RATES - COUNCIL TAX
In most instances it is clear how a property should be banded. A typical house or flat, for example, will be allocated a single council tax band. But there are many instances where it is more difficult to establish the number of council tax bands to be applied; this is particularly so when there are a number of dwellings within one building or a number of occupiers with different uses, such as charities.
Here we explain the different circumstances where this can arise and the criteria the VOA use in deciding how many council tax bands should apply in each instance.
You may note some discrepancy between planning and rating law, where on the one hand the government want to squeeze you of every penny they can, while the local authority do not want to admit to lawful development. As far as we know, this has yet to be challenged in the County or High Court, to clarify the legal position.
"Ask for a Certificate of Lawful Development for any proposed business use. If it is denied, you do not have business premises and should not pay commercial rates" (See 'Non transit in res judicata'**) Your council may be guilty of attempted fraud, as in asking for money that they should know they are not entitled to.
The full definition of a dwelling is found in Section 3 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992.
Broadly speaking, a dwelling is a separate unit of living accommodation, together with any garden, yard, garage or other outbuildings, attached to it, all occupied by the same person(s) and within the same area of land.
A property can appear in the Council Tax Valuation List and a non-domestic rating list if it is used for both domestic and business purposes.
If a property contains more than one self-contained unit of accommodation, it will be divided into as many dwellings as there are self contained units for council tax purposes. We describe this process as 'disaggregation' and each dwelling will have its own council tax band.
A self contained unit means 'a building or part of a building which has been constructed or adapted for use as separate living accommodation' .
Separate living accommodation can mean both a unit of living accommodation which is physically separated from other accommodation, and also living accommodation which is annexed to and sharing an access with adjoining accommodation. The fact that a unit shares common services and cannot be sold on its own does not prevent it from being self contained. Equally, the degree of communal living is not a relevant factor. The primary test is whether a unit is constructed or adapted for use as separate living accommodation, not what use is made of it.
When considering whether any living accommodation is a self contained unit, we must have regard to several key points. These are:
Under existing legislation, disaggregation only applies to a building or part of a building. It therefore excludes caravans and boats.
Occasionally we may decide to treat what would otherwise be separate dwellings as a single dwelling. We describe this as 'aggregation'.
The law allows us to aggregate dwellings when, for example, dealing with a property which consists of a 'single self contained unit' and is occupied by separate households. An example of this might be a large house which has been converted to bedsit accommodation.
When we are considering whether it is appropriate to treat separate occupations as a single dwelling we must look at the extent, if any, to which the property has been structurally altered.
Searching the lists
You can use the lists to find a single property or all the properties that match certain criteria.
You can do as many searches as you like, but each individual search will be restricted to a single local authority (known as 'billing authority' here) area.
To start a search you must either select a billing authority or enter a full or partial postcode. Entering a postcode will automatically select the correct billing authority. If you do not know the postcode of a property, you can find it on the Royal Mail web site.
Help with your search
We have tried to make searching easy but if you need help, click on the 'do you need help with this screen?' link at the bottom of each page. There is also a help link at the top of every page, with an index to all the help pages and a glossary of terms. You can also see a step by step guide on how to look up a property's council tax band here (330 Kb). To view the council tax list in Welsh, click on the Welsh flag in the top right hand corner. Click the flag again to return to the English version.
Property values and bands
The council tax band of a property is not related to its current market value. This is because, by law, council tax valuations are based on the price a property would have fetched if it had been sold on 1 April 1991. For Wales the Valuation date is 1 April 2003. General price movements in the housing market since that date are not, therefore, a reason for changing a council tax banding. If you are thinking of appealing against a band, please read thepages for the circumstances that permit an appeal. To make an appeal on line you need to find your property using the search facility below and follow the 'make an appeal' links.
Business rates are paid by most occupiers of business property as a way of contributing towards the cost of local services.
You receive your rates bill from your local authority each year, between February and April. It tells you the amount you have to pay in the coming year and how the local authority has worked out that amount. You will normally be asked to pay in a number of instalments. The bill shows the amount of each instalment and the dates on which you should pay.
Although your local authority issues the bill and collects your business rates, the total amount collected across the country goes into a central rate pool for England. This is managed by the ODPM, which redistributes the funds to local authorities, and to other bodies like police and fire authorities.
