‘Disappointment’ at low applications for Covid business rates relief in the Ribble Valley with £473,000 unspent

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Ribble Valley company applications for a £1.2million business rates relief scheme for covid pandemic disruption has been ‘very disappointing’, borough councillors have been told.

Over £473,000 of business rates support has gone unallocated, so Ribble Valley councillors are now asking the government if they can use the funding to help firms in the cost-of-living crisis.

Employers that had to close workplaces or change operations during the covid pandemic restrictions were offered the chance to apply for business rates relief for the financial year 2021-22.

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Business rates Covid support totalling more than £473,000 has gone unallocated in the Ribble ValleyBusiness rates Covid support totalling more than £473,000 has gone unallocated in the Ribble Valley
Business rates Covid support totalling more than £473,000 has gone unallocated in the Ribble Valley

The Covid-19 Additional Relief Fund was aimed at businesses that had not been included in earlier pandemic help schemes, such as shops or children’s nurseries.

However, applications from Ribble Valley firms have been low, with a total of 52 grant payments being approved across three application periods.

Earlier this year, the expectation was to cover 50% of business rates for the 2021-22 financial year. However, there was some flexibility and councillors have now decided to cover 100%.

A report for the committee stated: “The number of applications has been very disappointing, but each eligible business has been contacted on several occasions and invited to apply. A key requirement of the government is that the business has been adversely affected by the pandemic and this may have an impact on the number of applications received.”

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The report added: “This committee agreed to open an initial application window for eligible businesses which closed at the end of February 2022. We received 33 applications, five of which were rejected as the [business] ratepayer was not eligible. This was because they already received full Small Business Rates Relief or the Expanded Retail Discount. Relief was awarded totalling £161,353.

“A second application window was opened and all potentially eligible businesses were invited to apply. A further 17 applications were received, three of which were rejected because the ratepayer was not eligible because they had already received full Small Business Rate Relief or it was a duplication application. Relief was awarded to businesses totalling £42,670.

“A third application window ran until the end of August this year. A further 16 applications were received, six of which were rejected because the ratepayer was not eligible [for similar reasons detailed in earlier rejections].”

Councillors were asked what to do with the remaining funding. Three options were suggested.

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Award each [latest] applicant relief at 50% of the net rates payable for 2021/22, as was was done in the first two phases. If agreed, that would result in a total of just over £179,000 of CARF grants being allocated in the latest phase. Overall, that would bring the total grants awarded to around £383,000 and leave a balance of over £856,000 unallocated. Award each applicant relief from all three tranches at 75% of rates for the financial year. That would result in a total relief of around £575,000 leaving just over £664,000 remaining. Award each application from all three phases 100% of rates payable for the year. That would result in total payments of around £766,000, leaving a balance of just over £473,000.

Councillors agree to awarding 100% of the business rates payable for the eligible applicants.

They also agreed that Ribble Valley Council should write to the government, to ask that the balance be kept to help businesses hit by the cost-of-living crisis.