Councils have started drafting in bailiffs again to secure unpaid business rates from struggling firms, days after chancellor Rishi Sunak set out the latest phase of the government’s plan to protect jobs.
Bailiffs had been put on hold from enforcing the collection of outstanding business rates from troubled businesses after the COVID-19 lockdown was brought in on 21 March.
However, they were given the go-ahead to restart enforcement action from the start of July, in a move which could pile further pressure on struggling high street firms.
Bailiffs are instructed by councils once a liability order has been obtained in magistrates’ court to collect outstanding business rates, and will be able to enter businesses to seize goods and sell these at auction to settle the debt.
Derby city council, one of the councils to have resumed enforcement, said it has “several thousand business ratepayers who are behind with their payments.”
A spokesman for the council added: “The country is steadily moving out of lockdown and a decision has been taken to resume regular operation and to restart recovery actions again to help the city in its COVID-19 recovery effort.”
The Civil Enforcement Association (CIVEA), the trade body for bailiffs, said last month that it had consulted the government on a “post-lockdown support plan”.
Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of the CIVEA, said: “Enforcement of public debt continues to be an important service to recover outstanding taxes and fines, which contributes to funding essential local services.”
Around 310 non-domestic properties every working day were referred to bailiffs by local councils having fallen into arrears with their business rates during the 2018 to 19 financial year, according to estate adviser Altus Group.
Robert Hayton, head of UK business rates at Altus Group, said: “It begs belief that councils are essentially undermining the government’s effort to stimulate the economy and does nothing to help the recovery.
“It is hasty and unhelpful to indiscriminately enforce tax debts right at the moment that businesses are making the first tentative steps to return to the new normal.
“Councils must allow time for these businesses to return to profit or risk triggering a wave of otherwise unnecessary business failures undoing the chancellor’s plan for jobs.”
It comes after figures compiled by the PA news agency revealed at least 150,000 jobs have been cut or put at risk at more than 60 major British employers during lockdown.