A yard owner who has spent years fighting to decrease his business rates hopes the concessions he won could benefit others in a similar position.
Walter Brinzer, of Chelmsford Equestrian Centre in Essex, went to tribunal this autumn as part of his appeal against the values assigned to his premises, from which rates are calculated.
And although the tribunal did not agree with some of his basic arguments — such as the £250 value assigned to each of his stables being too high compared to £165 in areas of London and Surrey — points ceded by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) beforehand meant he has already been refunded some £6,000.
Mr Brinzer told H&H while it is simple to calculate the rateable value of a shop, for example, as they are often rented and there will be similar local premises for comparison, the same cannot be said for equestrian centres.
“They’re meant to value what a property would be worth to rent on the open market,” he said. “But they have very little information on that market.
“So the valuation officer will break it down — square meterage of stables, arenas, storage, etc — and put a value on each to calculate the overall value.”
Mr Brinzer researched the values attached to facilities in his area and others and found that while in Essex, outdoor arenas were valued at £2.50 per sqm, in many other areas, it was only £1. The VOA agreed to reduce his to £1.50 before the tribunal.
Before the hearing, Mr Brinzer also secured a discount from £15 to £10 per sqm on his storage space value. As a former farm, his centre has large storage areas but he argued these did not add value. The VOA also agreed his smaller pony stables should be rated as less valuable than standard ones.
He secured a 10% discount on the overall value, owing to the size of his premises, as a large yard is harder to rent out than a smaller.
Mr Brinzer hopes the VOA’s concessions may benefit others who could also secure discounts, but believes appealing can also have a wider impact.
“The VOA has to rely on historical data and if no one appeals, it’s as if that must be right,” he said. “The idea is that the rateable values in your area have been agreed with other people, so even if they’re wrong, they’re seen as right.
“I was told no-one else in the area had challenged the rateable value of stables, so ‘thanks for bringing it to our attention, but…’.
“We told the VOA all the information they had was wrong, but unless people appeal, we’re fighting a battle we can’t win. Once the local tone is established, it’s very hard to change it.”
Mr Brinzer’s appeal was against his 2010 values. He now plans to challenge the “outrageous” increase in values on which H&H has reported, which came into effect in 2017.
“There’s very little data to support this,” he said. “Now I need to go back for the next round, as I can’t see how this is justified.”
A spokesman for the British Horse Society (BHS), which has been campaigning against rate levels, told H&H: “A key concern is that riding schools and livery yards have been hit hard with the rateable values that came into force in 2017. The increase these equestrian businesses are being subject to are considerably more than average for businesses across England and Wales.
“We would advise anyone who has any doubt about whether their premises has been incorrectly valued to check with the VOA. Walter’s persistence has been beneficial as it has resulted in him paying less business rates.”
The VOA told H&H it was unable to comment, owing to the forthcoming general election.
Businesses can see how values were calculated, and “propose change” at voa.gov.uk/valuation.
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