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Is Grouville overcharging rate payers – Rate Payers have until 3rd June 2024 to answer that question.

The short answer is that most people probably don’t know if their assessment is correct, but trust the Parish Rates Assessors to get assessments right. The new Grouville Rates list has been issued and there are many changes. The number of quarters assigned to a property will determine how much will be charged when the parish rate is set much later in the year. By then it is too late to appeal an assessment. Grouville rate payers only have until 3rd June to decide if their assessment is correct. An assessment notice could still be wrong even if the quarters are the same as assessed last year. In 2023 the Grouville rates assessment methodology was found not to be compliant with the Rates Law, as determined by the independent Raters Review Board. Many of this years assessments are based on the same flawed and unlawful assessment methodology.

Rates Assessors have absolute discretionary powers to assess a property and allocate the number of “quarters” to it. To determine the number of quarters assigned, the Assessors must first consider five attributes of the property- being the size, location, condition, use and accommodation and then compare their assessment with similar assessments in other parishes to ensure a consistent approach across the Island, with a permitted variance of 10%. The Grouville Assessors have admitted that for years this cross parish comparison has not occurred, with one current assessor stating they rely on their “gut feeling” to set assessments. Officers and Assessors in the Parish have known for years that the rate assessment methodology in the parish is flawed.

Constable Labey has publicly acknowledged that average domestic rate assessments in Grouville are higher than in any other parish. Even after the damning findings of the Rates Review Board last year, the Parish issued rates demands in November based on that flawed assessment process, despite warnings that this was morally indefensible. Now the Parish has sent out notices to all rate payers for the next (this) financial year, still without rectifying many of the past assessment failings. As a consequence, some Grouville rate payers will again be required to pay a disproportionately higher contribution to the Island wide rate, and an inequitable amount towards parish expenses.

“Quarters” are used to determine how much will be billed by the Parish to cover its expenses over the coming year and also how much must be paid to the Comite des Connetables for welfare support in the Island. So the number of quarters assessed is important.

Most parishes have had written assessment guidelines for many years. Grouville only introduced theirs in March this year after official criticism for refusing to introduce guidelines previously. Grouville’s “new” assessment guidelines are different to every other parishes so reliance on these guidelines to compare assessments across parishes is impossible and unreliable. For example, an additional 10,000 quarters will be added for beach front properties in Grouville (an extra £125 a year at current values). No other parish guidelines have this criterion.

Constable Labey has publicly stated that these Grouville guidelines will not be used to assess or re-assess existing properties, meaning they are no value or consequence to most of the 2400 or so domestic properties assessed in Grouville, unless the property is developed or changed. This is contradicted by recent comments from the Grouville Rates Assessors who have told a rate payers that the new guidelines will be used to conduct a review of all properties in the parish. Many assessments have changed this year. The introduction of the guidelines, which have not been published (unlike every other parish) will only widen existing over assessments in the parish and place Grouville assessments further adrift of the other 11 parishes. If the guidelines are used, they are also likely to lead to further breaches of the Rates law by the Parish.

Grouville rate payers may therefore wish to consider appealing their rates assessment this year, even if their assessment has remained the same for many years. But time to do so is limited to 14 days of issuance of the notice. A rate payer need only show that the number of quarters assigned to their property is more than 10% different to at least two similar properties in any parish to support an appeal.

A word of caution though, the Grouville rate assessment methodology is so flawed that there may be some properties that are currently under assessed. Where this occurs those under assessed rate payers are effectively being subsidised by others who are over assessed. Initial research appears to show that there is a far greater variance between the assessments of similar properties within the Grouville leading to a failure to treat all rate payers equally. It is believed, and supported by evidence, which has been accepted by the Grouville Rates Assessors, that many Grouville properties remain over assessed.

Appealing your Rate Assessment is free. Rate payers considering an appeal, are encouraged to seek official guidance from Parish Hall staff about the process and will need to compete form R5 before 3rd June. The hardest part will be finding two properties with similar attributes as the parishes do not publish “attribute” information,  placing the rate payer at a significant disadvantage. This information is available to Assessors and can be requested. The assessment notices include the number of quarters assigned to a property, but not how the attributes have been apportioned.

Grouville Rates Assessors and the Constable have repeatedly refused to engage with parishioners who have sought reasons why Grouville assessments are so variable and the highest in the Island. The Constable has refused offers of help from informed parishioners to assess and resolve previous failings, even when the Parish Deputies and others have directly asked him to do so. This status quo means that some Grouville rate payers may continue to be financially penalised.  

Two years ago at the Rates Assembly, the Constable limited parishioners to only speaking for 1 minute, denying them an opportunity to hold the Parish Officers to account. At last year’s Rates Assembly in October 2023, the Constable prevented discussion on the assessment methodology altogether. Instead, he promised a full review of rates assessment methodology and that a special Parish Assembly would be called early in the new year to discuss “All rates matters”, including any new guidelines. He has failed to report on such a review, the guidelines he has now introduced or call that promised Parish Assembly.

A rate payer has14 days to research and compare to properties in other parishes and then submit an official “R5 request for review” paper form which must be obtained from the Parish Hall. The Rate Payer must then attend in person at a “Review Meeting” at one of three time slots to make their case. This is not practical for many leading busy lives. The Parish rates assessors will then review the assessment that they themselves have made. If the Rate Payer remains unsatisfied with the assessment they may appeal on form R6 to the Constables Supervisory Committee, that committee delegates appeals to the independent review board. Again there is a strict 14 day deadline to do this.

The only way to have confidence that an assessment is correct is to get an independent review. It takes effort but in 2023 one Parishioner was able to save more than £660 off their annual rates bill as the review board found the property had been over assessed by 75%, another applicant was 80% over assessed in 2023. All appeals from Grouville last year were successful, based on the fact that the Rates Assessors had failed to comply with the Rates Law. There were no appeals in any other parish last year or in the previous 5 five years.

No one will know if Grouville rates assessments are fair or equitable until Parish Officials make their methodology open, information transparent, and fully engage with the recommendations of the Rates Review Board. Most importantly, when breaches of law have occurred, the parish should act and hold those responsible to account. The deadline to submit form R5 and request a review of an assessment in Grouville is 3rd June 2024.  

The Rates Law was introduced to ensure all Rate Payers are assessed equally. This is not the case in Grouville.

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