Rates FAQ’s & Common Queries.
1. What are drainage rates?
Drainage rates are levied as a charge (at a rate of Xp in the £1) on agricultural properties in an internal drainage district. The rates are levied to pay for the special local drainage or flood protection works which are carried out by the internal drainage board of that district. The value on which rates are set basically represents 1991 land rental levels.
2. Why have I got to pay drainage rates?
These rates are payable because you occupy agricultural property within an internal drainage district. These districts are areas where special local measures are needed to properly manage flood risk. These measures, involving maintenance, improvement or new works to watercourses or structures are managed by an internal drainage board and these boards levy rates on occupiers of property to meet their expenses.
3. I don’t get a drainage rate bill for my house
Properties which are not used for agricultural purposes (as defined in the Local Government Finance Act 1988) do not receive a direct drainage rate demand. Rates are however, effectively charged on these properties through the Special Levy issued to the local authority.
4. My land is not used for agriculture
Agricultural use includes uses such as for paddocks and, to be rated, the land does not need to be used as part of an agricultural business. If however, you still feel that your land is not used for agriculture please contact the Rates Office, who will arrange an inspection.
5. Why have I received 2 rate demands from you for my land?
Within the Middle Level Commissioners’ area, land is double rated, being rated both by the Commissioners and the local internal drainage board, for their respective works. Each issues a separate demand for rates and therefore each issues a demand for each parcel of land, in their areas.
6. Why are you charging me rates? I have no watercourses on my land.
Rates are payable because your property is in an internal drainage district and they meet the costs of the arterial protection provided by the Board of that district. They are not charged because you do, or do not, have watercourses on your land.
7. Who is responsible for maintaining the watercourses running through my land?
The primary responsibility for the maintenance of any watercourse rests with the owner of that watercourse. This will USUALLY be the owner of the land adjoining that watercourse. Where a channel is marked as an IDB drain, that Board’s byelaws apply to it and the Board will often undertake required drainage works. The Land Drainage Act 1991, under which the Boards operate, however, enables them BUT DOES NOT REQUIRE THEM to carry out drainage works.
8. When are my drainage rates due for payment?
Legally, they are due for payment IMMEDIATELY ie by return of post.
9. Why then is the date of 31st October mentioned?
For Middle Level Commissioners’ rates, the LAST POSSIBLE DATE on which they can be RECEIVED at this office, without incurring the penalty imposed by the Middle Level Acts, is 31st October. This is NOT the DUE DATE for payment.
10. Can I pay all my rates bills on one cheque?
No. The demands are issued by separate authorities and each must be separately paid.
11. What methods of payment are there?
At present, we accept payment by cash, cheque, bank transfer, bank giro, direct debit and credit/debit card.
12. I am likely to have a problem in paying my rates. By when do I need to advise you of this?
If this is the case, you must advise us by 15th October in the relevant year.
13. Why have I been charged a penalty? I posted my rate cheque/paid my rates at the bank before 31st October.
Your rate monies MUST BE RECEIVED by us not later than 31st October to avoid the penalty. Dates of posting or bank payment are NOT RELEVANT.
14. How can you justify such a large penalty? I was only a few days late in paying.
The penalty date is NOT the due date for payment. See questions 8, 9 and 13 above. The amount of the penalty is fixed by statute.
15. I have a query on my rate demand. By when do I need to raise it to be able to have this year’s demand adjusted?
Not later than 30th September in the relevant year.
16. I sold my land some months ago, why are you charging me a full year’s rates?
Section 49 of the Land Drainage Act 1991 provides that anyone in occupation of land for any part of a year can be required to pay rates for the whole of that year. However, they then have the right to recover a proportionate part of the rates paid from anyone else who has occupied the land during that year. By ‘year’ we mean the financial year, running from 1st April to 31st March. Your solicitor should have attended to this as part of the sale transaction.
17. I only bought my land/became tenant of this land a few months ago, why are you charging me a full year’s rates?
See question 16 above.
18. I have sold/given up my land. What evidence of this will you need to alter your records?
We will need either a formal letter from a suitably qualified professional eg solicitor or surveyor or evidence of the transaction itself eg sight of Land Certificate or Lease.
