The Missing Guide to Leeds Business Rates Open Data

Help! by GotCredit (flickr)
Help! by GotCredit (flickr)

Leeds city council makes information about business rates freely available on the Leeds data mill. This is a forward thinking approach to reducing freedom of information requests. By publishing open data, the council saves money, gives the public much needed transparency, and provides a wealth of information to businesses investing in Leeds.

But what’s included and how can you create value with it? This is the missing guide to using the business rates open data.

Let’s see what’s included.

Since April 2014, Leeds city council has published spreadsheets, roughly every 2 months, to the business rates page.

What’s in

Every rateable premises in Leeds including: the address, what the premises is used for, who’s responsible for paying the rate, the rateable value and a selection of relevant discounts (relief) given. It also tells you if a property is empty (as far as the council knows).

What’s not

Any premises that are actually home addresses. So breathe easy. If you’ve registered your business premises at home, you won’t be on this list. However, mistakes do happen, so contact the business rates team to correct them.

How good is the information?

Pretty good! I looked through the latest file published on the 2nd of March 2015. I found a couple of problems with postcodes, which I emailed to the open data team. They’ll be fixed in the next release. That’s one great thing about the Leeds data mill, they listen and respond promptly to feedback.

When it comes to discounts however, treat them with a pinch of salt. Not everything is included and it would be hellishly complex if it were. There is enough information for most uses, but use the discounts as ball-park figures.

Another thing to note: the Retail Relief information mixes retail and other forms of relief. Retail relief is capped at £1,500.

Read on for an in-depth examination.

Ratepayer

This is the organisation “entitled to possession”. In other words, the occupier, leaseholder or owner of the premises, depending on if it’s empty or not. Remember: Individuals are usually excluded from this open data publication to protect their privacy.

Billing Authority Reference

This is gold! This number is the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) billing authority reference number. It’s unique to each premises which makes it an authoritative reference number. Think of this as an iron clad way of making sure you aren’t mixing up premises. You can use this number to find out everything you wanted to know about the premises, using the VOA’s “find my property valuation”.

Liable From

The date the current ratepayer was charged from.

Rateable Value

The current value as rated by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). It’s the maximum amount to pay but can be reduced by applying for one or more discounts.

Mandatory relief (%)

This is a discount that is always applied for certain types of organisations like registered charities, including colleges and public schools, at 80%. There’s a 50% rural relief available for businesses in rural areas with a low population. Find out more about: relief from business rates.

Discretionary relief (%)

The council can, at it’s discretion, use this rate to top up the mandatory relief, sometimes up to 100%. This is mostly approved for sports clubs, the arts, social enterprises, and not for profit organisations like hospices.

Small Business Rate Relief (%)

This is another form of relief for small businesses. The criteria is a little more complex, but in a nutshell: it’s for businesses occupying a single premises with a rateable value less than £12,000. (There is some leeway in 2014/15 for taking on an additional premises or occupying multiple premises within certain rateable values). Legislation was changed in 2010, temporarily, to raise the discount up to 100% from 50%. Quirkily, this temporary (vote winning?) raise has been been renewed every year. Find out more about: small business rate relief (Leeds city council) and small business rate relief (gov.uk).

Retail Relief

Retail relief is another form of mandatory relief for businesses occupying a retail premises, with a rateable value less than £50,000 (Eligibility criteria may apply). The relief is a fixed sum, rather than a discount (up to £1,000, £1,500 in 2015/16). Despite the name, other reliefs are included here, for example, enterprise zones like Aire Valley, but these are a tiny number over £1,500. Find out more about: relief from business rates and retail relief.

Address

The address of the premises, this is good quality information! There are four lines of address available, handily named Address, Address 2, Address 3 and Address 4.

Postcode

The postcode at the premises and also good quality information. There were a couple of oddities and incorrect postcodes putting the premises outside Leeds. These will be resolved in the next publication.

Empty Property

This flags up empty properties (as far as the council is aware): Yes means empty, V means empty and rate payer is unknown. Remember: There are additional temporary reliefs for long term empty retail premises, up to 50%.

Empty From

The date when the premises became empty (as far as the council is aware). This is not available in a small number of cases but is still a good way of working out roughly how long a property has been empty for.

Empty Exemption Flag

Certain properties, like listed buildings, have a permanent 100% exemption. This flags up why the property or premises is exempt. Another reason for exemption includes action by crown (i.e. compulsory purchases which are exempt until the purchase is complete). Land or car parks are exempt if they’re unused. Finally, premises with a low rateable value (under £2,600) are exempt. Where occupation is prohibited by law (usually derelict properties with asbestos contamination), these may appear as exempt, however derelict properties are removed from ratings list. Find out more about: empty property rates.

Property Description Code

The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) code groups premises by how they’re used. Unless it can’t.  Then it uses MX (miscellanous) for premises that don’t quite fit neatly into existing categories.

Property Description

The council provides additional information about the property, sometimes adding context, like describing the condition (derelict) or numbers (25 car parking spaces, for example).

Handy tip: I’ve made these definitions available to download as a spreadsheet.

What else?

A couple of things to take into account. If you add up all the reliefs, you’ll get more than 100%. This is a quirk due to legislative shenanigans that I won’t go into here. Also, reliefs are applied in a certain order: Mandatory first, then Small Business then Discretionary including Retail Relief.

What next?

Now you understand how the business rates were put together (the model), you can do something with it.

  • Find out the rate payer’s company number which opens up a wealth of corporate information. I reconciled nearly 75% of ratepayers to companies and got back their SIC codes – useful for grouping companies by what they do or investigating corporate networks.
  • Explore areas of Leeds by putting premises on a map, something like this map of empty commercial properties in Leeds South Bank I made earlier.
  • Work out the best place to put your next business venture, something Local Data offers as a commercial product.
  • Work out if your organisation isn’t claiming entitled reliefs or find other companies that aren’t.

What would you use this information for?

Get in touch to discuss creating value with business rates or other business information.

My usual disclaimer applies: Provided without charge or warranty. Please verify facts independently.

Published by

ekoner

Consultant: Data Science & Data Analysis – Making the complex, simple

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