Small firms sent wildly in­ac­cu­rate rates bills and told: Pay any­way!

Daily Mail - - News - By Louise Ec­cles Per­sonal Fi­nance Cor­re­spon­dent

SHOPS and small firms are be­ing sent vastly in­ac­cu­rate tax bills – and told to pay them any­way.

Many high street stores are fac­ing huge rises in their busi­ness rates fol­low­ing the first reval­u­a­tion of the bills for seven years.

How­ever a £435mil­lion re­lief fund – meant to help those worst af­fected – will not be rolled out be­fore the new regime comes into ef­fect on April 1.

In­stead, many coun­cils have sent out the orig­i­nal bills and told firms to pay up in two weeks’ time. They in­sist they will re­fund busi­nesses later when they have im­ple­mented the re­lief pack­age.

A lo­cal author­ity source said: ‘It’s a mess, for coun­cils and busi­nesses. The help came too late to get it sorted for the new tax year. Ei­ther busi­nesses will pay too much and get their money back later or coun­cils will de­lay billing and won’t get their money in April.’

The sham­bolic ‘I.O.U’ sys­tem is the lat­est em­bar­rass­ment in the de­ba­cle over busi­ness rates – which are paid on com­mer­cial prop­er­ties based on their rental value. Last month, it emerged around 510,000 shops, nurs­eries and even char­i­ties faced rates rises of up to 3,000 per cent amid soar­ing prop­erty prices. But fol­low­ing a ma­jor back­lash, the Chan­cel­lor an­nounced a re­lief pack­age in this month’s Bud­get – giv­ing coun­cils just a cou­ple of weeks to re­cal­cu­late bills and im­ple­ment the changes.

In­creases have been capped at £600 a year for those who pre­vi­ously paid noth­ing or very lit­tle, and there is a £1,000 a year

‘Help came too late’

dis­count for pubs. The re­lief fund also in­cludes a £300mil­lion pot which coun­cils will be able to hand out to shops which are par­tic­u­larly strug­gling.

Of­fi­cials say they ex­pect this to be im­ple­mented on April 1. Coun­cils say there is not enough time to up­date soft­ware sys­tems, and shop­keep­ers caught in the mid­dle say they must ei­ther find the cash or risk a fine.

One IT firm owner in Berk­shire has been told to pay his £3,370 bill – up from £260 – and wait to be re­im­bursed. Brack­nell For­est Coun­cil said the re­lief was brought in only af­ter in­voices had been pro­duced, but com­pany boss Si­mon But­ter­worth said it was a ‘fi­asco’.

Claire Kober, chair­man of the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion’s re­sources board, said: ‘There is a risk that some coun­cils will be left out of pocket be­cause of de­lays.’

A Depart­ment of Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment spokesman said it was ‘work­ing to en­sure this re­lief is de­liv­ered as soon as pos­si­ble,’ adding: ‘In the mean­time ratepay­ers should con­tinue to pay their bills as nor­mal.’

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