Landlord hits out at ‘unfair’ business tax policy

A landlord in Wandsworth has spoken out over the country’s “unfair” policy of charging business rates on empty shops during the pandemic.

Robby Ford, 75, usually rents out a business unit below his flat on the Old York Road, however it has been vacant since March 31, 2020.

His previous tenants decided not to renew their lease during the Spring, due to the toll coronavirus might take on their business.

Despite being a “sought-after” area in SW18 – near Wandsworth Town Station and relatively affluent – Mr Ford says he is unable to find another tenant willing to rent the property in the pandemic.

Usually, owners of empty shops in Wandsworth pay £9,000 a year in business rates, with a 3-month grace period in case they cannot find a tenant.

However, Mr Ford said there is no support structure for leaseholders like him in the pandemic, and the sum is eating into his pension.

After his wife died four years ago, the 75-year-old has increasingly relied on the rent from the shop downstairs.

“It’s a fortune and puts a lot of pressure on me. I’ve worked hard all my life. I’m not asking for handouts, but I don’t expect to be crucified for something out of my control,” he said.

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Mr Ford pointed out that the Government had given businesses still operating a year’s tax holiday due to COVID-19. But the tax on empty properties would poses problems for a High Street already on its knees.

“They want shops to exist and get back on their feet for the economy, but they’re not going to. There’s thousands of shops that have closed and are empty – it’s an oversight by the Government.”

A spokesperson from Wandsworth Council highlighted that rates were fixed by the Government.

“We sympathise with the situation facing this landlord and reduced his business rates bill by £3,400 in July after he notified us the shop was empty. This is the maximum allowed by law that can be claimed by owners of empty shops.

“In total businesses in the borough have been provided with financial aid worth more than £120m during the pandemic to help them stay afloat. Any assistance his neighbours have received would be because they have continued to trade which is a requirement of them receiving this support.

“In our discussions with him the landlord has told us he may pursue converting the shop to a residential property. This would remove his business rates liability. Alternatively if he finds a new business tenant or sells the shop unit that too would remove any ongoing liability.”

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Wandsworth Times contacted HM Treasury for further comment.

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