Landlords could help reduce impact of staircase tax

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Commercial property landlords could help office tenants affected by the so-called staircase tax, which is hiking their business rates bills, to reduce current and future demands, according to leading business rates mitigation expert, Martin Cook, Head of Rates and Lease Advisory at KWB.

Martin says that landlords could amend office leases so that they include common areas, such as staircases and corridors linking an occupier’s offices together, and then grant rights to other tenants, who may not be affected, to use those areas for access.

“Some landlords have already done this for major occupiers in their buildings,” explains Martin, “particularly those occupying consecutive floors, and it can work very well.

“If a tenant’s office spaces are close together, then landlords may very well agree to the change, helping to mitigate current and future bills, as all the office space occupied by one tenant will be classed as one assessment. Unfortunately, this probably won’t affect the backdated demands, only from the time the change is made.”

staircase tax hiking up business rates

According to Martin, small businesses occupying several rooms in a multi-let property are those most affected by the so-called staircase tax, which insists on separate bills being issued for each office space separated by a communal area, such as a staircase, corridor, or even a lift.

He continued: “Many of the affected businesses benefit from 100% small business rates relief for their single assessment. However, you can only receive relief on one assessment and you pay rates on any others, or in some cases lose the relief altogether. Because they are now receiving rates bills for each separate office space they occupy, businesses which previously received a single business rates assessment and thought they would pay nothing, now face demands for thousands of pounds a year, plus a further demand for backdated payments for their split assessments.”

The issuing of the new bills follows the 2015 Supreme Court decision on the Woolway (VO) v Mazars case. The Valuation Office Agency, which sets the rates, said this judgment had clarified the law and had given it no choice but to send the fresh demands. More than 30,000 small businesses in England and Wales are expected to be affected.

Martin and his team at KWB advise business occupiers on all business rates issues, including calculation, relief, business rates mitigation, empty property costs and the 2017 revaluation. He can be contacted on 0121 233 2330 or via or LinkedIn.