Despite the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, unveiling a £30 billion ‘mini budget’ last week setting out the second phase of the Government’s economic plan designed to protect jobs, struggling businesses fighting for their survival, are bracing themselves for yet more misery after Councils have resumed enforcing unpaid business rates.
Bailiffs are instructed by Councils, once a Liability Order has been obtained in the Magistrates Court, to collect outstanding business rates on their behalf but enforcement was put on hold once the coronavirus began to take hold in March. Bailiffs can levy ‘distress’ and enter business premises to seize goods and sell those at public auction with the proceeds taken by Councils to settle the debt.
Derby City Council, one of the Councils to have resumed enforcement, said that they have “several thousand business ratepayers who are behind with their payments”. Their spokesman added “the country is steadily moving out of lockdown and a decision has been taken to resume regular operation and to re-start recovery actions again to help the city in its COVID-19 recovery effort”.
The Civil Enforcement Association, the trade body for Bailiffs, said last month that they had consulted the Government on a “post-lockdown support plan” with Russell Hamblin-Boone their Chief Executive saying “enforcement of public debt continues to be an important service to recover outstanding taxes and fines, which contributes to funding essential local services.” He added “our plan allows us to carry out our civic duties in line with public health advice.”
According to the real estate adviser Altus Group, around 310 non-domestic properties every working day were referred to Bailiffs to levy distress during 2018/19 by local Councils having fallen into arrears with their business rates.
Robert Hayton, Head of UK business rates at Altus Group, said “it beggars belief that Councils are essentially undermining the Government’s effort to stimulate the economy and does nothing to help the recovery” adding “it is hasty and unhelpful to indiscriminately enforce tax debts right at the moment that businesses are making the first tentative steps to return to the new normal. Councils must allow time for these businesses to return to profit or risk triggering a wave of otherwise unnecessary business failures undoing the Chancellor’s plan for jobs.”
At least 150,000 jobs have been cut or put at risk at more than 60 major British employers across all sectors during lockdown.