One of the earliest questions we had when starting TOG in the spring of 2009 was how much would it cost to keep a hackerspace in Ireland running? All of us can probably think some of the regular costs; rent, electricity, gas, internet, insurance, etc.
A less common known cost is rates. Rates is a form of local property tax paid directly to the local council. It is only paid by the occupiers of commercial or industrial properties.
The amount to be paid is calculated after an independent valuation by the Valuations Office which is multiplied by an amount set each year by the local council. For TOG our local council is Dublin City Council.
Luckily for us Schedule 4 of the Valuation Act, 2001 provides a list of property types and uses that are exempted from paying rates. With this information we framed our objectives, came up with a structure and drafted our initial constitution with an eye on being made rates exempt.
For our initial space on Arran Quay the rates amount was about €1000 per year, which was cheaper to pay then the amount for valuation fees and auditing expenses. But for our current space on Chancery Lane the amount is about €5000 per year, so becoming rates exempt was a requirement for us.
At the time of our move we had an EGM to adopt some constitution changes which we felt were required to get the exemption. These changes include a restatement of our primary and secondary objectives to be compatible with the charitable purposes defined in the Charities Act, 2009 and the requirement to get our accounts audited.
Our landlord requested a revaluation of the property after we moved in, so we had a site visit from an Valuation Office Officer. The initial valuation in August was unsuccessful for us, but was only based on the physical attributes of the property. The process then gave us the opportunity to disagree and provide more information.
In our response in September we had our first real opportunity to introduce what TOG is, our operating structure, provide information about our events and activities, our financial reports and that we believed we are a charitable organisation. We were asked to provide extra information by email, particularly on how we provide a public benefit.
In November we received another unsuccessful response. Our option at this point was start paying rates or file an Appeal to the Commissioner of Valuation for €125. We put our appeal in just before Christmas and after the acknowledgement we could expect a response within six months.
Role on six months and a bit longer and we heard nothing. Then one afternoon a phone call from the Valuation Office. During the conversation I’m told that we were sent the wrong notification in November and as a charitable organisation we were rates exempt. Today Friday we received written confirmation and a refund for our Appeal fee.
Not much changes for us but it’s definitely nice to have some official recognition of our status.