Retailers and their advisers have called for urgent action to deal with a huge backlog of business rate appeals, warning that delays in refunding struggling shops could put them out of business.
Appeals to HM Revenue & Customs' Valuation Office stand at almost 250,000, according to latest figures, and campaigners say a growing number of retailers are being forced to the wall before they find out whether they have been overcharged.
The British Retail Consortium told The Independent that delays were causing some shops serious cash-flow problems at a time when the consumer squeeze and competition from online giants such as Amazon are leaving them on a knife edge.
A BRC spokesman said: "We are aware of significant backlogs since the revaluation in 2008 and the new rates which came in in 2010. We get a lot of feedback from retailers who tell us they are having problems claiming money back. This is going to causing a big cash-flow problem, and it is often only the larger firms which have the resources to try appealing."
The BRC estimates that increases to business rates – property taxes that are linked to the Retail Prices Index measure of inflation – have cost retailers £500m over two years. The 2013 increase is set to cost them an extra £175m.Companies running bricks-and-mortar shops say it is an impediment to them as they compete against internet retailers, which aren't significantly hit by the tax.
CVS, an agency that assists firms with appeals, said the backlog was now "weakening the financial health of a large number businesses". It called for "urgent action to clear the backlog and give firms a fighting chance".