Business occupiers across the transport sector have in many cases continued to operate on a ‘business as usual’ basis through the COVID-19 pandemic, but there have been issues for many across the motor trade, rail, bus and related business streams as a direct consequence of Government guidance and ‘lock down’ of non-essential services.
In general and apart from some funding for inner City transport networks and a one-year rates exemption for car dealerships, the travel sector has not been afforded rates relief by Government, while retail and leisure are currently benefiting from a one year liability exemption in England and there are similar reliefs available across Wales and Scotland.
COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for light transit operators, bus operators and other road side businesses, including advertising contractors, car park operators and tyre and exhaust workshops to appeal and seek to reduce their current rateable values as prescribed under statute on the following grounds:
- Matters affecting the ‘physical enjoyment’ of the property. This will include the need to ‘social distance’ on trams and trains.
- A ‘physical manifestation’ of a change at the property or within the locality. This will include local closures and lock down, changes in traffic management and public signage, particularly affecting town and city centre car parks.
- The ‘use of other properties’ within the locality.
If all or any of these factors apply and there is a prospect of demonstrating a fall in (rental) value for a property or network, there will be good grounds for a rating appeal.
Our clients are consistently reporting a fall in use of over 90%. If this short term decline translates to a fall in property value then reductions in rates payable can be considered as a real prospect to ratepayers. The period of recovery envisaged is a consideration particularly as consumers switch between tram/train or bus to car or bike.
Alternatively there are some discretionary and statutory reliefs available from local authorities where sites are partially or completely vacant for a ‘short period’.
As a business, we represent hundreds of business owners and occupiers providing specialist rates consultancy to ratepayers. Rateable Value (RV) assessments are usually applied to each business, site by site and are supposed to represent an annual rental value at a fixed valuation date (1 April 2015). Local councils charge rates according to a central multiplier of the RV annually. There are now opportunities to ‘check’ the assessment and start a process of appeal and potentially a reduction leading to rates savings starting at the end of March this year.