Industry voice: GeoPlace has launched a service to support councils in identifying crucial gaps in their data to increase revenues
Collecting business rates is one of those activities that in theory should be straightforward but in practice creates a headache for local authorities.
While most business owners are ready to play by the rules, there are always some who will not volunteer any information that will lead to a demand for payment, and gaps in the data held by councils often make it difficult to peg them down.
A business might operate from a property that was vacant for a long time, or used for another purpose, or by another organisation exempt from paying the full rate. Councils have to know exactly which properties are subject to business rates and how much they should pay. Any gaps leave scope for fraud and error, which means less income for the authority.
As central government cuts its financial support for local authorities and they become more dependent on local sources of revenue it is more important than ever that they get on top of the situation.
Councils face a number of challenges in doing so: identifying the occupancy status of a non-domestic property; identifying what it is being used for; identifying the occupant; and ensuring that all properties have been valued for rates collection. The closer to a real time view the better.
The key is in effective use of the data to which it has access, but this usually comes from a range of sources in formats that can be difficult to match, or even to pick out as having a relevance to the operation. But many councils do not have the in-house resources to carry out the task effectively.
A new option for support has become available in the form of a data analytics service from GeoPlace. The organisation – a joint venture between the Local Government Association (LGA) and national mapping agency Ordnance Survey – can work with a council to analyse its data against that from trusted external sources and provide a targeted report on properties missing from the business rates register.
GeoPlace has a deep understanding of property data, working with every council in the country to build and maintain a central hub of 42 million addresses and 1.39 million streets to create the National Address and National Street Gazetteers. It draws on almost 95 million records from several authoritative government property and address databases, including the Valuation Office Agency, and works with the latter on a weekly basis to match its data against the National Address Gazetteer.
Validation and assurance
It has a validation and assurance process involving 359 checks on each record being accepted into the database, and the data is enriched by adding the best attributes from other sources. Around 2 million records are updated monthly.
This provides a robust foundation for working with business rates teams and gazetteer custodians in running analytics that provide them with qualified leads on people and companies subject to business rates who have not been paying. It enables a council to meet the challenges highlighted above and increase its overall revenue.
GeoPlace already works under contract with every local authority in England and Wales, has a wealth of expertise in data management and analytics and helps to improve the overall quality of data held by an authority.
The service also has the backing of the LGA and was piloted in Salford during a co-project with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance of Accountancy. It provides a cost-effective solution for councils struggling to analyse their data not just to improve their business rates collection, but also to support their finance and fraud officers.