Councils ‘now quicker to call in bailiffs over unpaid business rates’

28 Aug 18

Councils are taking earlier enforcement action to collect unpaid business rates as they become increasingly reliant on this income, real estate advisors have claimed.

An average of 222 premises were referred to bailiffs every day by English local authorities in 2017-18 because of unpaid business rate debts, according to freedom of information data obtained by Altus Group.

Robert Hayton, head of UK business rates at Altus Group, linked this to changes to council finance, with local authorities retaining a greater proportion of business rates.

He said: “Councils are taking enforcement action much earlier since their finances became more aligned to business rates income.”

In 2017-18, the first year following business rates revaluation, nearly one in every 15 commercial properties faced having their goods seized by bailiffs – a 6% increase from 2016-17.

English councils deployed bailiffs to collect unpaid business rates 80,000 times in 2017-18.

Businesses that have appealed against the amount they must pay in rates may still be subject to bailiff enforcement while their case is considered, the Altus Group noted.

“Ratepayers can be waiting for the application of certain reliefs to be applied to their tax demands but enforcement continues in the meantime” the group said.

Hayton added: “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.”

Birmingham City Council referred 3,864 premises to bailiffs – the most of any English council – the Altus research found.

Manchester City Council referred 2,267 business premises to bailiffs, an increase of 38% from 1,932 in 2016-17.

Liverpool, Coventry, Hounslow and Brent councils all made over 1,000 referrals to bailiffs.

A government spokesperson said: “It is important that councils are proportionate in enforcement and use bailiffs only as a last resort.

“We are introducing over £10bn worth of business rate support by 2023.”

Last week, Citizen’s Advice called for a crackdown on bailiffs who aggressively collect debts on essential bills like council tax.

A Treasury select committee report from July accused councils of “over-zealous” debt collection on households.

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