By Scott Wright

HOSPITALITY operators across Scotland are expected to lodge thousands of appeals against their bills for business rates after pubs, hotels, restaurants and other leisure venues were forced to close their doors because of coronavirus.

The extraordinary appeals will be submitted to ratings assessors on the basis businesses have seen a “material change in circumstances” as a result of social distancing measures introduced by government to halt the spread of Covid-19.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson effectively ordered pubs, cafes,theatres and leisure venues to shut their doors on Friday March 20, though social distancing measures had been in force since March 4.

Gary Louttit, head of hospitality and leisure at Shepherd Chartered Surveyors, said by around lunchtime yesterday his firm had been instructed to make 750 appeals, adding that he expected that number to “treble by the end of the day”.

He said the new appeals are “above and beyond” those hospitality operators will already have made following the most recent revaluation of non-domestic properties in 2017, which sparked an outcry because of the hikes in bills it brought for pubs, hotels and restaurants around Scotland.

Noting that hospitality outlets are facing a “material change in circumstances”, he said the industry has seen a “total close down of everything… it is unheard of. “

He added: “We think the assessors should reflect this. It is an appeal in extenuating circumstances. This has never happened before, and is never likely to happen again.”

Mr Louttit said assessors are “fully aware” that a significant number of appeals are set to be lodged, revealing that he has “everyone [in the rating department] working on this” at Shepherd. However, he said not all surveyors are in the same position.

While he believes the number of appeals will run into the thousands, Mr Louttit said: “The only downside is the timing. A lot of surveyors are already on furlough.”

Mr Louttit is calling for the new appeals to be backdated to March 4, when the prospect of social distancing was first introduced by the UK Government.

He said: “That was when people starting to drift away from bars and restaurants. We think that appeals lodged on this basis have a very strong chance of success and would recommend that all commercial ratepayers give urgent consideration to instructing appeals to be submitted.”

According to Mr Louttit, appeals offer the hospitality sector the chance to “hit back” after being “battered” by the 2017 revaluation of non-domestic properties, which resulted in major rates increases for many pub, restaurant and hotel operators. Rates bills are calculated by multiplying a premises’ rateable value by a centrally-set figure called the poundage, which in Scotland will rise from 49p to 49.8p this month.

Mr Louttit said: “If your rateable value goes up from £25,000 to £50,000, it is a lot more difficult to make a living.”

The surge in appeals comes shortly after the Scottish Government unveiled a package of measures worth £2.2 billion to support businesses in Scotland during the Covid-19 crisis. The measures include a one-year holiday from business rates for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, and grants for small businesses.

Retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with a rateable value between £18,001 up to and including £50,999 will be able to apply for a one-off grant of £25,000, while a one-off grant of £10,000 will be available to small businesses which quality for the Small Business Bonus Scheme or rural relief.

Mr Louttit said: “Operators can only apply for one grant, even if they have multiple properties. Most of Scotland’s 32 councils now have links on their websites to allow for applications for these grants to be made and payments are to be made where appropriate within 10 working days. If operators are struggling to pay their non-domestic rates bill, they should contact their council. The situation is fast moving and may change. We are monitoring any changes made or proposed by the Scottish Government.”