By Patrick Krause
Crofters are receiving demands for payment of business rates on sporting rights that the vast majority of them do not hold. It is imperative that local authorities halt the process until this has been sorted out.
The Scottish Crofting Federation has received many communications from members who are very anxious over a demand they have received for payment, sometimes of very large amounts of money, for rates on sporting rights they do not hold.
The great majority of Western Isles crofters are tenants and do not hold the sporting rights of the land they rent. There will be a tiny number of owner-occupiers who do hold sporting rights, who will be liable for rates but who can apply for Small Business Rate Relief, but most do not hold rights.
So why are they being sent demands for payment?
Apparently, the Scottish Assessors Association were charged with compiling a Valuation Roll, a register of business rates for sporting rights – a potential source of business income. They attempted to write to all occupiers of land, or those that they could get an address for, asking if they hold the sporting rights. Information on the occupier of land was provided by Scottish Government, SNH and Forest Enterprise. As far as we know the Crofting Commission was not consulted.
Many crofters either did not receive this request, did not understand what it was or thought it was for the landowner. Whatever the reason, if the crofter did not refute it, the Assessor set a rateable value which was passed to the Local Authority who then issued a demand for payment.
Crofters faced with a demand for payment of rates for sporting rights need to be aware that a response to the demand is still legally due even if they do not hold the rights. If no action is taken by the crofter then recovery could be put in the hands of a Sheriff Officer. The Sheriff Officer will add their charges to the amount to be recovered.
Crofters who do not hold sporting rights should contact their Assessor to let them know that they do not. They can appeal to have their details taken off the Valuation Roll. The local independent Assessor’s contact details can be found at https://www.saa.gov.uk/contactlists/
Crofters must also contact their Local Authority without delay. The Local Authority will advise on what the course of action will be; I am told that it could be paying the bill then applying for relief which could bring the bill down to zero and so it gets reimbursed.
Yes, this does sound like bureaucracy gone completely whacky. The SCF is asking all Local Authorities to put a moratorium on the demands with immediate effect, and then sort it out.
There are very few crofters who hold sporting rights and it seems very shoddy to have issued these threatening letters wholesale instead of taking the time and trouble to identify who in fact holds these sporting right and is therefore liable for paying the rates. SCF is taking this issue to the Scottish Government.