CLA calls for urgent review of ‘outrageous hidden tax’

18 June 2012

The CLA in the North is calling for an urgent review of business rates levied on empty properties after a Yorkshire farmer was left facing a crippling bill of more than £10,000.

Gareth Gaunt has been unable to let two of his business units at Carlshead Farm near Wetherby for more than three months and is now facing a rates bill for £12,905.25 from Harrogate Borough Council.

Gareth, who farms 500 acres and also runs a care farming enterprise, said: "I have had two final demands for my two empty offices and I am barely able to pay the bank repayments at the moment, never mind outstanding bills.

"I put in an appeal to the council for special dispensation but that was turned down so I am left with two offices that I can't let, generating massive bills, which are threatening the future of my business and my livelihood."

The CLA first warned of the empty property tax "time bomb" at the beginning of last year, predicting that hundreds of farmers and landowners, who had diversified into commercial lets, would be hit by changes to empty property rates.

In April last year, the Government removed exemptions that meant empty properties with a rateable value below £18,000 did not have to pay rates. Since then, members with empty commercial property valued at more than £2,600 have been liable to pay the full business rate bill.

CLA North Regional Director Dorothy Fairburn said: "In the current economic climate, many of our members like Gareth have lost tenants from their office and workshop conversions and are now looking at massive empty property tax bills, which is totally unacceptable.

"The problem is aggravated by the fact that many of these properties are in rural areas with poor or non-existent broadband provision, which makes it almost impossible to attract new tenants.

"This is an outrageous hidden tax from the Government. Applying Non-Domestic Rates to empty property is a disincentive to investment for providing and improving rural business premises to let. It is more likely to encourage demolition and other actions to make buildings unusable and is damaging to the rural economy."

Gareth has also gained the support of his MP, Nigel Adams, who has written to local government minister Grant Shapps about the problem.

Mr Adams said: "Whilst I appreciate the economic legacy that the Coalition Government inherited makes it difficult, I think it is important that the Government looks again at this tax as it is a disincentive to investment in property and makes life very difficult for landlords especially when it is still a challenge to find tenants."