1. I have been told that this area is a ‘defended floodplain’. What does that mean?
Most of the fens area is at or below sea level and is dependent on the artificial flood defences constructed and maintained by the Middle Level Commissioners and/or other internal drainage boards (IDBs) and the Environment Agency to evacuate excess surface water and generally protect it from flooding. The Agency have produced maps of the vulnerable, low lying areas where the likelihood of flooding is greater than 1% a year (fluvial inland flows) or 0.5% a year (tidal) which are designated as ‘flood plain. ‘Defended floodplain’ in simple terms means those parts of those designated areas which are so defended.
2. But is this area still at risk of flooding?
No defences can provide absolute protection and defences can only operate up to the level of protection to which they are designed and maintained. Floods are classified as having a return period and the general level of defence provided in the Middle Level Commissioners’ area is against a flood of up to 1:100 years, which is a flood with a 1% chance of occurring in any year. It should also not be forgotten that very local problems can occur which are not within the control of the Commissioners or IDBs, e.g. flooding from sewers.
3. You mentioned the Middle Level Commissioners and IDBs. Who are they?
They are statutory flood defence bodies created within areas of special flood defence need and which provide a flood defence service within those areas, which are called ‘Districts’. The area of the District is set under statute. As well as the statutory District, (which is sometimes also called the “rateable area”) the Middle Level Commissioners or IDBs are sometimes also able to control certain operations in the catchment area draining to, but outside the statutory District. This part of the catchment area is called “the highland area”. To provide this service they maintain and improve watercourses and operate other assets, such as pumping stations and sluices. The Commissioners look after the major rivers of the area, such as the Forty Foot, Sixteen Foot, Whittlesey Dyke, King’s Dyke, Old Nene and the Middle Level Main Drain, etc. The smaller IDBs look after the smaller arterial watercourses within their Districts. All of these authorities have produced policy statements indicating the levels of service that they will provide.
4. Who are the Commissioners and IDB members and how do they raise their monies?
Monies are raised primarily from a rate levied directly on agricultural properties within a District and a special levy, payable by the local district council, in respect of all other types of property. The membership is, therefore, made up of farming representatives, generally elected for a three-year term, or local authority representatives, basically pro rata to the proportions in which they fund the operations of the Commissioners or the IDB.
5. Where do the Environment Agency fit in?
The Agency maintain main rivers (in this area the Peterborough Nene and the Great Ouse systems) and sea and tidal defences.
6. Do the Middle Level Commissioners or IDBs maintain all the watercourses in their District?
No. The majority of watercourses are ‘private’, which means that the owner of the watercourse or the owner of property adjoining the watercourse is responsible for that maintenance. The Commissioners maintain the major Drains, as referred to in 3 above, while IDBs will only usually maintain the more important watercourses in their District, designated as District Drains. While they have powers to do work or require work to be done by third parties on ‘private’ watercourses, the Commissioners or IDBs will only exercise such powers where the circumstances make it appropriate to do so, since they will be spending public money in doing so.
7. How can I find out if I’m in an IDB District or if a watercourse is a District Drain?
Contact the Middle Level Offices where staff will be pleased to advise you or look on our website at www.middlelevel.gov.uk.
9. If my property includes or borders a watercourse, do I need consent to do work in or around it?
You will need consent from the Middle Level Commissioners or the local IDB before any works in the channel, e.g. culverting or filling, are carried out, whether the watercourse is private or a District Drain.
If the watercourse is a District Drain, any work within the statutory byelaw distance requires the specific consent of the Commissioners or the IDB. The byelaw distances are 20 metres (66 feet) for a Middle Level watercourse and 9 metres (30 feet) for an IDB District Drain. You will also need consent to discharge an increased rate or volume of flow to a watercourse, for which a charge, based on the cost of dealing with such extra rate or volume, is levied. The monies so raised are used to help pay for the extra maintenance or capital works required as a result of such development.
Do not forget that other consents, such as planning permission, Environment Agency consent, e.g. for impounding structures, and water quality and local authority consent for culverting, may also be required.
The link below opens a pdf document, provided by the Environment Agency, outlining the rights and responsibilities of those who own land or property next to a watercourse.