The Business Centre Association (BCA) has suggested that local authorities may be liable to pay up to £690m in business rates on empty property they own.

The BCA uncovered the figures via a Freedom of Information request.

Over 320 local authorities and regional development agencies are facing the higher bills. Councils including Birmingham – which faces an £800,000 bill – and Swindon have spoken out against the levy.

Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby said: ‘Birmingham's large scale regeneration has propelled it onto the global stage but the government's current 'tax now, ask questions later' policy is threatening this growth and suffocating vital new developments.’

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, who has led a campaign against empty rates with Property Week, said: ‘If this figure is accurate then it highlights the absolute scandalous way in which the government is damaging our communities with a tax on hardship.

‘We are heading through an extremely challenging period, and levying a tax that increases the pressure on those hit hardest makes no sense whatsoever. It is utter hypocrisy for ministers to be talking about helping business while making them pay empty rates, especially while hundreds of businesses are closing every week.’