The exclusion of charitable rates relief for independent schools may be the biggest talking point in the proposed reforms to business rates in Scotland, but there is a lot more to the Scottish Government’s proposals than this political headline.
The Non-Domestic Rates (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament in March 2019 and we are expecting the stage one debate to take place later this week.
The current system is oft-criticised for being inconsistent, overly bureaucratic and not fit for purpose, with valuations being notoriously difficult to predict and understand. To help counter that, the proposed new regime will reduce the period between rates revaluations from five years to three years. A move designed to ensure that rates valuations are more in line with the current property market, this would go some way to alleviate the financial pressures recently felt by businesses in Aberdeen, where the rates valuations have failed to reflect the falling market, caused by the oil and gas downturn.
The appeals system is also to be reformed to make the process quicker and more transparent. The assessors and local authorities who administer business rates will be given new information gathering and debt recovery powers, and there will be incentives available for businesses to upgrade and renovate properties.
Empty property relief is currently available to listed buildings for so long as the property is empty. However, the period of relief is to be restricted to five years - being an improvement on the two-year period originally suggested. We expect these changes to be made through secondary legislation.
The much-needed review of the business rates has been welcomed by many and it is hoped that it will result in a more user-friendly and responsive system. The inevitable question is, does it go far enough? The retail sector’s recent woes are well publicised and unlikely to dissipate any time soon. Rates are one of several reasons put forward for the high street’s struggles. Could the reforms have done more to assist?
While the current UK government has not yet proposed reform of the rates system in England and Wales, the pressure to do so in mounting. In an ever-changing political landscape, we could quickly see this being part of the agenda, and at that point the Scottish system will be scrutinised again.
We will continue to track the Bill’s progress. Please do contact us if you have any queries.