Ex-Olympian businesswoman hits out as business rates rise by more than £70,000

An Olympian turned businesswoman was hit with a £30,000 bill and given 14 days to pay up after the council nearly doubled business rates during lockdown

Sarah Lindsay owns the Roar Fitness gym chain which has branches in Liverpool Street, Bank and Kensington, with clients including model Daisy Lowe, fashion designers Charlotte Olympia and Henry Holland, and TV stars Christine Lampard and Vogue Williams.  

This month she was forced to pay out nearly £30,000 or face court proceedings after the City of London council raised the business rate on her building by some £71,000.  

The former Olympian told MailOnline that although she could afford to pay the bill, the sum could have destroyed a smaller firm. 

And she said the hike in rates would destroy the revival of high streets, which suffered economic disaster and turned into ghost towns after massive losses in the past 12 months.

The Federation of Small Businesses said small firms have been hit with huge taxes ‘at a time when they are under the cosh more than ever,’ adding: ‘We must support small firms if we are ever to see a recovery for the national economy.’

Sarah Lindsay was forced to pay out nearly £30,000 or face court proceedings after the City of London council raised the business rate on her building by some £71,000

Sarah Lindsay was forced to pay out nearly £30,000 or face court proceedings after the City of London council raised the business rate on her building by some £71,000

Sarah Lindsay owns the Roar Fitness gym chain which has branches in Liverpool Street, Bank and Kensington

Sarah Lindsay owns the Roar Fitness gym chain which has branches in Liverpool Street, Bank and Kensington

What are business rates and who has to pay? 

Business rates are charged on most non-domestic properties, including shops, offices, pubs, warehouses, factories and holiday rental homes or guest houses.

Rates are calculated by the Valuation Office Agency, part of HM Revenues and Customs, based on the cost of renting the business premises for a year from April.

A rates ‘multiplier’ is then used to come to the final amount. This number has risen from about 34p in the pound in 1990.

You will likely have to pay business rates if you use a building or part of a building for non-domestic purposes.

Business rates are handled differently in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Local councils send a business rates bill in February or March each year for the following tax year. 

Business owners may be able to get business rates relief from the local council to reduce the bill.

Certain properties are exempt from business rates, for example farm buildings or places used for the welfare of disabled people.

Under the business rates retention arrangements, introduced from 1 April 2013, local authorities keep a proportion of business rates raised. 

Because of its special circumstances – notably its very small resident population and high daytime population – the City Corporation can set its own rate and retain part of the proceeds to help pay for services it provides, such as policing. 

The Government has provided Local Authorities with funding to operate a number of grant schemes to provide support to businesses in the wake of the pandemic. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak introduced a 12-month freeze on business rates as part of a huge rescue package to stave off economic disaster at the height of the pandemic.

Under the freeze, businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors will not have to pay business rates for the 2020 to 2021 tax year. 

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The rateable value of her property, which is in Eastcheap in the City of London, was £108,000 when Sarah and her husband bought it in August 2019. 

This figure was unchanged in September last year. 

But in October 2020, the City of London Council changed the value of the property to £179,000 – and sent the owners a revised bill for £28,236.01 to be paid in 14 days. 

Because the gym was closed, Sarah did not receive the letter in time – so was sent a final demand or face court proceedings. 

The council revised the rates up to March 31 – several days after the country had already been plunged into its first lockdown. 

The former speed skater set up the business after competing for Great Britain three times in the Winter Olympics. 

Sarah told MailOnline: ‘I think a lot of other people will be able to relate, because we are still a small business. 

‘We’ve done everything ourselves, without investment, from scratch. I finished the Olympics and this became everything to me. 

‘I built it up to what it is now; it’s been a viable business and now it’s being ripped apart.’ 

The council refused to comment on the rates or explain the increase when approached by MailOnline.  

Though Sarah and her trainers have been holding virtual fitness classes and reopened in between the lockdowns and various Tier systems, the gym has been closed throughout much of the pandemic. 

And she said the hike would do little to stave off the bloodbath that decimated the high street. 

Sarah added: ‘This is also about saving the high street – it’s been making a comeback over the last few years. 

‘If everything on the high street closes down – if you look at Kensington High Street, for example, and how every other shop is closed – it’s been making a comeback over the last few years and this is just going to end it again. 

‘You get cool, new fun places and experiences being brought to the high street that when this is all over can help lift everything back up again, and it’s something very positive, but you’re just going to end everything with rates like this.

‘I do know of course that the rateable value of a property is changeable, and therefore your rates go up.

‘It does happen and suddenly getting a big bill on the desk is never ideal. But the general amount has gone up so much – around 60 per cent of the actual rent, which is astronomical.’  

Clients at the top London gym include television personality Vogue Williams (left, with owner Sarah Lindsay)

Clients at the top London gym include television personality Vogue Williams (left, with owner Sarah Lindsay) 

The former Olympian, right, also counts TV star Christine Lampard among her clientele

The former Olympian, right, also counts TV star Christine Lampard among her clientele 

What is the coronavirus buisness rate holiday? 

Rishi Sunak unveiled an astonishing £350billion rescue package in March to try to stave off economic disaster at the height of the coronavirus outbreak. 

Among the measures introduced by the Chancellor was a 12-month freeze on business rates. Under the freeze, businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors will not have to pay business rates for the 2020 to 2021 tax year, until March 2021.

You’re eligible if your property is a: 

  • Shop, restaurant, café, bar or pub,
  • Cinema or live music venue
  • Assembly or leisure property – for example, a sports club, a gym or a spa 
  • Hospitality property; a hotel, a guest house or self-catering accommodation
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Chancellor Rishi Sunak introduced a 12-month freeze on business rates as part of a huge rescue package to stave off economic disaster at the height of the pandemic.

Under the freeze, businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors will not have to pay business rates for the 2020 to 2021 tax year.

A City of London Corporation spokesperson said: ‘We do not comment on the individual details of a case. 

‘However, in these challenging times the City of London Corporation continues to work closely with any business that contacts us to assist them in meeting their liabilities.’

Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chair Mike Cherry said some sectors were facing particular difficulties and, ‘would be feeling the pinch more than most.’

Mr Cherry added: ‘They’ve benefitted from the Business Rates Holiday, however that will come to an end in a little over two months. 

‘With little prospect of these sectors opening in the next few weeks, we would call on government to extend these Business Rates Holidays at a time when many businesses in these sectors have been in hibernation with reserves dangerously low.

‘Business rates have long been an outdated and regressive scheme, and it’s ripe for reform which will be needed as soon as these holidays are ended.

‘Local authorities meanwhile should do all they can to support small firms and try to come to reasonable arrangements to help those most in need.

‘By lumping small firms with huge taxes at a time when they are under the cosh more than ever, we must support small firms if we are ever to see a recovery for the national economy.’

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