delayed unreasonably in dealing with business rates benefit claims.

We may also look at complaints about enforcement agents (bailiffs) acting on behalf of the council, for example if they behave unreasonably or make unreasonable charges. See our separate fact sheet about complaints about bailiffs for more details of this.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

We cannot decide whether you are liable to pay business rates. But, if we find that a council was at fault in the way it dealt with your business rates account we can ask it to:

  • take action to put the matter right, such correcting mistakes on business rates records and issue the right bills and demands
  • ensure that payments you have made are properly paid into your account
  • deal with your correspondence or appeal
  • withdraw a summons or enforcement agents and waive costs where appropriate, or
  • pay you a financial amount to remedy your injustice. The amount we recommend will depend on how you have been affected by what has gone wrong, for example whether you have received any unnecessary summonses, liability orders or enforcement agent visits as a result of the council’s errors.

Where we find fault with the council’s procedures we will usually recommend that the council makes changes so that the same problem does not occur again in the future.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mrs Y applied for discretionary hardship rate relief for her business, and for six months the council kept telling her it would consider her application. Then Mrs Y made a formal complaint to the council, which asked for some more information which Mrs Y supplied. Mrs Y then applied for small business rate relief and said she was closing the business as she could not afford the losses any more. The council did not reply and Mrs Y complained again. The council then decided not to grant hardship relief as Mrs Y’s business had been profitable for the first 11 months of operation. Mrs Y complained to us. When we investigated we found the council was at fault in that it had unnecessarily delayed making a decision on her applications for relief. The council granted Mrs Y small business rate relief. It considered her hardship relief application, but decided to refuse it. However, as her business was now closed, it would not seek any further rates payments from her. We agreed that earlier consideration of the hardship relief application would not have changed the decision not to grant any relief, and we found no fault in the actual decision not to grant relief, as opposed to the delay. But we found that Mrs Y would have closed her business sooner had she known of the result of the application for relief sooner. Mrs Y was happy with the resolution the council had offered.
The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) increased the rateable value on Mr A’s property and told the Mr A and the council. In error the VOA had created a new property reference, and so the council did not send out a revised bill to Mr A immediately. The council did not spot the VOA’s mistake for two years, sending out bills to ‘The Occupier’ which were not being paid, while Mr A carried on paying their now incorrect bills. Then the council realised its error, and sent the occupier a lump sum demand for £17,250. If the council had sent the revised bill sooner, the lump sum would have been much less. As a result of our investigation, we asked the council to pay 8% of the difference between the higher and lower liability, plus 2% for the complainant’s additional time and trouble in having to make the complaint – this came to £632.60. We did not suggest a higher figure, as the occupier had received the VOA’s notification of the increased rateable value and could have appealed it earlier.

Other sources of information

Most councils have lots of information on business rates on their own websites.

There is also information on the Valuation Office Agency at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/valuation-office-agency

The Valuation Tribunal’s website is https://www.valuationtribunal.gov.uk 

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

 May 2017

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