Farmer’s rates bill exposes hidden tax hike

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FARMER Gareth Gaunt is facing a hefty bill for diversifying – a business rates bill of nearly £13,000 for two business units he built to let, for three months during which they have been empty.

An MP is taking up his case and the Country Land & Business Association (CLA) is calling for an urgent review of the rules.

Mr Gaunt and his father, Robin, run 500 acres at Carlshead Farm, Sicklinghall, near Wetherby. Seven years ago, they invested £1m in the Carlshead Business Centre, to let as office and classroom space.

They and associates in the Carlshead Care Farm, which takes in social services clients and others, use some. But two tenancies have now been empty for more than three months.

Mr Gaunt has had two final demands from Harrogate Council for £12,905 due on the empty spaces, which he has been arguing about.

He said: “I put in an appeal to the council for special dispensation but that was turned down so I am left with two offices that I can’t let, generating massive bills, which are threatening my livelihood.”

The CLA said it warned a year ago farmers and landowners who had diversified into commercial lets would be hit by changes to empty property rates.

In April last year, the Government removed exemptions that meant empty properties with a rateable value below £18,000 did not have to pay rates. Since then, empty commercial property valued at more than £2,600 has been liable for full business rates, subject to the discretion of the local authority.

CLA North director Dorothy Fairburn said: “This is an outrageous hidden tax.” Nigel Adams, Conservative MP for Selby & Ainsty, said: “I think it is important that the government looks again at this disincentive to investment in property.”

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