Chambers in Lincoln's Inn are being paid tens of thousands of pounds each in rate rebates following a recent settlement which reduced rates by up to 50 per cent.
After 168 appeals by the 26 chambers of Lincoln's Inn over five years, of which 12 are outstanding, the Valuation Office Agency agreed to reduce rateable value by between 40-50 per cent. The outstanding 12 appeals relate to the chambers which feel that the rates should be even lower.
Maitland Chambers is due to get a windfall of £250,000. This figure comprises the rebate due to the two chambers that merged to form Maitland, 7 Stone Buildings, which is owed £140,000, and 13 Old Square Chambers, due £110,000.
And Wilberforce Chambers has received three rebate payments over the last six months, amounting to a substantial but undisclosed sum.
Although the Valuation Office does not set the level of rates that chambers pay, it does produce a rateable value. This figure is then multiplied by a figure set by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Lincoln's Inn's local authority, Camden Council, uses this value as a basis for the final rate figure.
As well as the rates being cut, the chambers are owed a backlog of excess payments and interest. These payments were made between the time the rateable value was set in April 1995 to the time the Valuation Office Agency adjusted its rate, a period of more than five years.
Maitland's chief executive Peter Bennett says: "I think this equates to a difference of £55 and £35 per square foot respectively for the two former chambers. The Valuation Office Agency set the rateable value very high and left everyone to appeal."
The huge number of appeals were spread over five years but none were dealt with until mid-2000, when the Valuation Office Agency met with a consortium of surveyors acting for the chambers.
The consortium's demands were met and the rateable value was immediately reduced. But chambers are still not in the clear as local councils have a "transitional relief" scheme which means chambers will not start paying the lower rate until some time after it is instituted.
The Valuation Office says it often receives appeals on the size of its values. It hopes to reform this by negotiating upfront through consultation groups. In 1998 Middle Temple and Inner Temple's rates dropped after similar negotiations.