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Scottish Government to postpone business rates revaluation until 2017

The Scottish Government is to follow England's lead and postpone the next round of revaluations for the purposes of calculating business rates until 2017, it has confirmed.29 Nov 2012

Finance Secretary John Swinney made the announcement as he set out how much funding Scottish local authorities would receive over financial year 2013-14.

He also announced a three-month consultation exercise on the future of business rates, intended to create a more "user-friendly and transparent" system.

"Following the UK Government's decision to delay the revaluation in England to 2017 we will ensure our commitment to a competitive business environment is not undermined so we will match that date and reform the business rates system," he said.

"The Scottish Government will take the time we need to get reform of the business rates system right. Before 2007 the poundage rate in Scotland was set higher than that of the rest of the UK putting Scottish business at a competitive disadvantage. That is a danger that must be avoided," he said.

Among the proposals considered in the consultation is whether local authorities should be given the flexibility to introduce and fund "relief schemes" to reflect local circumstances. Rates and reliefs are currently set centrally, meaning that councils are unable to introduce rate reduction schemes to boost local priorities.

Business rates are charged on most non-domestic premises including shops, offices, warehouses and factories. Owners of vacant offices and shops in Scotland currently receive a 50% discount, or 'relief', on their business rates liability, while owners of industrial properties and listed buildings receive 100% relief. From April 2013, the 50% relief will be cut to 10% after three months, although empty industrial properties and listed buildings will continue to receive 100% relief.

Property law expert Ewan Alexander of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that although the wider consultation on business rates would be viewed positively by the property industry, postponing the 2015 revaluation was "not really what the business community was hoping for at this stage".

"There has been some comment recently, particularly from the property sector in relation to changes to empty property rates relief, that Scotland is in danger of making itself less competitive than other parts of the UK in relation to property costs," he said. "The revaluation that has now been postponed might have been an opportunity to address some of that."

The Unoccupied Properties Bill, which was passed by the Scottish Government last month, will allow local authorities to cut business rates relief on certain commercial properties that have been left lying empty for more than three months. Local authorities will also be able to charge up to double the current rate of council tax on certain empty homes that have stood empty for more than a year. The Bill will also introduce rates incentives for new occupants of shops or offices that have been empty for at least a year.

The UK Government announced last month that it would postpone the next business rates revaluation exercise in England until 2017 to provide "tax stability" to shops and businesses. At the time, property law expert Stuart McCann of Pinsent Masons said that the delay would result in businesses "continuing to pay higher rates for longer". Businesses would have "legitimately expected their rates liability to reduce" had the revaluation gone ahead in 2015 as planned, as the new rates would have been based on April 2013 rental values, he said.

Alan Cook, a property law expert with Pinsent Masons, pointed out that if the Scottish Government had not postponed the revaluation then it would have run into problems due to its commitment to keeping the business rates poundage, or tax rate, between Scotland and England the same.

"If Scotland does revalue in 2015, the poundage will have to go up to compensate," he said.

The Government's announcement of the deferral of the English business rates revaluation last month had created a "significant issue" for retailers and businesses as they remained locked into "unrealistically high rates levels which don't reflect the rent value drops of the last four or five years", he said.