Tax & admin · 21 August 2017

Small firms grow impatient with government on business rates relief deadline day

People walking in front of local restaurants in Broadway Market
London firms suffer from some of the country’s highest business rates

Small businesses have called on the government and local councils to confirm that updates to local business rates software are in place, as three major software providers reach the government’s 21 August deadline.

At a meeting in Westminster last month, the three firms providing the majority of local UK authority IT system software – Capita, Civica and Northgate Public Services – were ordered to ensure all IT systems were up to date by 21 August, so that £435m of business rate relief could begin to be distributed to small and vulnerable firms.

In a statement, the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) national chairman, Mike Cherry, said that he thought local authorities across the UK were struggling to meet the 21 August deadline.

He said: “From speaking to local authorities, our sense is that hitting this deadline is going right down to the wire. Our hope is that councils have received the updates required to deliver the urgently needed support measures announced more than five months ago.”

In March this year, the government unveiled a series of relief measures for those business owners hit hardest by April’s business rates revaluation – the first in the UK for seven years.

The relief measures included a £300m hardship fund allocated to local councils, a £50 monthly cap on all bill increases for businesses emerging from rate relief, and a discount for pub owners holding premises with a rateable value below £100,000.

Rollout of the business rates relief package has been stymied, however, with delays linked to the UK’s general election and uncertainty to do with administration and regulation, as well as issues surrounding IT systems.

Cherry said that the delay in business rates relief was the fault of central government, whose responsibility it now was to ensure relief is distributed to the business owners who need it most as quickly and efficiently as possible.

He added: ““It’s time for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and local authorities to get a grip and ensure fully revised bills are with small firms before the summer’s out.

“We’ve had weeks of those responsible for business rates playing the blame game. First there was the shambolic roll-out of the hardship fund, then a disastrous new appeals platform and now hold-ups to discounts and caps because of old IT systems.”

Whilst delays to the government’s business rates relief package continues, small business owners continue to pay extortionate unrevised rates. In addition, according to research from business rates specialists CVS, a total of 24,986 small UK companies had lost all or part of their business rates relief following this year’s revaluation, which came into force on 1 April 2017.

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Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.