This fact sheet is aimed primarily at anyone who is experiencing problems with some aspect of their business rates account and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.
I have a problem with my business rates. Can the Ombudsman help me?
In some cases, yes. But there are some matters we are not allowed to look at by law:
- We cannot look at the level of business rates as this has been decided by central Government.
- We cannot deal with complaints about the rateable value of your property as you can appeal about this to the Valuation Tribunal.
- We do not look at councils' decisions that you are liable for the business rates. The Magistrates’ Court decides rates liability when a council applies for a liability order. The court is the body which should make decide liability and we will not interfere with this. If the court has decided you are liable we cannot reconsider this.
- We cannot consider complaints about what happened during court proceedings, from the issue of a summons for a liability order hearing to the decision of the court.
But we can consider other complaints about the way the council has dealt with your business rates.
How do I complain?
You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.
Then, if you are unhappy with the final outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.
You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.
If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?
We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it went about dealing with your business rates account which has caused you problems. Some issues we can look at are if a council:
- failed to give you information it should have (such as entitlement to reductions in the rates or your right of appeal to the Valuation Tribunal)
- delayed in dealing with disputes, issuing bills or applications for discretionary rate relief
- made mistakes in dealing with your payments such as failing to credit them to your account, or assigning them to the wrong account
- continued to take recovery action against you when it shouldn’t, such as when you have already paid off the debt, or you are keeping to an agreed arrangement to pay the debt by standing order or direct debit
- failed to pass on important information to the enforcement agents (bailiffs), such as that you have cleared your arrears, or
- delayed unreasonably in dealing with business rates benefit claims
- did not give you a Covid-19 business grant or delayed unreasonably in making a decision on an application.
We may also look at complaints about enforcement agents (bailiffs) acting on behalf of the council, for example if they behave unreasonably or make unreasonable charges. See our separate fact sheet about complaints about bailiffs for more details of this.
What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?
We cannot decide whether you are liable to pay business rates. But if we find that a council was at fault in the way it dealt with your business rates account we can ask it to:
- take action to put the matter right, such as correcting mistakes on business rates records and issue the right bills and demands
- ensure that payments you have made are properly paid into your account
- deal with your correspondence or appeal
- withdraw a summons or enforcement agents and waive costs where appropriate, or
- pay you a financial amount to remedy your injustice. The amount we recommend will depend on how you have been affected by what has gone wrong, for example whether you have received any unnecessary summonses, liability orders or enforcement agent visits as a result of the council’s errors.
Where we find fault with the council’s procedures, we will usually recommend that the council makes changes so that the same problem does not occur again in the future.
Examples of some complaints we have considered
Mr X was a director of a company which received Small Business Rate Relief (SBBR). When the council reviewed the SBBR award it found two companies with what it said was the same name as Mr X’s company, located in two different councils. It checked with these authorities. Both confirmed there was a company of that name which occupied a business premises in their area, whose rateable value was to high to allow a SBBR award. The council then removed Mr X’s companies’ SBBR and asked him for £10,000 in rates.
Mr X objected and the council said it would check its evidence. When it did this one council eventually confirmed the company it was billing had a slightly different name and a different company number. The other council did not reply. As the council was not able to substantiate the company in the other council area it reinstated Mr X ‘s company SBBR.
Mr X complained to us. When we made enquiries the council confirmed it had not checked with Companies House. It was also clear when it asked the other councils for information all it had provided was the company name and address. It did not provide any other information such as business type, registered address or company number. Our investigator was able to easily show, using publicly available data, the three companies were different. We found the council was at fault for not properly checking the information it had. This had caused Mr X distress and uncertainty. The council agreed to pay Mr X £300 to recognise this.
Mrs X contacted the council to say she had taken on the lease of a property. The council’s note of her telephone call say the property was empty. The council sent a bill and a reminder to the property, as Mrs X had not provided any other address for documents to be sent to. As Mrs X did not pay the council issued a summons and the Magistrates’ Court granted the council a liability order. Mrs X then called the council several times. The council’s notes say it confirmed the charge for an empty property was correct, and Mrs X would not give the council another address to send documents to.
Mrs X complained to us that she could not contest the court case as she did not receive the summons. She said the letters were delivered to the wrong address. Our investigation showed the letters were addressed correctly. The law (Local Government Act 1972 (Section 233) says if a document is properly addressed and posted it is assumed to have been received by normal post. So the council was not at fault in how it served the bill, reminder or summons.
Other sources of information
Most councils have lots of information on business rates on their own websites.
There is also information on the Valuation Office Agency at https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/valuation-office-agency
The Valuation Tribunal’s website is https://www.valuationtribunal.gov.uk
Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.