East of England: Non-domestic rates on empty property ‘threatening future of rural business’

A LANDOWNERS’ group is calling on its members to support a major new campaign aimed at tackling a commercial property tax, which it claims threatens the future of thousands of rural businesses in the East of England.

Working in conjunction with the British Property Federation (BPF), the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) is gathering a portfolio of evidence to present to Government, highlighting how non-domestic rates levied on empty business properties have caused financial chaos for rural business owners over the past four years.

The CLA warned of the empty property tax “time bomb” at the beginning of last year, predicting that hundreds of farmers and landowners, who had diversified into commercial lets, would be hit by changes to empty property rates.

In April last year, the Government scrapped exemptions which allowed empty properties with a rateable value below �18,000 not to pay rates. Since then, the owners of empty commercial property with a rateable value of more than �2,600 have been liable to pay the full business rate bill.

Now the CLA is asking for evidence from members of the rural business community to illustrate the extent of the damage caused by the tax to businesses and the communities in which they operate.

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CLA East deputy regional director Tim Isaac said: “Having to pay non-domestic rates on empty commercial property remains an issue of very real concern for many of our members. In the current economic climate, many have lost tenants from their office and workshop conversions and are now looking at massive empty property tax bills.

“The problem is aggravated by the fact that many of these properties are in rural areas with poor or non-existent broadband provision, which makes it almost impossible to attract new tenants. This is punishing the very people who provide opportunities for small to medium-sized businesses to operate in the rural sector.”

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The CLA says that the Government should look again at the issue – and the potential consequences of failing to put some type of concession in place for rural business owners.

“This could totally backfire and, instead of raising revenue for the Government, could force people out of business leaving a gap in the rural economic revival that the Government so clearly needs. There is also potential for the unintended consequence of buildings being allowed to fall into disrepair in order to avoid becoming liable to these charges,” said Mr Isaac.

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