750 firms a day taken to court over business rate arrears

Stuart Hicks, Manchester Office, Director - Dunlop Heywood

By Stuart Hicks, Director

August is always a stop/start month with so many people on holiday and which accounts for the silly season of news those of us stuck in the office have to endure.

It may also account for the number of stories relating to business rates that have appeared over the last couple of weeks that normally wouldn’t trouble a business editor, let alone warrant a page lead.

However, among the pile that have passed over my desk there have been a few nuggets of news I think are worth sharing.

For instance, an FoI-based piece of research has revealed that English councils sued around 750 businesses a day over business rates in the last financial year.

Data collected projected that, in total, around 190,000 non-domestic premises – including pubs, restaurants, shops and offices – were brought before magistrates in England for non-payment.

The figure makes up around 10% of liable businesses in the UK, averaging out at 750 summons per day.

Westminster Council were the busiest with 6,882 summonses issued from 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019. The well-to-do borough was followed by Birmingham (6,166), then Manchester (5,228), Liverpool (4,254) and Leeds (3,497).

Whilst not top of the list Richmond and Wandsworth councils were found to have issued summons to 27.6% of businesses in their constituency, which is possibly more shocking than the 750 a day statistic, only more localised.

It is yet another sign of a tax system that is under pressure. I assume any business which hasn’t or can’t pay its business rates can ill afford the legal courts and any fines this last-resort recovery action will undoubtedly incur.