Reuse Littleborough could be forced to close as council slaps group with thousands of pounds' worth of backdated business rates - despite being granted 100% discretionary relief three years ago
Date published: 05 July 2022
Michael Bamford, founder of Reuse Littleborough
Reuse Littleborough could be forced to close, after being hit with thousands of pounds’ worth of backdated business rates by the council.
When Reuse first opened its hub in the centre of Littleborough in 2018, the local cause was granted 100% discretionary relief by Rochdale Borough Council.
This continued for the next three years until 2021 – when the group, which does not turn a profit, was slapped with a bill for £4,400 for that year, and told it must pay rates for the previous three years. With the opening of its resource centre on Newgate, the cause was told paying rates apply to both premises.
Business rates are charged on most non-domestic properties like shops and offices with a rateable value over £12,000.
Some properties are eligible for discounts from the local council on their business rates, called business rates relief. This can be in the form of small business rate relief, charitable rate relief, or hardship relief.
Charities can apply for charitable rate relief of up to 80% if a property is used for charitable purposes – councils can top this up to 100% as discretionary relief.
Councils have to power to grant discretionary relief to non-profits or voluntary organisations, or even reduce the bill with hardship relief – providing you can satisfy the local authority that you would be in financial difficulties without it and that receiving hardship relief is in the interests of local residents.
The Reuse Littleborough Hub exists to provide an eco-friendly solution to prevent people from throwing perfectly usable items away. The group was originally started seven years ago after Michael Bamford noticed a discrepancy between the waste we have in our country and those in need in poorer countries. It began with with an online post, asking for donations of unwanted baby items to send to the Forever Angels Baby Home in Tanzania.
However, with the council now demanding thousands of pounds in backdated business rates from Reuse Littleborough, the cause could be forced to shut – despite, ironically, providing aid to many council support workers and employees who have had their budgets cut, or removed entirely.
The parent and child resource centre opened in June 2020, allowing social workers, health visitors, midwives and lots of others who identified a need in local families to visit the centre and pick up goods on a first-come, first served basis for their clients.
Support workers were provided with goods such as: baby and children’s clothes; shoes; toiletries; cots, prams, Moses baskets and bedding; toiletry bags for the maternity units; clothing, shoes, coats and bedding for older children; clothing and shoes for adults.
Reuse Littleborough’s founder, Michael Bamford, 70, said he is “very frustrated” over the matter.
He said: “We are in the process of closing down our resource centre on Newgate as things have not gone to plan.
“Our rates bill for this is £7,900 because we are not open to the public and don’t sell anything, we do not qualify for the discount.
“As we help needy families identified by the council’s support workers, it’s just a kick in the teeth, we never ask anyone for money, we don’t apply for grants, we are volunteer-led and pay no wages.
“Our centre is a vital resource for council employees that have had their budgets slashed or removed. One example is a mother fleeing domestic violence; she was fitted with everything needed in a new home.”
Reuse Littleborough once again applied for charitable status, having been refused a few years ago.
“Regarding our hub in Littleborough, when we received the bill for £4,400, we challenged it as we had had three years of discretionary relief. When we challenged this, the new officer said the previous lady did not have the authority to award this and they have now backdated our rates for the three years. Obviously, we have not budgeted for this.”
Michael continued: “Our application for charity status has sat in a pile waiting to be assessed for nearly six months. We were promised a decision by the end of March, but we are still waiting.
“I’m very tempted to pack it all in. I’m 70; I’ve just had a hernia operation, and I’ve recently lost my partner, Ann, to cancer. Packing it all in and moving on with my life is tempting but I feel lots of needy families with babies and children will miss out.
“We’re sharing space in the Better Together building with lots of other charities that seem to get charitable status and council grants very easy. I’m finding this all very frustrating especially with the lack of quality volunteers coming forward to help.”
Councillor Carol Wardle, cabinet member for finance at Rochdale Borough Council said: “While we are keen to continue supporting Reuse Littleborough, business rates are a statutory charge over which councils have very little control.
“They were receiving business rates relief as we were informed that they were a registered charity, but we subsequently learned this was not the case, so they therefore did not qualify for this support.
“Their premises in Littleborough have been awarded the relevant Covid related relief and discounts, including the 50 per cent retail, hospitality and leisure relief for the current financial year.
“The council has also helped them with registering as a charity and looked at whether any other support can be provided but as Reuse Littleborough is neither a registered charity or a registered community interest company and has not provided evidence that they are operating on a not-for-profit basis we are unable to provide any further financial assistance.”
Responding to Councillor Wardle, Michael added: “No one at the council has helped us move forward as a charity or asked us for evidence of not-for-profit. We have never said we are a registered charity.
“The hub gets a 50% discount from central government, but Newgate gets no discount at all.”
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