The decision of the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) in Imtekhab Alam v Stoyles (VO) (2018) UKUT 0266 (LC) will be of interest to ratepayers and their advisors as it considers the circumstances in which proposals, the means by which ratepayers seek alterations to the rating list, can still be valid, despite containing errors. The case concerned the validity of a 2010 Rating List proposal, made on 31 March 2015. The proposal, which was made by an agent on behalf of the ratepayer, stated that the Appellant was the owner/occupier of his property, and hence did not include details of any rent, but in fact the occupier held a lease from 2013 at a rent of £17,000 pa. The regulations governing the making of proposals state that, where a rent is payable, the amount of the rent must be included in the proposal.

The proposal in this case sought a reduction in assessment on the basis that the property had been incorrectly zoned. The Valuation Officer (VO) did not serve an invalidity notice but, at the hearing of the appeal by the Valuation Tribunal for England (VTE) , contended that the proposal was invalid as no rent was stated but a rent was payable. The VTE found that the proposal was invalid and the ratepayer appealed to the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber).

In its decision, the Upper Tribunal reviewed the requirements for a valid proposal and concluded that a proposal was not automatically invalid simply because an incorrect rent (or, as in this case, no rent at all) was stated. Where a proposal fails to comply with the regulations there are three questions to be asked:

  1. If it does not fully comply, does it nevertheless substantially comply with the regulations? (“The substantial compliance question”)
  2. If it does not substantially comply, is the non-compliance capable of being waived and, if it can be waived, has it been waived or should it be waived in the particular case? (“The discretionary question”)
  3. If discretion is not capable of being waived, or is not waived, what is the consequence of the non-compliance? (“The consequences question”)

In this case the non-compliance was not the description of “owner/occupier”, but was the failure to state a rent. Despite this, the Upper Tribunal found that the proposal was valid because of the terms of the proposal and the circumstances in which it was made.

The terms of the proposal were that it challenged the zoning approach applied to the property, not the zone A value itself, and therefore the rent was not likely to be significant in the outcome of the proposal. The circumstances were that the proposal was made relatively late in the life of the rating list when there was an established tone of value, so the rent was of less significance. The rent from 2013 was also remote from the valuation date in 2008, so again the rent was of less significance. For these reasons the VO was not prejudiced by the fact that the rent was not stated.

The Upper Tribunal found that, in these circumstances, the proposal was “substantially compliant” with the regulations and was therefore valid rather than invalid.

This decision makes clear that, just because a proposal is inaccurate, does not mean that it is invalid. It is one of a long, and lengthening, string of Upper Tribunal determinations on procedural issues. It is a sad fact that, at present at least, process seems often to overtake outcome in the consideration of rating appeals. We very much hope that the Upper Tribunal’s decision in this case will encourage parties to focus on the substantive issue of dispute, the correct rating assessment for the property concerned, rather than procedural matters that my well be irrelevant to that substantive matter.