The Valuation Office Agency is facing a backlash following the launch of its new system for appealing business rates decisions, with nine out of ten users dissatisfied with the service.
A Freedom of Information request made by commercial real estate agency Colliers International has found that 72% of 847 users of the "Find My Business Rates" and the "Check Challenge Appeal" systems were very dissatisfied and 17% dissatisfied, with some saying that it was "almost impossible to operate". Only 2.6% were very satisfied.
The new systems came in to use on 1 April, which saw significant rate increases across London and the South East.
Since the new service came in to force, property owners have been unable to argue against a rates bill if its margin of error was inside 15%. It also requires ratepayers to log their properties separately which, for larger businesses, could take weeks.
Of 118 comments from ratepayers or respondents, there were calls for greater simplicity and clarity, information on previous valuations, the search system to work properly, speed, guidance notes and complaints about parts of the website missing or not working.
The business rates appeals agency, the Valuation Office Agency is now working with the HMRC to combat a surge of complaints, with over 300,000 outstanding appeals awaiting conclusion.
John Webber, head of rating at Colliers International, said: "The Government ignored the advice of rating experts when it introduced Check, Challenge, Appeal - which we said was unworkable at the time - and despite our criticisms, rolled on ahead regardless."
The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has today also called for improvements to the business rates system, citing 21 pubs closing their doors for good each week in the UK.
In the last budget, the Government introduced a one-off £1,000 discount for pubs, however CAMRA is now urging ministers for a £5,000 annual reduction.
CAMRA chairman Colin Valentine said: "Taxes now make up more than a third of the cost of a pub pint. Despite the fact that pubs currently account for 0.5% of turnover of the UK economy, they are still paying 2.8% of the business rates. This is frankly unsustainable, and it is the consumer that will ultimately pay the price - whether it's when their beloved local closes down or when the price of their pint goes up.
"It's clear that most of us believe that pubs need our help and recognise the vital role that they play in local communities. From celebrating a special occasion to meeting up with friends after work, pubs are an integral part of many people's social lives. Business rate relief is urgently needed in order to ensure their continued survival."
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