An Independent States Review Panel has found that Grouville had not followed the requirements of the Rates (Jersey) Law 2005 in assessing a property in the parish, by failing to compare Grouville properties with similar properties in other parishes.
Grouville Rates Assessors told the panel that this was not an isolated case and believed that the majority of properties in the parish were incorrectly assessed and had been for many years.
As a consequence, the majority of Grouville rate payers may have been paying a disproportionately high contribution to the Island wide rate, compared to rate payers in the other 11 Parishes.
I had two appeals refused by the Parish Assessors before the States Review Panel concluded that my property was over assessed by 75%.
Allocating more quarters to a property inflates rates bills and results in Grouville Rate payers make a larger contribution to the Island wide rate than in other parishes.
The Parish is intending to use the current assessments, to set the rate at an upcoming Parish Assembly, despite being told by their own assessors that most assessments may be inaccurate.
The Parish authorities have known of this issue for at least five years but permitted it to continue.
The present Connétable was advised of this issue soon after taking up office in 2022.
As Grouville is yet to set the rate for this year no demands have been sent and no rates income for 2023/24 can be generated. The other 11 parishes set their rate in June/July.
In advance of an overdue Rates Assembly, rate payers are being advised that the Rates Law had not been applied correctly in Grouville and incorrect assessments may continue to be used to support the setting of this year’s parish rate.
At last year’s Grouville Rates Assembly a financial governance review was commissioned after parishioners expressed concern about the Parish financial affairs.
At the 2022 Assembly parishioners were restricted to speaking for only 60 seconds, a decision taken by Constable Labey, viewed by many as undemocratic and an open attempt to gag parishioners from raising concerns.
Traditionally rates across the parishes are compared by the rate per quarter. If the allocation of quarters is wrong this comparison is meaningless. Over assessed properties in Grouville will attract a disproportionally higher bill than other parishes.
The Rates (Jersey) Law 2005 introduced an island wide rate to cover welfare payments whilst retaining the parish rate to pay for parish expenses. The intention was to ensure that those liable for rates paid their fair share of the island wide welfare system and in addition, an amount to run their own parish expenses.
The value of rates is set annually at Parish Assemblies. The amount a rate payer pays is a multiple of the number of quarters the parish assessors have allocated to a property. Quarters have no literal meaning they are just a unit of measurement.
If a property is allocated 10,000 quarters and the parish rate is set at 1p and the Island wide rate is set at 0.8p the actual bill is made up of.
10000 x 1p (Parish rate) Owner/ Foncier liability = £100
10000 x 1p (Parish rate)Occupier liability = £100
10000 x 0.8p (Island wide rate) Owner/Foncier = £80
10000 x 0.8p (Island wide rate) Occupier = £80
Total £ 360
If the property was over assessed by 50% and allocated 15000 quarters the annual bill would be £540. This shows the significance of the number of quarters allocated.
Background to the Assessment process
When introduced in 2005 the law assumed that the assessments made in 2003 were correct. It then allowed for adjustments or corrections by parish assessors in the following years to align the rateable values of properties across the island, with a 10% divergence permitted.
The intention of the law was for all properties with similar “attributes” to be assessed and allocated with a similar number of quarters. The 5 attributes are size, condition, location, accommodation, and use.
Parish Assessors are required to determine the number of quarters for every property based on those attributes, and most importantly, allocate a similar quarter allocation as a property with similar attributes, regardless of parish. Where inequity is found Assessors are duty bound to make adjustments up or down.
After 7 years of operation the law was amended, and changes can only now be made when a property is new or materially altered. The only way a reassessment can be made is for a rate payer to appeal. Even then, the appeal is made to the assessors who allocated the quarters.
To assist assessors in making comparisons 10 parishes have introduced written property assessment guidelines. Each parish can then use its guidelines to compare, with overall outcomes being similar. For instance, the guidelines might say a double bedroom attracts 1000 quarters, a conservatory 1000 quarters or a separate dining room 1000 quarters.
