Local traders ‘missing out’ on rates relief scheme

‘Size matters’ in rates relief debate

By Stephen McVey

T raders in South Belfast are asking just how small a business has to be, before it qualifies for the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme. Following Finance Minister Sammy Wilson’s review of the scheme, eligible businesses able to pay less rates for their property have been extended to include those with a Net Annual Value (NAV) below £10,000.

Mark Taylor of the Lisburn Road Business Association, is the owner of Claremont Newsagents on the Lisburn Road. He believes that there should be a change in how businesses are deemed to be eligible.

“As things stand people are struggling to pay rent and rates,” he said.

“There are a lot of small businesses on the Lisburn Road with only a couple of members of staff. There is one businessman who runs a shop on his own and is not eligible for rates relief, zero members of staff – how much smaller can you get? And yet he is not eligible.”

NAV is the rent at which the property might reasonably be expected to let on a year-to-year basis. A list of NAV valuations are available on the Land and Property Services website and shows that the majority of Lisburn Road businesses have a valuation around £20,000.

The NI Independent Retail Trade Association’s Chief Executive Glyn Roberts said the organisation welcomed the extension but recognises that even more needs to be done to help struggling South Belfast businesses.

“NIIRTA is very pleased with the positive feedback we have received from our members about the recent extension to the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme.

“However, the Lisburn Road needs all the support possible. At a recent meeting with Minister Wilson we encouraged him to go further and extend the scheme to £12,000 NAV, which will provide even more small businesses with much needed support with their rates bill.

“Some of our members have saved as much as a £1,000 in their April rate bill. People might think it is not a huge amount of money in the grand scheme of things but for small businesses it is a significant sum that can be used in a number of ways to ease the pressure.”

The Small Business Rate Relief scheme has been modified so that those ratepayers that occupy multiple (more than three) premises of any size, or are part of a chain are not eligible for this rate relief.

Mark Taylor, meanwhile has seven part-time staff members at his 480 square foot property. He is in favour of similar plans to give relief to the people who actually need it.

“I believe that a means test should be implemented to decide who is eligible for relief. Does a millionaire really need relief?” he added.

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