Over 60 English Authorities have already taken action to ensure they have a system in place that allows them to not only tackle small business rates relief (SBRR) fraud but verify the validity of applications as they come in. Using the HUB solution, a central business rates database portal launched last year, Authorities are able to use a ‘find a ratepayer’ feature enabling them to proactively search nationwide for companies as a validation tool before awarding them relief.
Identifying companies already in receipt of SBRR elsewhere
It works by analysing business rates data acquired from 99% of all English Authorities. This data is run through a number of algorithms consolidating the information provided and ultimately matches company names. This means that Authorities can quickly check to see whether a company that has applied for relief in their area is also liable for business rates elsewhere in England. Authorities can see at a glance the rateable value of any additional properties and whether or not the company is receiving SBRR, meaning that a speedy decision can be made on whether the applicant is eligible for relief.
Robin Gibbons, Business Rates Billing, Valuation & Support Manager at Bolton Council comments “HUB has enabled us to identify accounts with small business rates relief, where the company is also the ratepayer in another area of the country, information we cannot obtain any other way. In addition, using HUB means we can now check new applications to ensure the company is entitled to the relief it is claiming.”
Matching companies who have changed names
Recent technology enhancements have also meant that HUB can identify matches where a company has changed its name or is trading under another name so that potential matches can also be identifie where a company is registered under a new name in one authority but under a previous name with another authority. This not only helps at the small business rates relief application stage but identifies where fraud or error may have been occurring in relief which has already been approved.
Award winning approach to tackling SBRR Fraud
The Kent Intelligence Network (KIN) have recently won the ‘best initiative in combating fraud’ in the ALARM Risk awards following their work to tackle fraud in this area. Having implemented HUB across 13 Local Authorities in Kent, to date they have rebilled £461,468 after identifying incorrect or fraudulent SBRR claims that have matched with other authorities. Similarly Preston, Lancaster and Fylde Councils were highly commended in the Fighting Fraud and Corruption in Local Government Awards, having successfully recovered overpayments of £187,140 and with a further £124,500 in Fylde under investigation.
Identifying insolvent companies in an Authority
As well as a tool for validating SBRR applications and identifying potential fraud in the system, the addition of a ‘Company Status’ function within HUB, enables Authorities to identify insolvent companies they were otherwise unaware of. Typically, those companies would not have made contact with the Authority to advise that they had become insolvent. This is a useful tool for Authorities in helping them meet their financial reporting obligations which includes being able to forecast annual revenues from Business Rates collections.
With the Treasury Committee currently scrutinising the impact of changes in Business Rates policy on businesses and in particular the changes in relief, now is probably a good time to address SBRR application processes, identifying fraud in the system and reporting accuracy on collections activity in this area.