UK - British councils are paying a whopping £690m (€745m) in business rates on their empty properties, the Business Centre Association revealed this week.

A Freedom of Information request by the Association revealed more than 320 local authorities and regional development agencies (RDAs) are paying tax for their empty properties to the UK Treasury.

This is as a result of the empty property rates legislation launched last April which made empty warehouses rateable for the first time after being empty for six months and made shops and offices rateable after being empty for only three months.

"If this figure is accurate then it highlights the absolute scandalous way in which the government is damaging our communities with a tax on hardship," said Liz Peace, chief executive of the British property Federation (BPF).

"We are heading through an extremely challenging period, and levying a tax that increases the pressure on those hit hardest makes no sense whatsoever.

"It is utter hypocrisy for ministers to be talking about helping business while making them pay empty rates, especially while hundreds of businesses are closing every week," she added.
Swindon Council has budgeted £430,000 of public money to demolish a 14-acre industrial site rather than pay the annual £100,000 rates liability, while Birmingham City Council has received a staggering £800,000 tax bill for its empty properties.

"Birmingham's large scale regeneration has propelled it onto the global stage but the government's current 'tax now, ask questions later' policy is threatening this growth and suffocating vital new developments," said Mike Whitby, council leader for Birmingham City.

Empty rates relief was scrapped by the UK government in April 2008. in a bid to raise £950m for the Treasury but has led landlords across the country to instead demolish empty properties to avoid paying rates.

Alistair Darling, chancellor of the exchequer, outlined proposals in his pre-budget report last November to temporarily stop rates on empty properties valued at less than £250,000, and claimed this would help 70% of unoccupied properties.

However, property experts dismissed his claims as spin and claimed the figure included objects that were not considered properties, such as cash machines, advertising boards and car park spaces.

The BPF has been campaigning with the support of 125 MPs for all empty properties to receive full relief for the first three months after being unoccupied.

If you have any comments you would like to add to this or any other story, contact Poppy Sketchley on + 44 (0)20 7261 4629 or email