Chancellor urged to force councils to free up billions held for rates appeals

Business rates high street

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is being urged to get billions of pounds worth of tax rebates back into the bank accounts of businesses to help aid cash flow to small businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and rates specialist Altus Group said retailers suffering hardest financially from the coronavirus crisis should be able to claim some of the extra £4.1 billion held in reserve by local authorities.

Extra cash is held by councils to cover the cost of appeals made over business rates bills, although the process has slowed considerably over recent years, leaving councillors sitting on the much-needed cash.

Dominic Curran, the BRC’s property adviser, said: “In these exceptional circumstances the Government should settle all outstanding business rates appeals without question and pay back the money claimed by ratepayers. It would offer a vital lifeline for many retailers.”

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, all restaurants, cafes and stores that do not sell essentials including food and medicine have closed and the Government has already given a 100% business rates holiday on all non-commercial premises.

Staff have also been protected with the Treasury promising to cover up to 80% of wages for “furloughed” employees who can no longer work due to the shutdown.

Alex Probyn, Altus Group’s UK president of expert services, said he believes with appeals so low “there are now significant and substantial funds held by councils earmarked and reserved for tax rebates back to business”.

Curran added it was “unacceptable that billions of pounds were sat in councils’ reserves doing nothing at this time of national crisis”.

He said: “It is money that has already been collected to cover business rate appeals. Many of these businesses may not even be around in a few months to receive it unless the Chancellor acts now.”

Altus added that the Government should also consider pausing enforcement action during the shutdown, after around 750 non-domestic properties a day were summonsed before a magistrate, with 310 bailiff referrals in the last financial year.