St Albans firms in group appeal against soaring business rates

Businesses in St Albans in Hertfordshire are putting together what is thought to be the first group appeal against “astronomical” business rates as calls grow for a temporary amnesty as companies grapple with coronavirus-related disruption.

More than 20 retailers, pubs and restaurants are expected to take part in the initiative instigated by the city’s local business improvement district. Mandy McNeil, the BID’s co-chair, is optimistic that local businesses stand to make significant savings if they take part.

McNeil said: “Our hard-working independent businesses do not have the time, cash or in-house resources to handle time-consuming appeals.” She said some companies were too scared to appeal in case they ended up worse off.

Business rate bills have risen sharply since the 2017 revaluation, with the commercial equivalent of council tax blamed for making the high street crisis worse.

Firms across England face yet more financial pain as a £12.5m a week increase in business rates looms on 1 April – despite the growing scale of disruption for the economy amid widespread panic on the financial markets. Councils expect the property tax to raise £25.6bn in the new financial year, an increase of £649m, according to research by the property consultancy Altus Group.

Business groups are hoping that Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, will flesh out the Conservatives’ manifesto commitment to carry out a “fundamental review” of business rates in Wednesday’s budget as well as providing discretionary rate relief to businesses impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

Sean Hughes, who owns the historic pub the Boot in St Albans, is taking part in the appeal after its rates bill increased by 280% “St Albans pubs pay astronomical business rates for an ever-diminishing service and we need the government to bring the rates system into the 21st century,” he said. “This is a David and Goliath sort of situation.”

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