Port occupiers facing three years of backdated business rates have been told by the government that they can stagger the payment of the retrospective charges over an eight year period.

In his pre-budget speech on Monday, the Chancellor Alistair Darling said that instead of paying for the last three years in one lump sum, they could pay in interest-free instalments.

The government said this would remove the immediate tax liability from around 500 eligible businesses – which claim a lump sum payment could push them in to bankruptcy.

Local Government Minister, John Healey, said: ‘It is right that businesses pay the tax that is due. But in the current economic climate we must do all we can to support business and safeguard jobs. This special package of measures will mean that businesses affected by these special circumstances, including those in Ports, are able to pay their tax arrears in a more affordable timetable.’

All 56 statutory ports in the UK are undergoing re-assessments of the properties occupied by individual businesses following a change to the rating valuation process due to the implementation of 2005 legislation.

Previously these charges were passed to port owners and rates were passed on via licence fees.

Occupiers have been lobbying the government to drop the backdated charges.

They argued the charges will cause redundancies, bankruptcy and a loss of business for all UK ports, because they have not given sufficient notice for to make provision of the increases.

The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) has put in place special fast track arrangements for ratepayers with backdated bills who want to challenge their assessment.