ELT business rates relief raised again in the House of Lords
The issue of business rates for ELT centres has been raised once again in a House of Lords debate on legislation paving the way for a further £1.5bn to be distributed.
We are really grateful that several peers have taken a great interest in the issues facing our sector, and two were able to speak during the debate on the Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill on Wednesday 10 November.
Labour peer Lord Hunt
Labour peer Lord Hunt of King's Heath began by expressing his concern over the time it was taking to get this money to the affected businesses, adding: "To give one example of the real-world impact of not releasing these funds any sooner, English UK, the body representing the English language schools sector, has informed me that, in the last month alone, no fewer than five English language schools have been forced to close, largely because they were excluded from business rates relief. Indeed, 38 English language schools have closed since the pandemic started - 15% of that trade body's membership. It is hardly surprising: some schools had to pay £300,000 in business rates over the last two financial years, with virtually zero customers.
"So, the need for speed is very apparent, but there is a problem in that the guidance to local authorities over the distribution of the money is still awaited. Many businesses do not know whether they will qualify for the fund, given that, as I understand it, the criteria have not yet been published."
He added: "In addition, for English language schools a complex situation arises because a small handful of councils interpreted the expanded retail discount differently and awarded business rates relief. Consequently, it has been something of a lottery, depending on where the schools are situated. I do hope that the Minister will confirm that just because some councils took the bold step to offer business rates relief to English language schools, this will not jeopardise the chances of those that did not to receive additional funding." He urged the minister to get the guidance out quickly and ensure that local authorities understood the need for the money to be distributed as quickly as possible.
Liberal Democrat Baroness Pinnock on behalf of Baroness Garden
Another peer, the Liberal Democrat Lady Pinnock, spoke on behalf of colleague Lady Garden who she said was "especially concerned about the impact on language schools".
"It is a significant issue that these and other businesses may not even qualify for the relief or the grants set out by the government during the pandemic," she said.
Minister of State Lord Greenhalgh
Responding for the government, Lord Greenhalgh, the minister of state for the Home Office and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said: "It would not be right for Ministers here to say whether particular ratepayers or types of ratepayers will benefit from the £1.5 billion scheme.
"Work is ongoing between my department, the Treasury, the Valuation Office Agency and local authorities to prepare guidance to support the relief process. The shape of the final guidance, and how in practice we will smoothly pass decisions on this relief scheme to local authorities, will need to reflect various factors, including the existing framework of government support, information held by local authorities and their capacity to administer schemes quickly. We will continue to work on the relief fund and prepare the guidance for publication as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent. We are of course mindful of local authorities' need for an effective set of parameters within which they can design their local schemes. Local authorities should stand ready to develop and deliver their schemes as soon as they are able."
During a previous debate, Lord Greenhalgh assured the House of Lords that the government as looking "very carefully" at making ELT specifically eligible for the scheme. The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent before the end of November.
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