The government has enforced a deadline to ensure the £124m rate relief fund is swiftly allocated to vulnerable firms facing the biggest increase in business rates.
Local government minister Marcus Jones called official Whitehall meetings with the three firms providing the necessary software for councils to deliver funds, the BBC has reported.
After meeting with representatives from Capita, Civica and Northgate Public Services, the government confirmed local councils would receive updated software by 21 August to guarantee revised bills were quickly received by small business owners qualifying for rate relief.
A £300m hardship fund was initially announced by the Chancellor in March’s Budget to soften the blow of business rate increases for the most affected firms. But, following months of mixed messages from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), local authorities and small business lobby groups, owners with the biggest rate increases were yet to see their bills adjusted.
Communities minister Sajid Javid previously stated local authorities had been allocated the necessary funds to support owners, which in turn claimed insufficient software prevented automatic delivery of the rate relief fund.
“We’ve been clear that local authorities should take urgent steps to make sure small businesses benefit from the funding that we announced at the Budget in April,” read a DCLG statement.
“There are councils that have pressed ahead and issued revised bills. Others have chosen to wait for software updates to deliver this particular scheme and we’ve taken steps to make sure business get this relief as quickly as possible.”
With the software providers committed to prioritising the updates, the DCLG has now claimed affected local business owners will see revised bills by early September 2017.
Mark Rigby, chief executive of business rents and rates specialist CVS, welcomed stronger intervention from government ministers.
“It took a crescendo of outcry from small firms fearing for their livelihoods to get this relief, and it’s been disheartening to watch those very firms fear for their survival amidst a war of words from councils.” he said in a statement. “The minister was right to intervene to bring certainty by imposing a deadline.”
Mike Cherry, FSB national chairman, recently slammed the delay to the rate relief fund as “shambolic”, and called on Javid to direct councils to allocate funds.
“The Government needs to take control of the situation and instruct local councils to get on with the job so that the relief can reach those struggling businesses most in need,” he said in a statement.
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