Article published in TheBusinessDesk.com – you can read it here.
By Richard Roberts
There were a range of measures introduced by the Government to help businesses through the problems caused by Covid, many of which were administered through the Business Rates system.
These measures include Expanded Retail Discount, which provides 100% relief to businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors and was worded in such a way that many occupiers in the grey area, who sold goods to visiting members of the general public from warehouses and other properties with a non-retail description, could also receive the relief.
This has proved to be an extremely effective lifeline to those impacted by lockdown.
In addition, Expanded Retail Discount recipients with a Rateable Value under £51,000 could also apply for Retail Hospitality & Leisure Grants of up to £25,000 per property up to a cap, still dictated by the EU, of €800,000.
From the perspective of many of our clients, the schemes have worked very well, but there are massive inconsistencies in how local authorities have interpreted who should receive retail discount.
This is supported by statistics published by the Government on 3rd August which show the amount actually paid in RHL Grants against projections.
The Government allocated £12.33bn and as of 3rd August local authorities have cumulatively awarded £10.83nn.
Whilst this is 87% of target, the differential is a quite staggering £1,500,354,000.
The award of RHL Grants has, in many instances, been restricted by the inconsistent approach of Local Authorities, some seemingly granting relief at the drop of a hat whilst others have fought their ratepayers hard for every single penny released.
The spread of relief awarded v target serves to back this inconsistent approach with the City of London awarding 125% of projections whilst at the other end of the scale, Tendring District Council have hit only 41%. Have they been asleep?
The Government have now quietly introduced a cut-off date for the grant to be awarded of 28/8/20.
This announcement has crept onto some council’s websites without much fanfare and doesn’t seem to have been picked up by the Press.
There will be many ratepayers whose businesses will be dependent on this grant money whose Expanded Retail Discount applications are still stuck in a backlog caused by council employees home working without access to proper IT systems or impacted by furloughed staff.
If the targets are to be hit then councils need to award £150,035,400 a day for the next 10 working days.
So is it too late for businesses to apply?
The short answer is no, many councils do have a slick application process that can be turned around in the timescales available, but others are still massively behind, to the extent that the Government should consider extending the deadline and raising the profile of a lifeline that could save many businesses being shut off too early.