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