Charity shops face fees and rate relief ‘postcode lottery’

Written by Joe Lepper

Councils are leaving charity shops facing a ‘postcode lottery’ regarding business rate relief and waste disposal charges, research suggests.

The Charity Retail Association sent Freedom of Information Act enquiries to more than 400 councils in England, Scotland and Wales and found huge variances in the use of business rate relief and waste charges.

Shops operating in the same chain, delivering the same service are being offered a different rate relief depending on their location, the research found.

Charity shops benefit from 80 per cent mandatory business rate relief, with councils given freedom to offer a further 20 per cent relief. But the CRA research revealed that nearly a quarter of local authorities only offer this additional relief on an individual shop-by-shop basis.

In terms of waste disposal, 72 per cent of councils in Scotland allow charity shops to dispose of any donations they are unable to sell. But just 46 per cent of Welsh councils and 54 per cent of English local authorities do the same.

In addition, charities have reported to the CRA that many disposal site staff are not aware of this policy and sometimes incorrectly block access.

The CRA is also concerned that the criteria behind offering discretionary rate relief and charging for waste disposal lacks transparency.

“The most immediate conclusion that leapt out from this work was the extent to which charity shops operate under a postcode lottery when it comes to charity support,” states the CRA research.

“Councils across the country interpret regulations and their role very differently and deliver services in very different ways. More alarmingly, the criteria on which they take decisions is often not transparent and readily accessible.

“This leads to situations where charity shops from the same chain, delivering exactly the same services and performing in exactly the same way will get a completely different package of support in terms of rate relief or waste disposal charges, because they are located on different sides of a borough boundary.”

The CRA research found that independent-run councils are the most generous to charity retailers. Labour and no overall control local authorities are slightly less generous, while Conservative-run councils are the least generous to charity shops regarding rate relief and waste charging.

CRA chief executive Robin Osterly said: “Our extensive new report highlights the bizarre situation where charity shops from the same chain, delivering exactly the same services and performing in exactly the same way, can get a completely different package of support in terms of rate relief and waste disposal charges simply because they are located on different sides of an authority boundary.

“That’s why we are calling on local authorities to be mindful of their responsibilities to accept household waste coming from charity shops, and to be generous to charity shops when it comes to offering discretionary rate relief.

“We don’t believe the current system offers consistent, transparent or fair support to shops across the country. And we are also calling for all local authorities to publish set criteria against which they will award discretionary rate relief.”

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