Grouville and St Mary have chosen not to create such guidelines. Instead, they rely on the opinion of the individual rates assessors to determine how many quarters any property is allocated. Even more concerning for Grouville residents is that the rating criteria and comparisons a property in Grouville was originally allocated at a certain number of quarters is not recorded, merely the total number of quarters that the assessors of the day allocated.
Background to the Grouville situation.
Grouville Rates Assessors have confirmed that there was and there is, no structured comparison made between Grouville properties and those across the island, as reported to and recorded by the Independent Review Panel. The reason given was that they do not have the resources to do this.
At a recent Rates Appeal Hearing one Grouville Assessor told the Independent Review Panel that the Parish Officials and Assessors have known of this non-compliance with the rates law for many years.
The Constable was alerted to this systemic issue soon after taking Office but stated he could not get involved as he was a rate payer in the parish and therefore conflicted. He also stated he could not tell his Rates Assessors what to do, only make requests of them.
Parishioners have sought on many occasions to engage with the Connétable and Parish Officials about how to resolve this situation. To date the Connétable has declined to meet them. The three local Deputies have also engaged with the Connétable on this matter.
At last years Rates Assembly, the Connétable imposed a time limit of 60 seconds per speaker, denying rate payers the opportunity to get information about the rates and why they were not aligned with the other 11 parishes.
Most property owners accept their rates notice when it comes through the letter box or inbox. Most assume it must be correct. Parishioners place trust in our Officers and municipality to get things right. The Connétable has chosen not to communicate to Rate payers that this issue exists or how it can be rectified. He may now seek to use potentially inaccurate assessments to set this year’s Parish rate.
Case Study: Rates Appeal
This is a chronological experience of my attempt to appeal my rates assessment in Grouville and some of the challenges experienced.
In 2022 I submitted an appeal. I provided documentary evidence comparing similar properties in Grouville to those in neighbouring St Clement. This demonstrated inequality between the two parish assessment outcomes. The evidence was accepted, and the Rates Assessors agreed that Grouville quarters were higher. They further explained that this inequality had been known about for years and the Connétable was aware of it.
The notice of the appeal was received a week later, declining the appeal without reason.
Appeals on that decision must be made within 14 days and I did not escalate my appeal in time, so the opportunity to take this higher in 2022 was lost.
I then obtained, through a Freedom of Information Request, the procedures and guidelines relating to assessments in all 12 parishes. This showed Grouville did not have any written guidelines, procedures, and protocols.
A new appeal was launched in January 2023 when the property declaration form was issued by the Parish. The parish initially refused to accept the appeal believing appeals could only be made after the Notice of Assessment were issued. Article 5 (1) d of the Rates Law states an appeal can be made by 31st January and when they were shown the law the appeal was accepted, but not considered until May.
I attended a ‘surgery’ with the Rates Assessors and presented more documentary evidence demonstrating how my property had not been assessed equitably with those in other parishes. Again, the Assessors accepted and agreed with all the evidence. All assessors at the surgery agreed that Grouville assessments were ‘out of kilter’ with the rest of the Island. Further that historical attempts had been made to reduce all assessments by 10% about 5 years previously to help address the imbalance, but this had not been progressed. I was told that if my appeal was allowed then all Grouville rates would need reassessing and they did not have the time or resources to do this.
The Parish subsequently declared this surgery as a formal Appeal Hearing and issued a notice stating the appeal for a reassessment was refused.
An appeal was then made to the Constables Supervisory Committee, who in turn passed the appeal over to the States of Jersey Independent Review Panel.
At the hearing of the Panel in July 2023 I presented the same facts and documents as at the Parish Assessors appeal. The Grouville Rates Assessors present repeated that they knew there was inequality in the way Grouville Rates were assessed and there had been for years. Also, that there is currently no intention to alter the Grouville assessments generally.
Following the hearing the Panel found in my favour and stated that Grouville Rates Assessors did not follow the requirements of the Rates Law. The Panel concluded that my allocation of quarters must be reduced. The decision showed the property had been over assessed by 75%.
A request to the Comite des Connétable for a reimbursement from the previous year’s contribution to the Island wide rate and to the Parish for the ‘overpayment’ of Parish Rates were both refused.