Internet Shopping, Business Rates and the End of the British High Street

If you’ve ventured onto the high street of any small town in Britain lately, you may have noticed a worrying trend that only seems to be spreading. Through a combination of factors, including the COVID pandemic, Britain’s high streets are dying out, with empty retail units standing in the place of once-thriving shops. But how did we get here? And what role are Business Rates playing?

The Online Migration

When the UK lockdown hit and shops were forced to shut, retail records were broken and a third of all retail outlay was attributed to online sales.

With a rapid decrease in high street footfall and a steep elevation in web traffic, many British retailers invested millions of pounds in adapting to digital strategies, analytics, web and mobile experiences.

In fact, Britain has surpassed any other countries efforts in adapting to digital, but can you blame them, with over 20% of the UK’s consumers shopping almost exclusively online.

What happened to the retailers with a strong high street presence? Well, those were the ‘big name’ brands, such as those in the Arcadia Group, who we saw fall victim last year.

The Role of Empty Rates

Of course, online shopping and the global pandemic aren’t the only causes of the UK high street crisis. The ever-changing political landscape and Business Rates also hold some responsibility for the high streets desperate state. 

For commercial property owners, Business Rates – in particular Empty Rates – are a significant challenge which contributes to vanishing high streets. When a commercial property is unoccupied for longer than three months – a common occurrence with internet shopping pricing out physical competitors – the building’s owner becomes liable for empty rates.

One of the main difficulties surrounding empty rates is understanding them. For example, although relief is available, applying for it is a complex and timely process which can often see commercial property owners missing out on assistance.

With rising commercial property prices, it can be especially difficult for owners to sell off a property when the empty rates payments threaten to financially cripple them. This forms a never-ending cycle, which results in more and more shops being abandoned or sold for development, and high streets vanishing altogether.

Preparing is Key

Preparation really is key. If you’re a landlord of a commercial property, keep these three steps in mind.

  • Never just accept your Bill the way it is. Whether it’s a Business Rates or Empty Property Rates, always have it checked by experts. There are a plethora of factors that can deem a Rates Bill inaccurate and, statistically, 1 in 3 bills are incorrect.
  • There is always relief available. If you’re thinking of not having your bill checked because you don’t think there are savings or relief that apply to you then rethink your decision. You’ve got nothing to lose by sending your bill to us – we’ll check it completely free of charge with no obligation on your part. 
  • Get in touch in good time. If a tenant is vacating, then get in touch as soon as possible. Don’t pay unnecessarily. Our Rating Experts can get you relief or help you save up to 100% on your Empty Rates and in the rare occasion that it doesn’t work out – we’ll pay the Rates on your behalf (it doesn’t happen, but that’s our guarantee!).

At FCS, we want to play our part in keeping the high street alive, by supporting commercial property owners and ensuring that they’re free to find new tenants whilst we handle their empty rates liabilities. And who knows: by working together like this, we might just be able to save Britain’s high streets.

Do you have a vacant commercial property which you’re liable for? Or are you simply keen to prepare in advance? Feel free to explore our website, or alternatively get in touch and let FCS take the pressure off you.

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