Changes to rates bill are unfair and unworkable
The recent programme of accelerating the retirement of public servants (to reduce the public pay bill, while increasing the pension’s bill), forced many senior valuers to retire early.
At the same time a freeze on recruitment was introduced so these specialist staff cannot be replaced. The remaining staff in the VO are now working even harder to try and complete the project, in a timescale that has been made less achievable. So the “reforms” already introduced have only exacerbated the problems with the revaluation roll-out.
Do the proposed amendments address any of the issues affecting ratepayers?
The answer is no. Brian Hayes may not be aware that there are issues, because in preparing the draft legislation there was no consultation with any organisation or body that represents ratepayers. Therefore how could he know?
I won’t go into all the areas of concern with the proposed Bill, but the main ones are:
(1) No redefinition of the material change of circumstances provision. So the by-passed petrol station will still not be able to get its assessment revised.
(2) The VO is to be given the sole right to determine the method of valuation for a given category of property. The Valuation Tribunal has in the past rejected the valuation methodology adopted by the VO for a category of property based on the insufficiency of the rental evidence put forward by them in support of their method. This legislation proposes to remove the right to challenge the VO approach.
(3) The “streamlining” of the appeals process is to be achieved by removing the right of first appeal to the commissioner of valuation. All appeals will go straight to the tribunal.
Grinding to a halt
Leaving aside the extra cost which will be imposed on ratepayers, a far greater concern is whether workings of the Valuation Tribunal will grind to a halt as a result.
In the recent Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown revaluation around 22 per cent of ratepayers lodged appeals to the Valuation Tribunal. If this statistic follows through for Dublin city there could be in excess of 5,000 cases. At the same time Waterford is being revalued which could add another 1,000.
In addition, because one of the appeal stages would now be gone, there is a real risk that this figure could be substantially increased.
Each hearing takes on average a half-day. There is a lead-in time for administration and a lead-out time for the panel to give its written judgement.
The statutory deadline provides that the tribunal must give its decision within six months. If we assume a 16-week period for hearing cases, you are looking at circa 70 hearings a day. There is simply no way that a rating tribunal with two hearing rooms and a staff of five can handle it and as a result the whole system could fall down.
Unless the passing of this legislation coincides with the announcement of a massive increase in funding and staff resources for the Valuation Tribunal, it appears that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is on track to implement yet another reform that not only doesn’t deliver on its intended purpose, but ultimately results in higher costs and more inconvenience to taxpayers.
Mike Doyle is a rating and property consultant with Bagnall Associates. The views expressed in this article are his own