Retailers claim changes to business rates could push retail's bill to £7bn by 2011 and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has called for a freeze on rates.

The BRC today said the government’s proposals in the Business Rate Supplements Bill, which has its second reading today, will see the beleaguered retail sector’s business rates bill rise to up to £7bn by 2010/11.

The BRC has published a study showing that annual increases, business rates revaluation, loss of empty property relief and business rates supplements could add £1.6bn to the £5.45bn retailers paid in business rates in 2007/2008. This is equivalent to the average salaries of over 100,000 retail employees.

The BRC’s research shows that retail is more property-dependent than other business sectors and so more exposed and more sensitive to property cost increases.

Retailers already pay 25% of business rates despite representing only 8% of gross domestic product (GDP).

The BRC predicts that overall retail sales figures for December will be weak and the BRC is calling for an immediate freeze on all new business rate burdens and the reinstatement of empty property relief.

Stephen Robertson, BRC director general, said: ‘Many retailers are struggling with the triple whammy of falling sales, crushed margins and rising costs. The government must revise its plans to impose a range of extra burdens, which can only increase the pressure on retailers and destroy more of the UK’s three million retail jobs.'

The BRC is calling for the government not to implement any business rates increase in April 2009.