The rates have gone up in smoke

There has been some discussion on this page in the past about rateable values and how business rates are calculated and how unfair retailers believe them to be. Back in April, Thair Majid wrote that he thought the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) had got its sums wrong when calculating how much to take on tobacco sales. It was important in his case because it represented 70% of his shop’s turnover and he felt it would be fairer if cigarette sales were separated out as they are with some other categories. Because they wanted £58k in backdated business rates, he went to a tribunal over it and although he lost, he felt there had been some sympathy for his case.

Chartered surveyor Ken Batty chased this up for us and he got a reply from David Hughes who is the VOA’s lead specialist for the valuation of petrol filling stations.

In part the letter said: "A blended/notional average margin is applied which encompasses all forecourt shop goods, reflecting the fact that some items eg tobacco, will be of low margin and other items will be a higher margin. The VOA does not set the market approach, it follows it."

He pointed out that their approach is based upon other factors such as analysis of rental evidence on all sorts of forecourts and on regular discussions with key forecourt industry surveyors.

And he added: "I should bring to your attention that for the 2017 revaluation, a national scheme of valuation for petrol filling stations has been accepted and agreed with the industry, including the Petrol Retailers Association and the UK Petroleum Industry Association. This includes the valuation of forecourt shop income and the prescribed rates."

The letter concluded: "You suggest some of our valuers believe a different approach to tobacco is appropriate. I am not aware of any thinking the scheme is wrong as regards tobacco."

Thair did provide us with the name of a valuer who had been sympathetic to his view but when Ken queried it directly, it turned out that when looking at the figures for tobacco, they saw that Thair had inadvertently included the VAT. And no individual valuer would have the authority to change the way the figures are applied. So in the end that element of how rates should be worked out went up in smoke.

It’s seven months and still waiting...

At the beginning of this year Adam Patel embarked on a refurb of his site, Leyland Garage in Castleford in West Yorkshire and arranged to get a meter moved. An almighty series of cock-ups occurred when Scottish Power didn’t show up etc and it was nine days before the site had power again. And, since Adam is the landlord to an MOT test centre and a car wash on the same site, they too were without power. They worked out between them that compensation of £15k would be about right.

Adam went to the ombudsman which said he had to give his supplier eight weeks to resolve the situation. Near the end of March, Adam updated me: "We had no word from the complaint department so had to wait for the eight weeks to lapse before contacting the ombudsman directly. Since then we’ve been given over to the resolution team."

At that point they had offered him £1,200 in compensation. He told them his losses were far greater which got it sent to the Escalated Complaints Team.

There then followed a series of emails. To date the most they will offer is £3,000. Adam thinks they have overlooked two of the copies of invoices he submitted at their request. And so it goes on...

A frantic morning, a blitz of emails

I reported in the July issue that Nailesh Gokani would be getting a new Cardtronics ATM at his Empire Garage in Enfield to replace his ancient, often failing machine. But on July 21, a really busy time as it was the day many schools broke up, he emailed me and 16 people at Cardtronics to say that the ATM was not working and since his last complaint nothing had been done.

I’ll say this for Cashzone, they acted very quickly indeed in this case. In under three hours the machine was operational again. And Nailesh got a further promise from them. The company said: "Due to the issues you have been experiencing we communicated that we would swap this unit for a new ATM. Once this is complete I’m sure the performance will be robust. However, in addition to this and due to the high transaction numbers your site is generating, we are reviewing the viability of a second ATM."

This is even better news because his machine is extremely busy. In June almost 7,000 transactions went through it, instead of the normal 4,500-5,000 resulting in an extra 15% commission for Nailesh.