The Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) has allowed an application to strike out an appeal made by a ratepayer. The Tribunal’s decision in JJ Wilson (Ipswich) Limited v Valuation Office Agency [2021] UKUT 0044 (LC) concerns a former warehouse and office in Ipswich. The property had a rateable value of £26,500 with effect from 15 August 2012. In 2016, the Appellant, through an agent, made a proposal to delete this assessment from the rating list on the basis that the property was incapable of occupation and beyond economic repair. This proposal was not agreed by the Valuation Officer and was referred to the Valuation Tribunal for England (VTE) as an appeal. Before that appeal could be heard, the ratepayer made a second proposal that the property should be “de-listed” from the rating list because it was derelict. This proposal was also not agreed and referred to the VTE as an appeal.

In January 2018, the VTE heard the first appeal and dismissed it on the grounds that the property was not beyond economic repair. The ratepayer did not appeal against that decision. The second appeal was heard by the VTE in February 2020 and, at the hearing, the VTE identified a preliminary issue as to whether the second appeal was precluded as a duplicate – something which is not allowed by the regulations governing rating appeals. The VTE found that the second appeal was, indeed, a duplicate and dismissed the second appeal. The ratepayer appealed against that decision to the Upper Tribunal. The Valuation Officer sought to have the ratepayer’s appeal struck out on the basis that, as a duplicate appeal, it was not validly made and therefore had no reasonable prospect of success.

The case before the Upper Tribunal was determined on written submissions. The appellant contended that the VTE’s decision to dismiss the second appeal was incorrect on three grounds: firstly, it had wrongly said the two proposals had been made on the same ground; secondly, it had given insufficient weight to the fact that the VO had not served an invalidity notice when the second proposal was originally received; and, thirdly, it had failed to conclude from the facts before it that the VO was estopped from arguing that the second proposal was a duplicate and invalid.

In respect of the first ground, the appellant contended that, because the second proposal sought an assessment of “rateable value £de-listed” it was made on a different ground to the first proposal, which had sought a deletion of the assessment. In respect of the second ground, the appellant contended that, because no invalidity notice had been served by the Valuation Officer, the second proposal should be inferred to be validly made, and the VTE should have considered that. Finally, the appellant contended that, because of an exchange of emails between the ratepayer and the valuation officer, in which the valuation officer had offered (subject to authorisation) to agree “zero rating” for the property, the valuation officer was now estopped from arguing that the second appeal was invalid.

The Tribunal found that the two proposals had been made on the same grounds. Despite the second proposal adopting a slightly different format to the first, the “de-listing” of a property was, effectively, the same alteration to the rating list as “deleting” it, and the two proposals therefore referred to the same ground set out in the regulations. As such, the second proposal had not been validly made and, because of this the appeal to the Upper Tribunal had no realistic prospect of success and must be struck out.

Having made that finding, the Tribunal went on to consider the other contentions of the appellant. The valuation officer’s failure to serve an invalidity notice could not be treated as an indication that the proposal was valid, because an objective assessment of the two proposals revealed that they are fundamentally the same. The valuation officer is not a private party, but is a public official exercising statutory discretion in the public interest and, as such, it would not be open to the appellant to pursue an estoppel by convention against the valuation officer. But even if the valuation officer had been a private party, the circumstances of the case were not such that an estoppel could be based upon them. The valuation officer’s email correspondence had made clear that any offer was conditional upon final authorisation, which had not been forthcoming.

The appellant also submitted that it should be granted permission to appeal, out of time, against the first decision of the VTE. The Upper Tribunal found that there were no special circumstances in the case to justify allowing and appeal two and a half years late in respect of the first appeal.

Because the appeal was a duplicate, it was not validly made and therefore had no realistic prospect of success and must be struck out.

The Upper Tribunal’s decision reminds ratepayers that the regulations specifically prohibit duplicate proposals to alter the rating list where those proposals are made by the same person in relation to the same hereditament on the same ground and arising from the same event. If a further appeal to the Upper Tribunal is to be pursued, it must be made in respect of the original proposal, as any duplicate proposal is likely to be invalid.