Bailiffs sent to 81,000 UK firms struggling to pay business rates

Approximately 220 business premises a day were attended to by bailiffs across England

Casper Hughes
Monday 27 August 2018 00:08
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The number was up 0.5 per cent on the previous year
The number was up 0.5 per cent on the previous year

Bailiffs have been sent in to more than 81,000 companies that have struggled to pay business rates in the first year since a controversial overhaul of the system, according to new figures.

An investigation by ratings adviser Altus Group found that bailiffs were sent to 222 premises across England every day in 2017-18, with the power to enter properties, seize goods and subsequently sell them at auction in order to balance a business’s debts.

A freedom of information request by Altus came back with details on how many business premises were referred to bailiffs from 264 English councils covering 1.6 million properties of the 1.9 million liable for rates.

Using the data provided, it found that 6.53 per cent of firms liable for rates – nearly one in every 15 commercial properties with a bill – faced having their goods seized, up from 6 per cent the year before.

The rates revaluation in April 2017 left millions of businesses facing crippling tax hikes and forced many retailers and pubs out of business, as it saw properties revalued for the first time in seven years.

With councils strapped for cash due to austerity measures, and business rates making up an increasing chunk of income – along with the effect the rise in rates had on the running costs of businesses – the increase in instructions to bailiffs is of little surprise to experts.

Robert Hayton, head of UK business rates at Altus, said: "Councils are taking enforcement action much earlier since their finances became more aligned to business rates income."

He added: "This sometimes leads to companies with manifestly incorrect demands receiving summonses and facing enforcement action.

"The problem is also exacerbated by understaffing within some councils and the inordinate delays that this creates in dealing with ratepayers."

Although down from a high of 4,114 in 2016-17, Birmingham City Council referred the most premises to bailiffs over the year at 3,864.

Manchester City Council referred 2,667 business to bailiffs – up 38 per cent from 1,932 in 2016-17 and the second highest of any local authority.

Liverpool, Coventry, Hounslow and Brent local authorities all made over 1,000 referrals to bailiffs, according to the data.

Birmingham and Manchester are among a small number of councils that currently retain 100 per cent of business rates as part of a government pilot.

More widely, the government is planning to increase the share kept by local authorities across England from 50 per cent to 75 per cent in 2020.

A government spokesman said: "It is important that councils are proportionate in enforcement and use bailiffs only as a last resort.

"We are introducing over £10bn worth of business rate support by 2023."

Additional reporting by Press Association

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