South Shields business boss slams council over rates demand

A South Tyneside businessman has hit out over a council computer glitch that sent his retail rates soaring when he should have been due a discount.
Business owner Ahmed Khan, disputing business rates with South Tyneside Council.Business owner Ahmed Khan, disputing business rates with South Tyneside Council.
Business owner Ahmed Khan, disputing business rates with South Tyneside Council.

Former councillor Ahmed Khan, 58, has accused council chiefs of failing to swiftly install software that would have automatically despatched a correct bill.

The director of the Workwear and Schoolwear Company, in Ocean Road, South Shields, says the council had four months to get a new system up and running – a claim Town Hall chiefs reject.

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Announced by the government in November, the Retail Discount Scheme grants a one-third reduction to some retail businesses.

Designed to boost the high street, it applies to outlets with a yearly rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000.

Mr Khan claims South Tyneside Council failed to act quickly, leaving him to receive a demand for full payment instead of a one-third reduction.

The former independent councillor described the council as “shambolic”.

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He said: “It beggars belief that the council would not have this software installed on time.

“Surely between November, when the government announced this change, and February when the council issued its notices, it could have got this sorted.

“If it was the other way around, and a business was sloppy at paying what it owed, the council would not have delayed acting.”

He added: “At best, the council has been shoddy and incompetent.

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“Everyone knows that the high street is struggling. A one third discount to a small retailer can make a huge difference.

“I don’t believe it can really take four months to install a piece of software capable of sending these new rates out.”

Mr Khan contacted the council about his rates bill in March and has now received a new, amended demand.

South Tyneside Council said the required software required was not available from a third party supplier until the end of February.

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A spokesman added: “At this point we were already in the process of producing our annual bills for 2019/20 and, like most authorities, were therefore not in a position to test and implement the system changes.

“The software was deployed as soon as possible and retail relief is currently being applied to all eligible ratepayers.

“Those ratepayers that have contacted the team to make a direct application have been dealt with as a priority.

“Mr Khan’s request was received on Monday. April 22, a Bank Holiday, and was actioned on Wednesday, April 24.”