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Date set for business rates relief software to be completed as firms continue to wait

PUBLISHED: 14:03 09 August 2017 | UPDATED: 14:03 09 August 2017

Salena Dawson, East Anglia regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). Picture: Chris Hill

Salena Dawson, East Anglia regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). Picture: Chris Hill

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Hopes have been raised that the “total shambles” of business rate relief owed to small firms could soon be at an end - after the government set a deadline for a software update.

Some authorities across East Anglia have begun to hand out the breaks to firms, but others are still in the process of deciding how to do so. Norfolk businesses will receive relief from a £4.5m pot while Suffolk has £3.2m set aside and Essex £1.5m.

With thousands of premises and property assessments to check, many councils have opted to wait for a software update so the process could be done automatically.

A deadline of August 21 has now been agreed for the companies – Capita, Civica and Northgate – to provide councils with updated software to help them issue new bills to their local affected businesses.

There was an uproar among firms at the revaluation of business rates in April – the first in seven years – with some seeing them treble, particularly in areas, such as Southwold and Burnham Market, which had seen their rateable value skyrocket.

Chancellor Philip Hammond responded by announcing £300m of discretionary rates relief in his spring budget.

Salena Dawson, FSB East Anglia chairman, said: “Implementation of government plans to mitigate the impacts of April’s bruising business rates revaluation has been a total shambles. First there were delays to the £300m hardship fund for England and then to the £50 monthly cap for those losing rates relief. On top of this, business rates are currently set to rise in line with the higher measure of inflation (RPI) which could add an additional 4% to bills from April.

“Against a backdrop of unprecedented uncertainty and spiralling operating costs, plans to link bills to the better measure of inflation (CPI) from 2020 should be brought forward.”

Councils including Broadland, King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury have not yet paid out the relief.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “There are councils that have pressed ahead and issued revised bills. Others have chosen to wait for software updates to deliver this particular scheme and we’ve taken steps to make sure business get this relief as quickly as possible.”

Both Northgate and Capita have said they are working to test their software updates and will release them to the councils as soon as the process is complete.

Business rates specialist CVS, which has been carrying out research into the delay, has called on councils to speed up the distribution of relief to the hardest hit businesses.

Our councils

The government announced a £300m pot for discretionary business rate relief back at the spring budget.

Yet the region’s councils have distributed it at different paces.

- Babergh, Great Yarmouth, Ipswich and South Norfolk - being distributed.

- Braintree and North Norfolk - awaiting software but have begun identifying businesses.

- Breckland - approved on July 27, now writing to eligible businesses.

- Broadland - proposals to go before cabinet on August 15. If approved businesses will start seeing savings from mid-September.

- Colchester - will begin distribution in mid-September.

- Norwich - has drafted scheme to be approved in September.

- Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury - proposals approved and in the process of writing to businesses.

- King’s Lynn and West Norfolk - subject to full council approval on August 31.

- Suffolk Coastal and Waveney - in a consultation with businesses due to end on August 20.

- Tendring - awaiting software.

- Uttlesford - will invite businesses to apply in mid-September.

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