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14 September 2017



Landlords could help office tenants affected by the so-called ‘staircase tax’ hiking their business rates bills reduce current and future demands, according to a leading business rates expert.


Martin Cook, Head of Rates and Lease Advisory at Birmingham-based independent commercial property agency KWB, says that landlords could amend office leases so they include common areas, such as staircases and corridors linking an occupier’s offices together, and then grant rights to other tenants, who may not be affected, to use those areas for access.


“Some landlords have already done this for major occupiers in their buildings,” explains Mr Cook, “particularly those occupying consecutive floors, and it can work very well. 


“If a tenant’s office spaces are close together, then landlords may very well agree to the change, helping to mitigate current and future bills, as all the office space occupied by one tenant will be classed as one assessment.  Unfortunately, this probably won’t affect the backdated demands, only from the time the change is made,” he says.


According to Mr Cook, small businesses occupying several rooms in a multi-let property are those most affected by the so called ‘staircase tax’, which insists on separate bills being issued for each office space separated by a communal area, such as staircase, corridor, or even a lift.


Mr Cook says: “Many of the affected businesses benefited from 100% small business rates relief for their single assessment.  However, you can only receive relief on one assessment and you pay rates on the others, or in some cases lose the relief altogether.  Because they are now receiving rates bills for each separate office space they occupy, businesses which previously received a single rates assessment and thought they would pay nothing, now face demands for thousands of pounds a year, plus a further demand for backdated payments for their split assessments.”


The issuing of the new bills follow the 2015 Supreme Court decision on the Woolway (VO) v Mazars case.  The Valuation Office Agency, which sets the rates, said this judgment had clarified the law and had given it no choice but to send the fresh demands.  More than 30,000 small businesses in England and Wales are expected to be affected.


Mr Cook and his team at KWB advise business occupiers on all business rates issues, including calculation, relief, mitigation, empty property costs and the 2017 revaluation.  He can be contacted on tel. 0121 233 2330, by email or via


With offices in Birmingham and Solihull, KWB is an independent firm of Chartered Surveyors which offers a comprehensive commercial property service and unrivalled market knowledge across the West Midlands.  KWB has been trading for more than 25 years and its senior management team has in excess of 200 years combined professional experience.


Picture caption: Martin Cook.