IN a year of rising costs for local business, the latest one to crystalise earlier this month was the new rates bill. For many it will be yet another upward adjustment to budget but for some others, perhaps a very welcome and overdue reduced cost.
The new ninth rating list for business ratepayers went live on April 1. Not only may rating assessments (net annual values) have changed, but the new bill for 2023/24 will vary depending on which district council area applies, as each strike their own new rate poundage.
So if your shop has a NAV of £50,000 in Enniskillen,where the rate poundage is £0.52318, you will pay £26,159 this year. But in Strabane (£0.633362) your bill would be 21 per cent higher at £31,668. On the face of it, that doesn’t seem very fair.
The rates context in England and Wales is a little different. Rating advisers Altus Group recently published its 2023 annual business rates review which made interesting reading. The multipliers in England (£0.512) and Wales (£0.535) have been frozen since 2020/21 and apply across each country. Transitional relief caps cost increases on Reval and Retail Hospitality and Leisure (RHL) Relief will support 230,000 business in England and Wales this year with up to 75 per cent relief.
This means in 2023/24 a shop in Sheffield with a rateable value (RV) of £50,000 will only pay £6,400 in business rates (after 75 per cent relief applied) – compared to £31,668 in Strabane.
It’s not a direct comparison, as other costs vary and various other reliefs apply, but still the cost differential on that example is stark. We have seen through the pandemic how the rates system can be used as a targeted tool to support business in Northern Ireland when needed and it should be kept in focus.
In England the recently announced non-domestic rating bill plans to introduce more frequent revaluations and new business rates improvement relief, so businesses making qualifying building improvements will not face higher business rates bills for 12 months – effectively providing tax breaks for businesses who are extending or upgrading their property. We would welcome that here.
In Northern Ireland, without caps on cost increases, some office occupiers in Belfast for example have seen their rates bill increase 49 per cent last week and given the fact that we only had our last revaluation in 2020, that level of valuation correction probably should not have happened.
Rating assessments in NI (NAVs) can of course be challenged and reduced, but first taking specialist advice to determine if a case can be made, is strongly recommended as assessments can go up as well as down on appeal.