…until the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, will set out what, and if, further business rates relief will be given to the retail, leisure and hospitality sector over the next financial year. Operators in this sector are craving certainty as to whether their rating liability will revert to 100% come the 1st April. Will some form of relief be granted to help them recover from the pandemic? Or have they had their slice of the cake?

The speed at which the 100% relief was granted across the sector in March 2020 didn’t allow for differentiation to be sought between essential and non-essential retailers. The relief also wasn’t able to differentiate between those businesses that would benefit from the sudden change in consumer spending against those who are struggling to survive because of it. Has the government now had time to tailor the relief to those businesses who really need it?

Kate Frobes, Cabinet Secretary for Finance in Scotland, announced this week that that the 100% expanded retail relief will be extended for 12 months, if, the finance package announced in the spring budget will allow it. However, this relief may become application based. Whilst this may allow the relief to be tailored to those businesses in need, an application process will not allow the relief to rolled out at speed and it will put more pressure on our stretched billing authorities to distribute the relief to those that need it. Will England follow suit and move from the previous unilateral adoption of relief to an application-based process? This raises further questions as to whether the relief then is to be limited by State Aid.

One must consider that business rates isn’t a tax which is tailored to the profitability of a business; it doesn’t consider innovation nor does it take the state of the current economic climate into consideration. It is merely based on what a hypothetical tenant would pay for a premises on a set valuation date whilst considering a set number of assumptions. Should these temporary reliefs be able to alter the principles of the way in which the tax is structured to allow for consistency across the market?

Some have asked the question, can the Government afford to give any more relief to those in this sector? Or would a more tailored or application drive approach be appropriate? It is worth noting at this stage that office occupiers haven’t benefited from a penny of business rates relief and many have had their doors locked for the same duration as non- essential retail premises.

As we currently sit in a national lockdown with no date yet provided by Government as to when non-essential premises in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector can reopen, the pressure is mounting for further unilateral financial support.