Business rates experts at Colliers are urging the government to remove fears that the expected cut to business rates bills for the retail sector in England will be significantly watered down by transitional relief – to the cost of around £2.68 billion for the sector alone over the three years of the new 2023 list. And the highest inflation rates since the early 1990s have been making the situation worse.
With August CPI announced at 9.9% and expectations it will be 11% for September, Colliers is urging the government to announce it will pass on the expected reductions in business rates bills following the next revaluation in April 2023 immediately, rather than to phase them in slowly over the three years of the new list.
In the first commercial property revaluation since 2017, retailers who currently pay about £7.625 billion of the £26 billion tax are expecting substantial reductions in one of their biggest outgoings, since in most regions of the country rental values for the retail sector have fallen sharply in recent years.
However, as part of each revaluation, the government decides whether to implement transitional relief which phases in reductions and increases.
The retail sector overall has a total rateable value of c£15.8 billion, which according to Colliers is expected to drop toc £12.64 billion* following an estimated average 20% drop in rents.
On paper this should mean that next year from April 2023 businesses in the retail sector should be paying c£6.46 billion in business rates. Yet if phased reductions are introduced due to a downwards transition policy, Colliers estimate the sector will in fact pay c £8.11 billion, £1.65 billion more than they should be and for some retail businesses, because of levels of inflation, higher bills than they are paying now.
And over the three years of the list, retailers that should be paying a total business rates bill of c£21.45 billion will in fact be pay c £24.13 billion if downwards transition is introduced – an extra £2.68 billion more.
According to Colliers downwards transition following the last revaluation in 2017 was one of the key factors in keeping rate bills higher in the struggling retail sector than they should have been and led to the closure of retailers such as ToysRUs and Laura Ashley- even before the pandemic hit.
John Webber, Head of Business Rates at Colliers said, “We have been campaigning for the removal of downwards transition and have strongly made our arguments to government in their recent consultation on the topic which closed in August.
“Many retailers have been battered in the last few years, and really need to see the reductions on their business rates bills immediately in 2023- not phased in slowly. The sector is already coming under immense pressure following the energy crisis and high business rates could tip many over the edge. Operators in the sector will be considering their business plans now for next year and will be looking closely at their future business rates liabilities, particularly now the Covid-related reliefs have come to an end. Some may well end up making drastic decisions.
He continued, “Our figures – based on an average 20% drop in rental values – are actually very conservative. For many stores particularly in shopping centres and on non-prime high streets, rents have fallen further reaching 40% or even 60% falls. For these businesses an out of step phased reduction of their business rates bills will be disastrous.
“There is no downward transition in Scotland or Wales, so why is it considered sensible for England?”*
“It is essential the new Prime Minister take this issue seriously and provides reassurance that rates bills next year will immediately reflect the lower rents we are seeing in the market today – providing incentives for businesses to keep or expand space and for property investors to invest in the sector. Without this reassurance, the government’s “levelling up agenda” will be meaningless and the revival of the high street will be pie in the sky thinking.“