Indie bookshop ordered to pay extra £11k in business rates

Indie bookshop ordered to pay extra £11k in business rates

An independent bookshop in Pinner must pay an additional £11,680 in business rates following a new valuation, which will leave BrOOK’S paying more in rates than the bank which previously occupied the site, in a situation branded “outrageous” by the Booksellers Association. 

Bookseller Peter Brook took over the premises of the TSB bank on Bridge Street, Pinner on 7th July 2018 with a rateable business value of £42,250 pa. Earlier this month, Brook was informed the description of the premises has been changed from ‘bank’ to ‘restaurant and premises’ with the rateable value increasing to £52,500 with effect from 20th August 2018 following a revaluation at the request of Harrow Council. The change in rateable value means Brook will have to pay £25,200 in business rates rather than £13,520, as well as the backdated £6,200 bill.

Brook told The Bookseller: “My wife Sarah and I negotiated the lease of the property and we knew the rateable value and that was all fine, and that was what we had been paying. Harrow Council asked the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) to revaluate the business rate for our property. I can only assume that this happened because of a change of use application from bank to shop. 

“They are charging an indie bookshop more in rates than other shops around us and a bank. It’s quite staggering. With the average paperback selling for £6.99, we would have to sell an extra 114 books a week in order to keep up with rates.”

In a further blow, the new tariff puts BrOOK’S, which also sells wine, coffee and cake, over the £50,000 threshold for small business rates relief and Brook is being forced to pay the backdated bill while he considers his appeal. “That revaluation puts us over that £50,000 threshold, we have to pay an extra £1,100 a month while we appeal, and the extra £6,000 from the last year. We’re only in our first six months of starting and cash flow is tight at the best of times,” said Brook. “A realistic scenario is we might get the money back at the end of the calendar year if we’re lucky.”

Brook is appealing the amount, saying mistakes have been made regarding the base rate per square metre. He said: “We have a ‘base’ rate of business rates of £500 per square metre whereas neighbours and businesses opposite have their’s set at £450. There is no rationale reason, if we were correctly classified as a bookshop and not a restaurant, that ours would be the same. If this was the case our business rates would drop immediately to £47,250 pa and this is without the actual inaccuracy of the measurements that our business rates are based on. They think our business is 197 m² whereas it is actually 172m² gross.”

He added: “The system is not defendable, it’s ridiculous. Heads they win, tails we lose. I’m going to have to pay business rates consultant money for something we should never have had to pay in the first place. I will have to pay to fight this. The minimum this will cost us is £4,000 in cash.”

Meryl Halls, MD at the Booksellers Association, said: “The predicament BrOOK'S in Pinner find themselves in is nothing short of outrageous.  Here is a brand new business, run by creative, risk-taking entrepreneurs, entering a new industry with verve and gusto, being slapped with a punitive and potentially ruinous business rates hike.  The appeals process requires them to pay the bill before appealing, and the bookshop now finds itself not only with a new bill, but just over the threshold for small business rates relief, adding insult to very considerable injury. This illustrates all that is wrong with the current outdated and inflexible rates system – clearly local authorities have to get their funding from somewhere, but crushing the spirit and the viability of new businesses is not the way to encourage investment or a thriving high street.  We would urge Harrow Council to reconsider the BrOOK'S case urgently and sympathetically.”

A spokesman for the VOA told The Bookseller: “We cannot comment on individual cases. If a ratepayer thinks the details we hold about their property are incorrect, they can see how their valuation has been calculated and update their facts, if needed, by registering with our check and challenge service."