Council hangs up as business owner is hit with £116,000 rates bill despite being ‘exempt’

A business-owner says she received a bill totalling more than £116,000 from Brentwood Borough Council for unpaid business rates despite claiming they are exempt from the levy.

Julie Reeves, who owns Connect Traffic Management with her husband Mark. has a premises in Pilgrims Hatch used to store equipment worth a rateable value of £5,500 – an amount which does not require business rates to be paid – and said the bill had been issued “incorrectly”.

Julie Reeves

When Mrs Reeves rang the council for help, she claimed she spoke to an officer who “put the phone down on her” leaving the business-owner “disgusted”.

Business rates is a levy on companies based on the premises they occupy, and  a property with a rateable value of £12,000 or less is not levied with business rates at all.

Brentwood Borough Council said it could not comment on individual cases, but added: “if an adjustment needs to be made to a bill it is done so quickly and the bill is resent.”

Mrs Reeves said the authority issued five backdates demands to 2017 in August, threatening legal action “without further notice” if payments were not met.

The borough council states on the bill that “if you have paid this amount within the last seven days, or if you think it is wrong, please contact Recovery Services”.

She said: “I rang the council up saying this is really distressing for us and it could finish the company.

“I said it had been revalued and just because the council hasn’t got it that it’s an internal problem.

“I asked her name because I needed some accountability for the actions of Brentwood Council and I wanted to know they are going to sort this out.

“She put the phone down on me.”

The couple still have to reapply to the authority to reset the bill to zero.

She added: “Let’s say the bill was right and they had come back and say you owe us £125,000. How can they just demand five years in rates and not care?

“It just the thing where she put the phone down. It is disgusting.”

The amount of business rates owned is calculated by the rateable value of a property – representing the rental value of a property – priced by the Valuation Office Agency and a government “multiplier” set by HM Treasury.

Mrs Reeves added that she had tried to explain that the family had been going through a particularly difficult period after her daughter was diagnosed with cancer.

She said: “When I spoke to them initially – the council is meant to be all about mental health – our daughter has breast cancer and is only 27. I told the council this and what a tough time we were having and they didn’t care.

“We are going through such a time where everyone is meant to be caring for each other.

“I said this has really upset me what can they do about it and they have gone ‘nothing’. How does that work?

“When we have tried to speak to them they don’t like it so they put the phone down.”

A spokesperson for Brentwood Borough Council said: “The Valuation Office Agency assesses the rateable value of properties and then notifies the council of the chargeable rate and any changes. Based on this information the bills are calculated and sent out. If a business disagrees with the VOA bill then it is best to contact the VOA directly.

“For companies that are finding paying the bill difficult our officers are on hand to help advise and, in certain circumstances, offer a payment arrangement plan.

“Whilst we cannot comment about individual cases, if an adjustment needs to be made to a bill it is done so quickly and the bill is resent.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter