Supermarkets could be owed as much as £300m because of an ongoing legal wrangle about the business rates paid for cash machines, which threatens to heap additional financial pressure on the struggling industry.
The Valuation Office Agency (VOA), which is responsible for administering business rates, issues an initial bill which retailers then check against the size of their shops, often resulting in a refund.
But these claims have been put on hold while a case about whether ATMs are part of supermarkets or not is fought through the courts. The Court of Appeal will hear the latest stage of the case later this month.
The VOA is arguing that ATMs located both outside and within a shop should be assessed separately for additional business rates, and that retailers should pay the business rates taxes on them in addition to their normal store rates.
Supermarkets argue that these machines are not part of their shops and so should not be included in rates calculations. A decision against them could add around £4,000 per cash machine to their annual bill.
Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons, will this year alone pay £1.77bn in rates bills.
John Webber, head of business rates at Colliers International, which acts for retailers seeking refunds, said there were a number of pressures on the sector, including rises in wage bills and food prices.
“Business rate bills are of course just one extra pressure - but a very significant pressure if supermarket chains are not only paying big rates bills but are unable to claim the refunds they are due and now very much need,” he said.