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Islington Tribune - by ROISIN GADELRAB
Published: 2 October 2009
Artwork brushed aside by tax bill

Popular paintings no longer allowed in shop window as couple are told to pay business rates

TO regular visitors of Liverpool Road, this listed former concertina shop window may have looked particularly barren in recent weeks.
Old bicycles have replaced colourful paintings of Marilyn Monroe and scenes from Casablanca after artist Tim Wheeler received a steep bill from Islington Council demanding he pay business rates.
Royal Academy graduate artist Mr Wheeler, who owns the shop, has been told he must turn his paintings away from the public if he wants to avoid paying the fees.
Instead, he can keep any old junk, including bicycles and blank frames, in the space because they cannot be said to be yielding any income.
Mr Wheeler has put a notice in the window apologising to neighbours that he can no longer afford to show his work in the space.
The 66-year-old lives next door to the shopfront and started displaying his work there a few years ago to brighten up the street. He and his wife Deborah agree they should pay business rates but ask that the bill is proportionate to the money they make from the shopfront, which they say is negligible.
Mrs Wheeler said: “You always see people stopping. We sell so few paintings from the window. Most of our sales are word-of-mouth.”
The couple received a court order demanding they pay the rates and have since lodged an appeal.
They were told they would have to pay back any arrears at 38 per cent interest.
Mrs Wheeler said: “One woman from the council told us that if I took out the paintings and our phone number or turn them around and only have them on display when we were in the window ourselves, we would be all right. The paintings used to be there to hide the bikes, now the bikes are hiding the paintings. We’re not trying to pay nothing at all but what they are asking is a vast amount of money.”
The couple were told the first four metres of a building were deemed the most valuable, which is how the rates were calculated.
Since they took the paintings down, passers-by have stopped to say how disappointed they are at the loss of the art.
“We put the notice in the window because we wanted to tell the people who’d been enjoying the paintings what had happened,” said Mrs Wheeler.
The couple said neighbours used to measure how popular a particular piece was by watching the traffic slow down as it passed by.
“It became a particular focal point at Christmas when the Wheelers decked it out with fairy lights.
Mr Wheeler added: “My inclination is just to put the shutters up.
“It’s hard to sell paintings anyway, particularly at this time.”
An Islington Council spokesman said the Town Hall was responsible for collecting rates but it was the Inland Revenue who set the charges.

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