Is COVID-19 a “Material Change of Circumstances” which would justify a temporary revaluation of business rates?

England and Wales

Landlords of unlet units in shopping centres or offices will not benefit from the Government’s Expanded Retail Discount 2020/21 for Coronavirus.

It is possible though that that they could make Checks and Challenges under the Non-Domestic Rating (Alteration of Lists and Appeal) (England) Regulations 2009 (SI 2009 No 2268) (“The Appeal Regulations”) seeking to reflect the temporary effects of COVID-19 on the value of the occupation of their premises.

The Checks and Challenges would be on the ground set out in Regulation 4(1)(b) of the Appeal Regulations, namely:

"the rateable value shown in the list for a hereditament is inaccurate by reason of a material change of circumstances which occurred on or after the day on which the list was compiled."

Under regulation 3(1) of the Appeal Regulations, a “material change of circumstances” means “a change in any of the matters mentioned in paragraph 2(7) of Schedule 6 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988. The potentially relevant matters mentioned in paragraph 2(7) are:

  1. matters affecting the physical state or physical enjoyment of the hereditament,
  2. the mode or category of occupation of the hereditament,
  3. matters affecting the physical state of the locality in which the hereditament is situated or which, though not affecting the physical state of the locality, are nonetheless physically manifest there, and
  4. the use or occupation of other premises situated in the locality of the hereditament.

There are arguments that the matters in (a) (d) and (e) have changed materially as a result of COVID-19. Similar appeals were successfully made following the impact of the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 and the imposition of the ban on smoking in 2007.

It isn’t clear whether appeals based on the impact of COVID-19 would also succeed but the arguments are similar to those which did succeed in 2001 and 2007 and many landlords are making Checks and Challenges on the basis that there is little to lose.

What should you do?

The valuation date for any Check/Challenge is the date it is submitted and it is important that date is whilst the lockdown is in place, so we recommend any Checks/Challenges are made quickly.

We can advise and assist with introductions to a number of agents who would make the Checks/Challenges for you.