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Scottish farmers warned over demands for shooting rates

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Despite being inadvertently caught up in a system aimed at large-scale sporting estates, Scottish farmers have been warned not to ignore demands for payment of shooting rates.

With the end of the month marking the payment deadline for many 2017/18 demands, NFU Scotland this week advised producers to take the issue up with both their local council – which is responsible for collecting the rates – and the regional assessor who is responsible for setting the valuation.

“While there are a number of options open to farmers, ignoring the demands simply isn’t one of them,” said NFU Scotland legal and technical committee policy manager Gemma Cooper.

She said that the union remained opposed to sporting rates – but added that even while many farmers did not exercise any shooting rights on their land, this had not stopped values being assessed and rates being billed.

“And while it is simply more unnecessary hassle, farmers need to take some action to stop increasing demands being made for payment and possible debt recovery measures.”

She said that appealing the rateable value set by the regional assessors should be the primary response – and as those liable only had six months from the date of notification to appeal, this should be done swiftly.

“While some valuations are only now coming in, others were notified last autumn,” said Ms Cooper, “so time might be getting tight”.

However she said that even where an appeal had been made, it was likely to take some time to be heard – and during this period any demands would have to be paid and then reimbursed if the appeal was successful.

“Another course of action is to apply to the council for the Small Business Bonus reduction.”

But while this would allow those with a combined rateable value of all their enterprises of under £15,000 to avoid payment, she said it unfairly penalised diversified units with renewable energy projects or even farm shops.

Another option when shooting rights were not exercised, said Ms Cooper, could be to apply for empty property relief.

“While the response to some of the concerns which we put to the Scottish Government was that they had no jurisdiction over the Scottish Assessors, it indicated that empty property relief may apply where landowners have sporting rates but do not exercise these rights.”

Under this scheme relief of 50% could be given for the first three months, falling to 10% after this – although properties with a rateable value of less than £1,700 were fully exempt from rates under this relief scheme.

Ms Cooper said that the union had been in contact with Scottish Government ministers to highlight a number of issues which had come to light and had asked for a review of the regulations.

Patrick Krause column – Page 5

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