Store bosses accuse council of unfair decision

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A VENTURE set up an a disused shop unit where people can swap their unwanted books is to close because Sheffield Council says it is being forced to charge full business rates.

Books For Free is a national scheme run by charity Healthy Planet, which redistributes books destined for landfill or pulping.

It has set up 25 temporary stores around the country – but the Sheffield branch, in an empty shop on The Moor, is closing on Monday.

Scott King, founder of Healthy Planet, said: “We are having to close because Sheffield is charging us 100 per cent business rates which we cannot afford.

“In the 25 plus temporary Books for Free stores we have operated, never once has a council refused our application to give us the 80 per cent charity rates relief on business rates until now. 

“Communication and open-ness from the council has been poor and so we have incurred a huge funding gap as we did not know until late last week that they were definitely not giving the relief and why – nearly two months after we applied.

“Rates experts as well as our past experience suggest their interpretation of the law on when not to give rates relief is not only flawed, but not valid in this case. 

“For example, they referred to our need to sell donated goods, when we are not selling anything and charging nothing for the books we have.

“They state we are occupying enough to be responsible for paying occupiers’ rates, but not enough to get charity discount.”

A Sheffield Council spokeswoman said: “A charity shop can get a discount of 80 per cent on business rates, known as mandatory rate relief, if it satisfies strict criteria. Unfortunately, in this case we are not satisfied that the shop meets all the requirements because only a small part of the building is in use.

“These requirements are laid down by the Local Government Finance Act.

“While we are committed to encouraging the development and growth of businesses within the city, we can only offer support and assistance, including financial assistance, where the law allows.

“We are sorry this may not be the outcome the charity wanted, but we have to play by the rules when it is a legal requirement, and in fairness to other business premises in the city.”