Clo­sure fears for shop owner af­ter rates er­ror

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Family Announcements - By Sam Wil­liams

A shop owner in Ash­ford feared bailiffs were go­ing to raid her store af­ter strug­gling to pay her busi­ness rates.

When Anne-Marie South, 41, opened Tots Un­lim­ited, in High Street, in April last year she ex­pected to get a small busi­ness sup­ple­ment.

How­ever, she says the size of her shop was in­cor­rectly recorded and her up­stairs stock room was also as­sumed to be a sales floor.

She says this re­sulted in her be­ing charged just over £500 a month in busi­ness rates.

She ap­pealed the size of her shop in May but a de­ci­sion on that has yet to come back from the Val­u­a­tion Of­fice Agency (VOA), which is re­spon­si­ble for set­ting the rates.

Mrs South, from Char­ing Heath, said: “It’s been an ab­so­lute night­mare. I was told I’d get small busi­ness rates.

“I don’t get why it is tak­ing so long to sort the ap­peal.

“All they need to do is send some­one down to mea­sure the shop and then al­ter my rates. “How hard can that be?” Af­ter fail­ing to keep up with the pay­ments last year, Mrs South fell into debt.

Fear­ing bailiffs would turn up at her shop last week, she con­tacted Cllr Gra­ham Galpin, coun­cil mem­ber for town cen­tre fo­cus.

Cllr Galpin said he was able to “open up the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion” be­tween Ash­ford Bor­ough Coun­cil (ABC), who col­lect busi­ness rates, and Mrs South, and a low pay­ment plan has now been set up.

Mrs South, a mum-of-two, said: “I pan­icked when I heard the bailiffs would be com­ing and ran­domly mailed coun­cil­lors just to see if any­body could of­fer ad­vice.

“Luck­ily, Cllr Galpin got in­volved or my shop could well have been closed now.

“The sit­u­a­tion isn’t rec­ti­fied but I am at least hang­ing onto a life­line.

“Wait­ing here on Fri­day morn­ing was aw­ful, just wait­ing for bailiffs to turn up.”

Mrs South be­lieves ABC should step up and help sup­port in­de­pen­dent busi­nesses in the town.

She adds: “I know Ash­ford Bor­ough Coun­cil don’t set the rates but it is them you deal with di­rectly re­gard­ing pay­ments, etc and that’s where the lack of sup­port is.

“You need time to build up a busi­ness and get word around that you are here, but th­ese big busi­ness r ate bil l s are launched at you from day one.

“All you hear is that the coun­cil want busi­nesses back in the High Street but who can af­ford to stay here un­less you are a huge chain?”

A VOA spokesper­son said: “We can­not com­ment on in­di­vid­ual cases. We do pri­ori­tise ap­peals where ratepay­ers have made us aware they’re suf­fer­ing fi­nan­cial dif­fi­culty, aim­ing to make a de­ci­sion within eight weeks.

“We also work with the Val­u­a­tion Tri­bunal Ser­vice to seek an early hear­ing if agree­ment can­not be reached.

“If a busi­ness has con­cerns about their rate­able val­ues, they should con­tact us and we will try to re­solve this with­out the need for an ap­peal.”

What do you think? Write to Ken­tish Ex­press, 34-36 North Street, Ash­ford, TN24 8JR or email ken­tish­ex­press@ thek­m­

Pic­ture: Paul Amos FM4211208

Anne-Marie South, who owns Tots Un­lim­ited, pan­icked when she heard baliffs would be com­ing

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