Small high street firms breathe sigh of relief as business rates fall

Business rates for small-sized high street firms are being cut by a third (Aaron Chown/PA)

Companies will receive a one-third discount on their rates bills from April 1.

Britain’s army of small high street firms will be given rare good news on Monday when they share tax cuts worth half a billion pounds as business rates bills are slashed across England.

While council tax, prescriptions, utility bills and car tax are all set to rise, thousands of high street shops, pubs and restaurants will be set for a reprieve.

In last year’s Autumn Budget, the Government announced a business rates discount scheme for small-sized high street properties in England which have a rateable value below £51,000.

Under the plan, small firms will receive a one-third discount on their rates bills from April 1 for the next two years, which Chancellor Philip Hammond said will help “up to 90% of all independent shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes”.

According to numbers crunched by real estate adviser Altus Group, the average shop will see savings of £3,292 in their business rates bills for 2019/20, while the average pub will save £6,052.

The average restaurant will receive a discount of £7,212 as a result of the new retail discount with councils in England setting aside £502 million this financial year to cover the cost.

Robert Hayton, head of UK business rates at Altus Group, said it was imperative that small firms check their new tax demands carefully, warning “some councils are insisting that firms apply for the discount rather than applying it automatically”.

But he added that it is not all good news, pointing to the fact that local authorities in England are still expected to rake in £25 billion in business rates overall during 2019/20, an increase of £206 million.

According to the Federation of Small Business,  the 10 councils set to garner the most from rates over the next 12 months are: Westminster (£2.2 billion), City of London (£1.2 billion), Camden (£650 million), Tower Hamlets (£461 million), Birmingham (£449 million), Hillingdon (£384 million), Leeds (£378 million), Manchester (£335 million), Kensington and Chelsea (£332 million) and Southwark (£328 million).

The cash will be gleaned from all sectors of the economy as the standard rate of tax will rise above 50% for medium to large-sized premises, the highest rate since the national business rates system was introduced in 1990.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) also pointed to the fact that two million small businesses are to be hit with new reporting requirements due to HMRC’s Making Tax Digital (MTD) programme.

HMRC is forcing VAT-registered businesses to comply with the initiative, with the software required to meet MTD obligations set to cost small firms £564 each on average.

More than a million small employers are also grappling with a further increase in auto-enrolment pension contributions to 3% from Saturday.