Closure fears for shop owner after rates error
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@ thekmgroup.co.uk
Anne-Marie South, who owns Tots Unlimited, panicked when she heard baliffs would be coming