Covid-19 Grants end, but financial lifelines remain for house-builders

Andrew Chandler - Director Newcastle Office

By Andrew Chandler, Director

Whilst the deadline has now passed for house-builders who wished to apply for the Retail Hospitality and Leisure Grant (RHLG), there are still a number of opportunities worth exploring when it comes to making savings against business rates.

New business norms are being established as the country learns to live with Covid-19, and most housebuilders are starting to see activity return in a relatively sharp V-shaped recovery for the housing sector.

But with so much uncertainty over lockdown, as well as the looming Brexit deadline, it is more important than ever to take stock and look for cost-saving opportunities.

As with most sectors, the housing market suffered significantly during lockdown. Up until this point the sector had been thriving, buoyed by historically low interest rates and schemes such as Help to Buy, but the lockdown meant that new developments were delayed and with sales offices and show homes closed to the public, sales of new homes were put on hold and revenues plummeted.

The flurry of Government emergency interventions in response to the pandemic did however offer some solace.  Endorsed by the Home Builders’ Federation (HBF), Dunlop Heywood helped both existing and new housebuilder clients navigate this turbulent period, advising on the implications of the changing legislation surrounding business rates and opportunities.

The team led nationally for clients which include Antler Homes, Crest Nicholson, Lagan Homes, McCarthy and Stone, Redrow and Vanderbilt and particular areas of focus included minimising exposure to business rates by applying for Retail Exemption on show homes and sales offices – a 100% exemption from business rates from 01.04.20 to 31.03.21 – and applying for the Retail Hospitality and Leisure Grant (RHLG).  The Retail Exemption applications resulted in six figure savings for some clients and the combined savings for this rates year alone was in excess of £1.8m.  There are calls for the Government to extend the Retail Exemption period until 2022, but as yet Rishi Sunak has resisted the move.  Qualifying properties under the RHLG scheme received payments of either £10,000 or £25,000 depending upon their Rateable Value and this too has been gratefully received by clients.

Whilst the Retail Exemption is of huge importance in terms of helping clients reduce overheads now and into 2021, the grants were a much-needed source of income and have provided clients with confidence to bring employees back from furlough sooner rather than wait for the October deadline to run out.

Andy Pickles, Group Tax and Treasury Manager at McCarthy and Stone, said of Dunlop Heywood: “Having supplied the dataset and background to McCarthy & Stone plc business claim for the Grant, I was then able to leave the whole process to them. When I needed updates, these were presented in a timely and accurate fashion and it has gone really well.”

Dunlop Heywood Director Andrew Chandler added: “The opportunity to pursue applications for Retail Exemption was made possible through Dunlop Heywood’s constant monitoring and reviewing of new legislation and our tenacity during discussions with Billing Authorities regarding qualifying properties.  I am pleased that we have been able to make a meaningful and valued contribution to our clients during these unprecedented times.”

“We are now underway with the second phase of a programme we have tailored for our house-builder clients which involves reviewing historical payments made through our Rates’ Auditing Service and submitting checks against properties which are over-assessed, or which may need to be deleted in the case of sites awaiting development.  Without action these properties are simply a drain on housebuilders’ margins at a time when every penny is needed to count towards business continuity and job retention.”

Opportunities available now for housebuilders to explore include:

  • Retail Discount applications for show homes and sales offices.
  • Submitting checks for over assessed non-domestic properties such as Regional and Head office building and compounds.
  • Applying for further and existing reliefs as part of a wider Business Rates’ audit to identify potential savings.
  • Empty property business rates mitigation.
  • Deletion of rating assessments on sites which are being developed.