In August it was announced that HMRC had sent in approximately 25 staff to the Valuation Office to fix the business rates appeal portal, which had been repeatedly cited by businesses as being impossible to use.
As the only mechanism now available for appealing non-domestic rate revaluation, the portal has been cited as the chief reason for an almost 90% reduction in appeals since the 2017 revaluation and just before this blog was due to be posted an article in The Times reported that a Government survey has revealed that almost nine out of ten businesses in the first stages of making an appeal using the portal were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the new system.
In the meantime, the numbers of business failures, particularly in the retail sector has continued to climb; many attributing the rise in rates as a factor.
Altus Group, a ratings adviser, reported in August that bailiffs had visited 81,000 businesses because of business rates arrears – an average of 222 businesses per day over the previous 12 months.
Last week, as reported in both the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror, ONS (Office for National Statistics) figures had revealed that more than 51,000 high street stores had closed in the past year.
Yet more pain was added after the 2.7% August inflation rise was revealed with Altus Group predicting that businesses would face an increase of £819 million to business rates if inflation remained at this level.
Is the business rates system fit for the 21st Century?
There have been many calls for a rethink on business rates, from Rohan Silva and the British Retail Consortium which said they were “no longer fit for purpose in the 21st Century”, in the Evening Standard in late August, to Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin calling for a “sensible rebalancing” to create a level playing field for High Street retailers, earlier this month.
Vince Cable, Lib Dem leader, has called repeatedly for business rates to be replaced by a land value tax payable by landowners rather than by tenants while others have called for a reform of VAT into a two-tier system for physical and online retailers.
But there has been a deafening silence from the Government, with the exception of the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, who claimed many high streets had prospered and that high street retailers needed to evolve in order to survive – no surprise given all the many worthy and pressing claims for increased spending that he will have to reconcile in his next budget.
Business rates affect not only the retail sector but all businesses, a point often forgotten in the ongoing focus on retail.
Is the Government living in an alternative universe or has it become so fixated on its own internal squabbles over the “B” word that it is ignoring all the other pressing issues facing SMEs?
Is it listening to business?
STOP PRESS: The Times has also reported that since the appointment of small business commissioner Paul Uppal last December to tackle late payment to small businesses he has helped just nine SMEs to handle complaints, a topic to which I shall return in a forthcoming blog.
Here is a copy of my free guide to getting paid on time: