This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.

This page sets out the situation in England. Arrangements differ elsewhere in the UK. There is relevant guidance available for:

How are business rates bills made up?

Business rates bills are calculated according to three main factors:

  1. the rateable value of the property in question (an estimate of how much it would cost to rent the property for a year on 21 April 2021)
  2. the standard percentage – the ‘multiplier’ – that is applied to the rateable value
  3. details of any reliefs and discounts that may apply

All of that information appears on the bill, which is sent by the billing authority (the district or unitary council).

The first step for anyone who wants to question their bill is to determine which of these they’re unhappy with.

How do I check reliefs and discounts?

There are various types of reliefs and discounts available to ratepayers. These may reduce bills by differing amounts. The reliefs include reductions for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses and for premises mostly used for charitable purposes.

The Government publishes further details about the reliefs and discounts available. Most rules about eligibility are set by the Government, but billing authorities can also set discretionary local discounts.

Ratepayers who have not received a particular relief or discount that they think they are eligible for may raise the matter with the council that sends them the bill. If they are not happy with the council’s decision, they may raise the matter with the Valuation Tribunal for England.

What about small business rate relief?

Despite its name, small business rate relief depends on the rateable value of the property that the business occupies, rather than the size of the business.

In brief, businesses that occupy only one property whose rateable value is £12,000 or less will receive a 100% rebate on their bill, so they do not have to pay anything. If the rateable value is between £12,001 and £15,000, they are eligible for tapered relief (so, for instance, a property with a rateable value of £13,500 is eligible for 50% relief).

Arrangements for businesses with more than one property are more complex.

How do I find out about rateable values?

A business rates bill includes the rateable value of the property. This is set by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). It is not the amount that the ratepayer will pay.

Any property’s rateable value can be found by entering its postcode into the VOA’s database. This will also show details of how the rateable value has been calculated, and the rateable values of similar properties.

How does valuation work?

Valuing non-domestic property is complex. The VOA’s Rating Manual shows the guidance that valuers use to assign rateable values to the different types of property.

Valuers also rely on case law. This means it is not possible to be certain that a valuation is wrong: this depends on the facts of the case. So if a ratepayer’s property has a higher rateable value than other properties nearby, this does not necessarily mean that their appeal will succeed.

Some properties may be part of a “valuation scheme“. This is a way of grouping similar properties in similar areas to ensure that their rateable values are consistent. The VOA’s database should show when a valuation scheme is being used to value a property.

How do I appeal against a valuation?

There is a three-stage process for appeals against rateable values. It is known as Check, Challenge, Appeal. The Government publishes full details of the process.

How do I check?

After registering with the VOA, the ratepayer submits a “Check case”, in which they review information held by the VOA and if necessary provide details and evidence of why that information is incorrect. This should also include information about external factors that might impact what they think they should pay (such as long-term roadworks) if the ratepayer believes that they are relevant.

The VOA will contact the ratepayer to explain their decision.

How do I challenge?

If the ratepayer disputes the VOA’s decision, they may submit a “challenge” to the VOA. This must include the legal basis of the challenge, and a proposed alternative rateable value, with reasons.

The VOA will again inform the ratepayer (and if necessary the billing authority) of the outcome of the challenge.

How do I appeal?

If the ratepayer is unhappy with the VOA’s response, they may appeal to the Valuation Tribunal for England (VTE), usually within four months of the challenge decision (or 18 months if the VOA has not decided on the case). The VTE publishes detailed guidance on the process. Importantly:

  • There is a fee of £150 for small businesses or £300 for others to undertake an appeal.
  • Ratepayers do not need lawyers to undertake an appeal (or the challenge stage). They may however hire a rating valuation expert. The Government publishes information about how to get professional advice.
  • Ratepayers must continue to pay their business rates bill during the appeal process.

Will overpayments be refunded if I win?

The VOA or the Valuation Tribunal may decide to refund payments if the ratepayer wins, but there is no guarantee. This will depend on the decision about the “effective date” of the change – that is, precisely when any change of circumstances justified a reduction.

Steve Browning is a researcher in the House of Commons Library specialising in business rates.

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