An investigation by real estate advisor Altus Group reveals that, last year, during 2017/18, under the first year since the business rates revaluation came into effect, over 81,000 business premises liable for rates were referred to Bailiffs to levy distress and to seize their goods for non payment of rates.
Bailiffs are instructed by Councils, once a Liability Order has been obtained, to collect a debt on their behalf and can enter premises to seize goods and sell those at public auction, with the proceeds taken by Councils to settle the debt. This process is known as ‘distress’.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, all Councils in England were asked to provide details of how many business premises had been referred to Bailiffs, now known as Enforcement Officers, between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018, with details being provided by 264 English Councils on 1,583,640 out of the 1,902,148 business properties liable for rates.
The responses, which cover 83% of all properties, show a total of 67,705 instructions to Bailiffs were made being 4.3% of all premises with Altus Group forecasting that the overall number at 81,317.
From last year, businesses with only one property liable to business rates were exempt if the rateable value was £12,000 or less up from £6,000. Analysis of official Government data by Altus Group show that, as a result of the changes to small business rates relief, 655,970 out of the 1,902,148 premises were completely exempt from rates all together and did not receive a bill.
Leaving 1,246,178 business premises with actual rates demands, the revelations reveal 6.53% of firms, almost 1 in every 15 commercial property with a bill, faced having their goods seized by Bailiffs up from 5.96% the year before.
Birmingham City Council referred 3,864 premises to Bailiffs which was the most of any English Council although the number of instructions were down from 4,414 in 2016/17.
Manchester City Council referred 2,667 business premises to Bailiffs the second highest number of instructions up 38% from 1,932 in 2016/17.
The Government plans to increase the share of business rates English Councils retain from 50% to 75% in 2020, and is currently piloting 100% retention in certain parts of the country such as Birmingham and Manchester.
Liverpool, Coventry, Hounslow and Brent Councils all made over 1,000 referrals to Bailiffs.
Robert Hayton, UK Head of Property Tax at Altus Group, said “Councils are taking enforcement action much earlier since their finances became more aligned to business rates income.
“This sometimes leads to companies with manifestly incorrect demands receiving summonses and facing enforcement action. The problem is also exacerbated by understaffing within some Councils and the inordinate delays that this creates in dealing with ratepayers.”
Councils were criticised last year after it emerged that companies hit with higher business rates bills were still waiting for tens of millions of pounds of emergency assistance 300 days after it was promised.