The Supreme Court will hear a Government agency’s appeal seeking to deny the embattled retail sector a £430 million lifeline on the same day the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, will deliver his first Budget since the General Election – a move experts have described as “giving with one hand but taking with the other”.
The Court of Appeal ruled in November 2018 that cash machines within existing properties – whether internal or external facing – should not be subject to separate business rates bills instead falling within the property’s overall existing rates liability. The decision paved the way for hundreds of millions of pounds of backdated refunds for the hard-pressed retail sector and confirmation that there would be no future tax demands.
But retailers were dealt a massive blow and denied a tax stimulus when the Valuation Office Agency, an executive agency of HM Revenue & Customs, decided to take the case to the highest appeal Court in the U.K with the Supreme Court now set to hear the case over 2 days starting on 11th March 2020, Budget Day.
According to Altus Group, if the decision is upheld, retailers will receive £428.69 million in reimbursement of erroneous bills sent out on over 15,000 cash machines in England and Wales during the last decade.
Robert Hayton, Head of UK Business Rates at Altus Group, explained that during 2019 retailers withdrew 559 ATMs from their stores as they sought to reduce their tax liabilities given the ongoing legal dispute adding “the Government seem to be giving with one hand but trying to take with the other” referring to measures introduced to help the high street by reducing business rates bills in England by a third this current financial year for small properties rising to 50% on 1st April.
Retailers were left reeling after a decision in 2013 to charge separate business rates on ‘hole in the wall’ cashpoints, which had not previously affected a store’s overall rates bill with extra bills being sent to thousands of retailers in 2014 backdated to April 2010. Lord Justice Lindblom of the Court of Appeal said in November 2018 “none of the alterations to the rating list should have been made by the Valuation Officers.”
Hayton said retailers, including small convenience stores, as well as major supermarkets, had been left extremely frustrated explaining “banks are closing branches and people are facing an uphill battle to access their cash yet retailers were squeezed for yet more tax despite picking up the slack providing a vital service.”
Total rates bills, in England and Wales, between 1st April 2010 and 31st March 2019 for ATMs amounted to £381.99m. However, given the ongoing litigation, further bills totalling £46.70m were then sent out for the financial year 2019/20.
Why Were New Bills Sent Out After The Court of Appeal Ruling?
The legal liability to pay business rates stems from the entry on the local Rating List. Councils have a duty to bill and collect the appropriate tax that follows from that entry and an appeal, whether or not stayed, does not negate payment of the commensurate tax liabilities. Councils are only in a position to rebate back and/or amend a bill once the entry on the local Rating List has been amended by the the Valuation Office Agency.