Clause 29 — Regulations etc.

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 17th June 2009.

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Photo of Sarah McCarthy-Fry Sarah McCarthy-Fry Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government 3:45 pm, 17th June 2009

As right hon. and hon. Members are aware, Lords amendments 11 and 12 are intended to prevent the BRS from being levied retrospectively as a result of a change in the rating list.

Before I move on to the substance of the amendments and the background to them, I want to emphasise some key points about the Bill and what it provides for. The first BRS cannot be levied until 1 April 2010; nobody can have any liability for a BRS in respect of any day earlier than that; while we know that the Greater London authority intends to levy a BRS for the Crossrail project, as was discussed in the other place, other levying authorities do not have plans to levy a BRS but have welcomed the power to do so in the future; the £50,000 rateable value threshold for liability to a BRS in England will exclude most small businesses; while the Bill builds on the rating system, which I will come to, it does not change anything about the general rating system or have any affect on liability for non-domestic rates, whether before or after 1 April 2010; the BRS will be raised and retained locally, for projects which the levying authority, working in partnership with business, considers will promote the economic development of its area; and no BRS revenues will be coming to central Government, nor can they be used by the levying authority to support existing expenditure, as BRS can only be levied to support new, additional, spending.

The BRS builds on the non-domestic rating system. In particular, liability to BRS and the level of liability in respect of any given property will be based on the rating list entry for that property. Rating lists can be changed by valuation officers to ensure accuracy and, with that, the accuracy of rates liability. Sometimes this can lead to backdated increases in rates liability; sometimes it can lead to backdated decreases and, therefore, refunds. There is the possibility of backdated increases in rateable value causing higher BRS bills than businesses were anticipating, but the practicalities involved in ascertaining the need for changes to a rating list and then establishing what change is required mean that backdating is an essential part of the normal functioning of the system.

Right hon. and hon. Members know that, over recent months, the issue of backdated rates liability has been highlighted by the situation in a number of ports. However, the Bill relates to the BRS, and the amendments would not affect the situation in ports. As was emphasised by Lord Davies in another place, the issue of ports does not affect the principle. It would be unfair to those businesses that have been paying the correct BRS if others were paying a smaller bill simply because an inaccuracy on the rating list meant that they were not asked to pay the correct supplement. It is also worth reiterating that BRS bills, like rates bills, can go down as a result of a change to the rating list in certain circumstances; that is a normal function of the system.

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