Every five years the rateable values of all 1.75 million business properties in England and Wales are reassessed. The most recent revaluation came into effect on 1 April 2005. Many ratepayers received details of their proposed new rateable value in the form of a summary valuation.
WORKING FROM HOME
More and more people are working from home. If youre one of them, you might have to pay business rates on the part of the property you use for work. You will continue to pay council tax as usual on the rest of your property. However, the amount you pay on that part of the property may reduce.
A number of factors will determine whether the space in your home used as an office will be liable for business rates. These will include the extent and frequency of the business use of the room (or rooms) and any special modifications made to the property. Each case is considered individually, usually through a visit from your local Valuation Office which you should contact for further details. If your property needs to be assessed for business rates, your Valuation Office will work out a rateable value for the part used for non-domestic purposes.
The summary valuation explains how the rateable value of your business property has been calculated. The VOA sent a paper copy to most ratepayers in October 2004. The VOA is responsible for setting the rateable values of all 1.75 million business properties in England and Wales.
In future, where appropriate, all businesses will receive summary valuations. Currently, they are available to most shops, offices and industrial properties approximately 1.3 million in total. If those businesses that have received a summary valuation have their rateable value re-assessed and changed by the VOA, they will be sent an updated summary valuation that reflects any amendments.
The summary valuation is new. In the past you were only informed of the rateable value of your property. From now on you will get a full breakdown of how that rateable value has been calculated based on the characteristics of the property you occupy.
The summary valuation is not a rates bill. Your local authority calculates your rates bill by multiplying the rateable value by a factor set by central government each year called the multiplier, or Uniform Business Rate (UBR). Your local authority then applies any reliefs to which you might be entitled, to come up with a final figure for your bill. You will receive your rates bill from your local authority sometime between February and April each year.
There are a number of rate reliefs businesses can apply for in order to ease the impact of their business rates bill. This section outlines the criteria required to qualify for each type of rate relief and gives a general indication of the effect this might have on your bill.
Please note you should contact your local authority to apply for any type of relief and for further information. The following types of rate relief are available:
Eligible businesses with rateable values of below £5,000 will get 50% rate relief on their liability. This relief will decrease on a sliding scale by an estimated 1% for every £100 of rateable value over £5,000, up to £10,000. Your local billing authority will calculate the exact decrease.
The relief is available to ratepayers with either:
In addition to this relief on liability, eligible businesses with rateable values of between £10,000 and £14,999 (or between £10,000 and £21,499 in London) will have their liability calculated using the small business multiplier.
The Small Business Rate Relief scheme is funded by a supplement on the rate bill of those businesses not eligible for the relief. This supplement is built into the standard multiplier.
Eligible ratepayers must apply for the relief each year, including those with rateable values between £10,000 and £14,999 (or between £10,000 and £21,499 in London). If your business ceases to be eligible on a day during the financial year, the relief will cease on that day. You must submit your application for the relief to your local authority within six months of the end of the financial year to which it relates - for the 2005/06 financial year, the last date for applications will be 30 September 2006.
Assuming a business meets the eligibility criteria, the relief can only be granted if the property the business occupies is on the rating list from 1 April. The date of occupation of the property is irrelevant, the key date is the effective date given to the property in the rating list. If the property has an effective date after 1 April, then the relief can only be applied for from 1 April of the following year.
Property empty and unused
Charities and charity shops
Your local authority may also decide to further reduce the amount you have to pay or even cancel the bill altogether. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
Not a charity, but another type of non-profit-making organisation
The ODPM issued detailed guidance to local authorities on 'Rate reliefs for charities and other non-profit-making organisations' in December 2002
Rural village of population under 3000
Non-agricultural business on agricultural land or former agricultural buildings
Part of your property is not being used and is completely unoccupied for a short time
You are suffering severe hardship and cannot pay your bill
** res judicata A rule of civil law that once a matter has been litigated and final judgment has been rendered by the trial court, the matter cannot be relitigated by the parties in the same court, or any other trial court. A court will use res judicata to deny reconsideration of a matter. Cf. res integra.
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With thanks to Action Groups around the world for the supply of real case history and supporting documents.