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Camden News - by DAN CARRIER
Published: 11 June 2009
Hairdresser Alex Ciangola
Hairdresser Alex Ciangola
Shopkeepers go begging for help as business rates crisis takes hold

‘They send in the bailiffs as soon as you fall behind, no matter how much’

BAILIFFS are swooping on small shops and independent businesses across Camden as the banking crisis seeps on to the high street.
In the year to April the Town Hall referred more than 1,500 small businesses to private debt collection agencies for falling behind with business rates. This is understood to be about a 10-fold increase on the previous year and means around one in 12 of all Camden’s businesses is struggling to pay basic bills.
A deputation of shopkeepers are due to meet councillors on Monday to beg for help. Business rates are collected by the council but 95 per cent of the cash goes to central government.
Deputation leader Alex Ciangola, a hairdresser based in Camden High Street, said he has become so incensed by gloomy talk among fellow shopkeepers he wants the council to stop referring people who fall behind with payments to bailiffs and instead set up a monthly pay-off system.
He said: “I know of 65 shops who have had the bailiffs put on to them for falling just a little bit behind. I pay around £11,500 a year on top of my rent, but what makes it worse is the Town Hall send in the bailiffs as soon as you fall behind, no matter how much. I have heard of people ringing up to see if they can discuss it but have been told it is a legal matter.
“This is crazy.”
Critics say Camden Council are keen to protect a reputation as a flagship council, which means showing central government they are efficient in tax collection.
If rates are not paid county court summonses are automatically issued.
Camden Town is a “business improvement district”, which means an extra levy on rates to pay for business group Camden Town Unlimited. Chief executive Simon Pitkeathley has frozen subscription rates this year – it costs one per cent of the company’s rateable value – and says that in some sectors the downturn has not been bad news.
He said: “The markets are thriving and a lot of pubs are doing well. Camden Town is a good place to come and shop.”
He added that the higher earning companies in Camden Town had been hit by the recession.
He added: “Creative and media companies seem to be suffering. There have been wage freezes and redundancies.”
According to Kentish Town Traders’ Association chairman, Nick Marvides, one shop in Kentish Town Road each month receives a bailiffs’ letter.
Mr Marvides, who runs Ace Sports in Kentish Town Road, said: “As soon as you fall behind, the bailiffs send a letter and it starts getting expensive.
“We need a more sympathetic system where the Town Hall ask struggling shopkeepers what they can afford to pay.”
A Town Hall spokeswoman said the council were doing all they could to help.
She said: “Camden does not have the power to freeze business rates but staff are pro-active in providing assistance to ratepayers.
“We can offer flexible payment arrangements, giving ratepayers 12 months in which to pay, rather than the statutory 10.
“While we are doing everything we can to help businesses, we do have to balance this with the fact that any uncollected rates have to be made up by council taxpayers.”

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