The forms give the VOA basic information about a firm’s property, such as rent, lease and ownership details, meaning it can determine rateable value, which is then used to work out business rates.
Businesses have 56 days to return the forms, after which, they will receive a £100 penalty if not returned.
In addition, if the information hasn’t been provided in the following three weeks, a further £100 penalty is issued and from this date, there will be a charge of £20 per day added to the total bill until the information is given.
Colliers stated the maximum penalty is £500 or the property’s rateable value, which ever is greater and can run into thousands of pounds.
The property agents said the return forms are much more complicated for hospitality than other sectors and includes asking for detailed trading figures for 2019, 2020 and 2021 – a period when many businesses were closed for long periods due to the pandemic and many staff were furloughed.
It went on to claim traditionally the VOA was more understanding about late returns and as a result, many businesses have not yet collated all the information to make the returns meaning they are suddenly facing ever increasing fines.
Furthermore, Colliers said in many cases this information isn’t useful to the VOA as some businesses were making a zero return in the period.
Colliers head of business rates John Webber said: “It’s totally inappropriate. The VOA is gearing up for the 2023 revaluation and has suddenly woken up to the fact it can make extra monies by issuing fines for late returns of these forms, despite being more conciliatory to rate payers in previous years.
“We are seeing an increasing number of businesses coming to us to help sort this out, some of them with fines going into hundreds of pounds of more, particularly if there are a number of properties in their portfolio – as form filling wasn’t the key priority for such businesses in the pandemic.”
Colliers referenced a hotel client, which it said is facing an ever increasing fine after it received the initial forms when staff shortages were at the highest level and claimed the agent tried to sort it but there was a delayed response from the VOA, resulting in further time penalties.
Webber added: “Does the VOA really think this is a sensible way to behave? Such businesses have seen a difficult two years with lockdowns, furlough schemes, staff shortage and increased prices, not to mention pre-Christmas edicts about working from home and avoiding socialising.
“Surely they should be given some slack if they are slightly behind with the paperwork? Particularly when that paperwork has been made increasingly detailed and complicated to fill in?
“The drop in trade over December for pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants is still coming home to roost with estimates trade fell by a third. It is disappointing the VOA is not showing a more conciliatory approach to a sector just coming off its knees.”
A spokesperson for the VOA said its priority as an agency was to ensure ratepayers were charged the right business rates through producing reliable and accurate valuations.
They added: "To do this we need as much information as possible about their properties and any changes.
“We are clear that penalties are a last resort, which is why we send several reminders for customers to return their information and have support available for those who need help completing their form. We also paused issuing fines for the hospitality sector at the start of the pandemic until restrictions had been lifted.”