I’ve had some satisfying feedback from Dave Moss in Devon on his quest for business rates relief. For those who missed the last issue, Dave, who runs Alfington Stores and Service Station, was horrified when his business rates demand arrived this year in all its crippling glory and with no mention of the 100 per cent relief he had wrestled out of the council in previous years. My bit of research revealed that he was certainly entitled to 50 per cent mandatory relief but might have to battle it out for the other, discretionary, half. So Dave sharpened up his pens, and wrote strong letters to his council. He emailed me the upshot: “I’ve had a four line letter from East Devon District Council signed by Assistant Treasurer – Revenues, Economy Directorate, a Mr M W Vickery,” says Dave. The letter said: “The Resources Portfolio Holder has agreed to award 50 per cent discretionary relief in addition to the 50 per cent mandatory rural settlement rate relief until the end of the 2005/2006 financial year. Accordingly there will be no non-domestic rates to pay until notified otherwise.” Says Dave: “I think we can count that as a result – and it’s probably worth a mention in your column that the best policy if smaller, rural business owners find rates are excessive, is to shout loud and create a fuss. The relief is out there, you just have to chase it hard.” He also points out that the council appears to have the discretion to award whatever relief it does decide upon for more than just the current financial year. “I certainly hadn’t dreamed that might be possible. In fact, by doing so they could effectively be committing a different council to provide continuing relief on a business whose trading conditions might change dramatically in the intervening period. So you are then forced to ponder just what rules they work under in the case of rural business rate relief – and for how long can they actually award relief if they really want to?”

I haven’t a clue and the trouble is, once you think you’ve got it figured, Prudence gets up in the House and makes a speech changing all the goal posts. But never mind Dave. You’ve got it in writing now that your relief applies to the end of 2006 even if you get a sudden upturn in fortunes. On the other hand, I wouldn’t put the odd spot of reconnaissance past them or the claiming back retrospectively.