From 1 October 2017, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon will mount a new attack on Scottish sporting estates. Her years of forcibly buying their land, shooting their deer, poisoning their salmon, and briefing against them and the people they employ to manage Scotland’s landscape have failed. She has not ‘driven the foreigners out of Scotland’, nor has she replanted the Scottish Highlands with the Caledonian pine forest last seen 8,000 years ago. As her popularity wanes, her last resort is to tax landowners out of existence, by sending out bills for a new sporting rates tax.
The call to action
If you get a valuation notice for sporting rates, appeal. The best advice we have is that this is not a class action – appeals have to be made individually and will take up to three years to go through up to three different courts, ending at the Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme civil court. It’s going to be a boomtime for Nicola’s friends among Scotland’s lawyers, accountants and surveyors, but it is the only recourse against this tax.
Depending on your land use, it is currently estimated you will have to pay between 38p and £1 per acre (£1-£2.46 per hectare) per year.
This bill is payable whether or not you shoot over the land. It is based on how much you would make if you were leasing the shooting/stalking commercially.
It does not apply to fishing rights which are already assessed separately.
1995: the last time that Scottish estates paid sporting rates. Around 7,100 of them received bills in those days.
30 September 2017: the Scottish Government is sending out its initial phase of entries, currently estimated at nearly 10,000 valuation notices to Scottish landowners and sporting leaseholders.
Within several weeks: local authorities will send out bills, backdated to 1 April 2017. Bills will be for 46.6p (rateable value of less than £51,000 NAV/RV) to 49.2p (rateable value of more than £51,000 NAV/RV) per pound of valuation per year.
By end of March 2018: if you receive one in October, you should appeal against the valuation
By end of March 2018: estimates of a further 6,000 valuation notices will go out, and local authorities will issue bills backdated to 1 April 2017. You have six months to appeal against these.
1 April 2018 onwards: additional entries will be raised as they come to the assessors’ attention on an ongoing basis.
How to get out of it
Appeal, as above. Nicola Sturgeon’s efforts to shoot Scotland’s red deer have resulted in woodland regeneration judged ‘very poor’. Her efforts to license airguns have resulted in a handful of applicants and up to 500,000 new criminals in Scotland who have not licensed their airguns. Let’s make the new sporting rates another failure.
If your assessment is £15,000 NAV/RV or under, you can apply for Small Business Bonus Scheme relief. SBBS is confirmed for the 2017-2018 financial year, and only because the SNP made a manifesto commitment to put 100,000 Scottish businesses into tax relief. So far, it has put 80,000 businesses into the scheme and it hopes that up to 16,000 new sporting ratepayers will be forced into it too. Once it has achieved its manifesto pledge, it has no reason to allow SBBS to apply to Scottish estates.
If you are a charity, such as the RSPB, you will get 100% relief.
If the Scottish Government has slaughtered your deer under a section 8 order, you may be able to argue at appeal that you have no deer as a sporting potential to offer stalking clients and therefore this should be reflected in your entry.
If your sporting rates apply to small amounts of land, you may be exempted. This is yet to be determined.
The onus is on the ratepayer to demonstrate that an allowance should be awarded.
The RSPB owns around 125,000 acres of land in Scotland. However, it is a charity, so will not have to pay up to £125,000 in tax because it receives 100% rates relief. The same applies to the 200,000 acres owned by the National Trust for Scotland and the 60,000 acres owned by the John Muir Trust. Shooting and stalking interests own most of the rest of Scotland’s 20 million acres.
The Duke of Buccleuch and family own more than 240,000 acres of land, which could result in a valuation of nearly £500,000 and a bill for £240,000.
The Scottish Government via Forestry Commission Scotland owns 1.1 million acres (450,000ha) of woodland in Scotland. This could cost it more than £1 million a year in sporting rates, which will act as a kind of indirect grant from the Scottish Government to local authorities.
North Assynt Estate is a land reform buyout by the Assynt Crofters Trust of 21,300 acres in 1993. The crofters now let the stalking on the land, though they are under threat of a Scottish Government Section 8 kill order on their deer for not shooting enough. They now face a possible sporting valuation of more than £40,000 and a bill for more than £20,000. Last season, they shot 62 stags and made a net profit of £9,000. They will have to shoot more than twice as many stags this season in order to afford the bill. Nicola is cracking down on the land reform beneficiaries she once promised to protect.
The biggest losers are the estates and sporting agents whose sporting rates valuations come in at around £35,000. They will not be eligible for relief and there is no way their income will come close to finding that money.
You can rent the sporting rights on an entire 10,000-acre estate for £5,000-£10,000 a year. Now Nicola wants another £10,000 from you in rates.
The sting in the tail
You pay Scottish Water for your water in Scotland if you are on the rates register (valuation roll). The sporting rates valuation puts you on that register. Scottish Water has not announced whether it will bill landowners and sporting leaseholders on the basis of the new sporting rates but, if it does, expect to pay Scottish Water. This bill is not eligible for rates relief.
Newspapers followed up our story about Scottish sporting rates. The Times newspaper led the coverage, quoting our figure of up to £1 per acre per year for Scottish sporting estates.
The story is that Britain’s biggest landowners, which include the Queen and the Duke of Westminster, are facing millions of pounds in shooting taxes on their Scottish estates. Click here for the story.
The figures being reported are part of a sporting rates tax, one of the radical land reforms proposed by Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister.
Estates worth less than £15,000 will be exempt and the largest estates will qualify for a volume discount.
The law already gives communities the right to buy land without an owner’s consent. It has also reintroduced sporting rates, abolished in the 1990s after claims that they cost more to collect than they brought in.
The Scottish National Party said that it hoped to raise £4 million a year but analysts said that most estates would fall below the £15,000 threshold.
Peter Chapman, a Conservative MSP and shadow minister for the rural economy, said: “Shooting makes a significant contribution to Scotland’s society, economy and environment, so we cannot afford to see this suffer.
Calum Innes, a partner at property consultant CKDGalbraith says: “I think it’s unlikely that the government will raise £4 million. The majority of entries in the roll are expected to be at a level where it is unlikely that they will pay rates.”
To go stalking at Alvie Estate, email Lachie Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
This film was first shown in Fieldsports Britain episode 409. To watch the whole show go to Fcha.nl/fieldsportsbritain409