A Wembley-based company has been forced to pay Waltham Forest Council an unexpected £7,000 in business tax rates despite the government announcing a public holiday for business tax rates for the 2020-2021 tax year.
The UK ecig store was shocked last week when enforcement officers showed up at their Wembley base and told staff they had a High Court warrant to collect the money on behalf of Waltham Forest Council
The UK Ecig Store told MyLondon they had a retail store in Waltham Forest from 2019 until the end of 2020. It has since been shut down after the company was hit hard by the pandemic and forced to close all of its stores except for its Wembley headquarters.
A spokesman for the company told MyLondon the warehouse manager was alarmed at the sudden appearance of debt collectors: “They’re quite intimidating, they’re quite big guys, so he was a little nervous.”
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Officials were on the premises to take stock of the warehouse and told employees if the debt was not paid within 24 hours they would return to seize company assets.
The company was told it owed Waltham Forest Council £6,965.50 “in respect of business tariffs for the year 2020-2021” – this was the first time they had heard of such charges.
However, for the 2020-2021 tax year, the UK Government announced a bank holiday at business rates for all retail outlets and later extended it to hospitality, leisure and other business locations due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
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The government website states: “Companies in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors in England are not subject to corporate tax for the 2020 to 2021 tax year.”
Under a section headed ‘Application’, added: ‘You don’t have to do anything. Your local government will apply the discount automatically.”
A spokesman for the UK Ecig Store told MyLondon it had tried to challenge the charges to the council, but the council claimed the company had to go to them directly to get the holiday at store rates and was therefore in debt.
The spokesman said: “The government guideline was you didn’t have to do anything, it would be done automatically by the councils. At the same time we had six other shops in the London areas so we were dealing with six or seven other councils and they all followed what the government said which automatically gave a 100% discount.”
When officers returned the next day, the company agreed to foot the bill to prevent law enforcement officials from removing supplies and equipment from their warehouse.
A UK Ecigs Store spokesman told MyLondon that Waltham Forest Council had repeatedly tried to contact the company to inform them of the debt but no correspondence had been received.
(Image: Google Maps)
“They had mailed to our office address which we had not received and they ended up sending a subpoena in a High Court Order but we had no idea because we have not received any of that correspondence.”
They added they found out that the council sent mail to an old address up until April 2021, but has not received any correspondence even since. UK Ecigs Store contact details are readily available on the company’s website but the council have not contacted the company by phone or email to say they owe money.
Since law enforcement officials arrived, the company has appealed the charges.
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MyLondon has seen emails the company sent to Waltham Forest Council in which employees quote government guidelines and say they are contesting the charges, but the spokesman said the emails were all “one-sided”.
“I tried to get some sort of email correspondence with them [Waltham Forest council]which they always seem reluctant to do.
“We’re a fairly small team now and £7000 is a lot of money for us.
“I hope they get back to me and say, ‘Sorry about our mistake and whatnot, and here’s a refund of your money,’ but to be honest, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
The spokesman added: “I don’t understand. You would not expect such behavior from a council.
“I don’t think we’re the only people on this boat. I’m sure there are other companies in a similar situation in Waltham Forest.”
Cllr Simon Miller, Cabinet Member for Economic Growth at Waltham Council, said: “The Council has a duty to ensure that it is responsible with taxpayers’ money. We must ensure that all discounts are properly managed and only received by the intended, eligible recipients.
“While we cannot discuss individual cases in detail, we can confirm that the account for this taxpayer was created after April 1, 2020. This requires a request for relief to be made rather than an automatic award. This information was communicated to taxpayers on several occasions.
“We encourage any business owner who believes they are entitled to support to reach out and contact us and we will be happy to advise you.”
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