Most rural businesses will now have received enquiry forms from the Assessor’s Office with a multitude of questions seeking to gather information about your rural business, the structure of your asset in terms of land type and quality and what opportunities it provides for shooting, fishing, stalking and related field sports.
This initial trawl to collect information (the Assessor does not have an existing database) is utilising the Single Application Form (SAF) information the Scottish Government currently holds on businesses registered or claiming area aid payments. The new system, with charges on sporting rates, is due to come into effect imminently. However, we believe we are some way off getting a clear understanding of the values the Assessor will apply to different types of agricultural property to then calculate a rateable value and the amount in the Pound that will then become chargeable.
Currently there is a Small Business Bonus Scheme applied to individual businesses with a combined rateable value of less than £35,000. If the same benchmark is applied in terms of sporting rates and if the Assessor looks at the agricultural business as a whole, rather than just the sporting interests, then the majority of farm businesses will face a sporting rates bill.
It is very important to remember that it is not the current use of your property, as many farms have no operational sporting activity on them, but it is whether the farm has potential to be used as such. One of our key concerns is that the Assessor has now gathered information on a number of leases whereby people are prepared to pay just for the right to control vermin e.g. rabbit and pigeon shooting. If they take this interpretation further, we will see intensive agricultural units with little or no wildlife cover facing a sporting rates demand. We believe it will be very difficult to justify substantial sums levied against this type of set-up but the scope of methodology of valuation is in the hands of the Assessor and therefore we could see banding linked to different types of sporting activity.
There are a number of key issues you should bring to the attention of the Assessor, both in completing the information gathering form and in further dialogue in the event that you choose to appeal a rateable value. The costs of vermin control and how this impacts on your business, with particular focus on the cost of deer control, can be very significant on many farms, estates and wooded areas. With ongoing pressure from Scottish Government in relation to responsible deer management it does seem somewhat bizarre that even if you are doing an excellent job you could get penalised through the application of the sporting rates structure.
Some of us have been around long enough to remember sporting rates in their previous incarnation and much has changed in the rural environment since then. In particular, the right to roam, implementation of core paths and significant increases in public access being enjoyed in many areas. These access rights have a real impact on the management costs of sporting activities and, in many cases, prohibit any enjoyment of sport other than basic vermin control. The proximity of your property to third party ownership, roads, railways and buildings outwith your control also has an impact on sporting activity along with the actual way you manage your land. All these factors should be highlighted where they have a direct or indirect impact on sporting activity on your land and thus diminish the capacity for such pursuits.
We anticipate there will be further dialogue with the Assessor and individual landowners. If you have any questions relating to these enquiries, Bidwells offices throughout Scotland can give guidance on how these should be addressed.