By Claire West

Small businesses in the UK could lose out on at least £200 million in backdated rate relief unless they lodge claims by the 30 September deadline, the Forum of Private Business and property specialist LeaseholdersUnited are warning.

Any small business occupying commercial premises between 1 April 2007 and April 2010 could be entitled to money back, but many firms will miss out on Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) unless they act now.

According to LeaseholdersUnited's Andrew Bacon, who is the Forum's Property Adviser, the problem is being made worse because too few business owners are aware that they can claim the Relief. He said that many local councils fail to provide details of SBRR, publish inaccurate information on when to claim or even provide outdated forms.

"Claiming backdated SBRR before the 30 September 2010 deadline could mean that a small business paying £5,000 a year in rent gets a cheque from the council that is enough to cover its overheads until March 2011, just for filling in a form," said Mr Bacon.

"Unfortunately, most councils are saying nothing about the issue and many are handing out forms that actually prevent businesses from backdating their claims. This is an issue we first highlighted back in 2008 and, despite assurances that it would be tackled, the problem persists.

"Time is running out, so it is important to act now. The simple solution is for every business to send in the correct claim form before 30 September 2010. Those who are not eligible will simply be rejected, but those that are eligible will get the money they deserve. And we can help them with that."

Mr Bacon urged business owners to follow five simple steps in order to make sure they submit claims before 30 September deadline using the correct forms:

- Go to www.sbrr.co.uk

- Enter your local authority details and your email address

- Receive the correct form, together with completion notes and a fax number for the council

- Fill it in and fax it off before 30 September 2010

- If you are eligible the council will send you a cheque and then also automatically grant you any Small Business Rate Relief from 1 April 2010 onwards

"Many businesses have downloaded claim forms for free from www.sbrr.co.uk in the last two days, enabling them to claim as much as £5,000 each. Had they waited until 1 October to do this, they would only have been able to claim £2,000," Mr Bacon explained.

Using official data including the SBRR claim and eligibility rates, LeaseholdersUnited has estimated the amount of SBRR that is currently unclaimed in each local area of the UK.

Commenting on the figures, the Forum's Research Manager, Tom Parry, said: "For the first time, we can begin to see a picture of the Small Business Rate Relief that is going unclaimed in each area and it amounts to a substantial amount of money at a time when small firms are struggling to maintain any kind of cash flow."

He added: "It is now a race against time to file claims. The message to small business owners is clear — if you are entitled to SBRR, lodge a claim without delay using LeaseholdersUnited's free online service."

Business owners should be aware that, from October 2010, SBRR is set to increase in England. Businesses with a rateable value of less than £6,000 will pay no business rates for a year. Previously, they received a 50% discount.

Taper relief, from 100% to 0%, will also be in place for properties with rateable values for that period of over £6,000 and up to £12,000.

Further, Empty Property Relief has been extended for 2010-11 so that all empty properties with a rateable value below £18,000 are exempted from business rates.

Similar business rate relief schemes operate in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

LeaseholdersUnited's free online claims system is one of a range of services designed to help business owners keep on top of their property costs.

Others include CostMINDER, which gives businesses the information they need to help them negotiate reductions in their rates, rent and other property costs without employing a Surveyor and an online valuation service, enabling businesses to instantly download an independent estimate of the rental and capital on nearly every shop, office or industrial property in England.

Forum members get a 50% discount on LeaseholdersUnited's property cost control services, which represents a saving of up to £150 a year.

The Forum helps its members save money and manage their finances through its 'Finance Director' business support solution.

Through the solution, the not-for-profit organisation provides its members with expert advice on issues such as reducing business costs, improving credit ratings, business monitoring and business insurance.

For a list of the estimated SBRR unclaimed in each area, click here, and for more information about the Forum call 0845 612 6266 or visit www.fpb.org

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