A Scottish ratepayers forum will be established and driven by Scottish Assessors and businesses to allow ratepayers and assessors to get together and share information and ideas. The executive will assist where required.
Websites are also being established to allow better access to information held by the executive and Scottish Assessors. All of these changes aim to bring about a better understanding of the valuation process and the principles underlying it.
Minister for finance and public services Andy Kerr said:
'The executive is working in partnership with the business community to deliver our shared goals. From our dialogue with businesses of all sizes in Scotland, it is clear they want less bureaucracy and red tape.
'That is why we are taking these steps to ensure the non domestic rates regime is as transparent and user-friendly as possible.
'Firstly, it is crucial that all people involved in the process work together. Assessors and businesses will establish the Scottish Ratepayers Forum to allow ratepayers and assessors to get together and share information and ideas on how to improve the current system. I hope it will also give ratepayers a better understanding of the valuation process.
'The forum will set the agenda and drive the forum forward. We are, of course, happy to provide any support - but this organisation will not be driven by government.
'We will also examine ways to give more notice to ratepayers of changes in their rates bill so they can plan finances accordingly.
'And we will also improve the quality and availability of information to ensure ratepayers and others have all the details they want at their fingertips. I hope this will make life easier for ratepayers.
'Towards this goal assessors are establishing a dedicated website to allow ratepayers to access information on-line on location, rateable values and property type. The plan is to have this up and running by 1 April 2005. The Scottish Executive are also setting up a Scottish Executive Local Government website, which will be a comprehensive source of information on non domestic rates.'
To facilitate a better understanding of the valuation process and the principles underlying it, a Scottish Ratepayers Forum will be established for ratepayers and assessors to exchange information and ideas. The Scottish Assessors Association and businesses themselves will set the agenda and drive the forum. Scottish Executive will assist and provide information where appropriate.
The Assessors website should be up and running by 1 April 2005 so that ratepayers can access information on-line regarding location, rateable values and property type. The Scottish Executive Local Government website, which will be source of information on non-domestic rates, will also be up and running soon.
The role of the assessor in the Scottish Rating System has been enshrined in legislation since 1854. Their duty is to form a professional judgement on the valuation of all rateable property. In 1996 10 valuation joint boards and four unitary authorities were set up to cover Scotland and each of these valuation authorities must appoint an Assessor, who must be a chartered surveyor. The Scottish Assessors' Association is the umbrella body for all assessors in Scotland and helps to co-ordinate their work to ensure consistency of practice.