Editor: Extra business rates relief measures announced by the chancellor this week, added to those in the Budget, should go far in helping the retail and leisure sector through the worst of the current coronavirus crisis.
He should be commended for helping everyone, not only SMEs, and we hope that formal exemption from the EU State Aid rules will soon follow.
More steps can be taken for those who can’t access this relief. Businesses that have to close temporarily should be able to take full advantage of the empty rate holidays allowed for by the regulations, with applications processed quickly.
Where premises need improving, such as new temporary facilities for hospitals or factory upgrades for increased output, there should be a moratorium on reflecting these changes in rateable values.
Within the appeals system, hardship procedures for businesses most acutely affected should be tightened. If necessary, legislative steps could be taken to bring the financial effects of coronavirus into the scope of existing material change of circumstance appeal rights. The VOA should be made ready for many more cases.
Billing authorities should be encouraged to agree to meaningful deferment of instalments and to suspend enforcement procedures.
In turn, they will need to be protected from any short-term adverse effects on their own funding of critical local services.
It is clear that our economy is currently not set up to withstand these shocks – another reason the fundamental review of the business rates system, due to report in the autumn, is welcome.
This review will stand or fall on the point of fiscal neutrality. The chancellor needs to be prepared to look at wider measures to plug the gap in local authority funding or we are unlikely to see the long-term change that UK firms will need once the current crisis subsides.
Josh Myerson, head of rating, Montagu Evans
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