Belfast Telegraph

Retailers lose court fight over business rates bill on free ATMs outside shops

Fears are mounting over the future of free 'hole in the wall' cash machines attached to shops after retailers lost a key court battle over business rates bills on ATMs.

A legal ruling published on Thursday upheld a controversial decision in 2013 t hat cash machines built into the front of a shop or petrol station should have a separate business rates bill.

Now retailers' hopes of clawing back £200 million in rebates for past rates paid have been dashed, while they are also facing a mammoth £206 million bill for the next five years under the recent revaluation.

There are concerns that small shops and independent petrol forecourts may be forced to close ATMs or start charging for cash withdrawals.

It comes as the sector is already facing crippling rate rises under this month's revaluation.

Figures compiled for the Press Association by rents and rates specialists CVS showed that hefty rates bill hikes from April 1 are costing retailers £39.3 million a year - or nearly £2,800 on average for each ATM.

The figures from rents and rates specialists CVS show the number of cash machines being liable for business rates has surged from 3,140 in 2010 to 14,068 this year.

The judgment, which was made in the Upper Tribunal last week and published today, follows a long-running case brought by a raft of retailers, including major supermarkets Sainsbury's, Tesco and the Co-operative Group, as well as non-bank ATM operator Cardtronics Europe.

Retailers were sent reeling after the 2013 decision by the Government to charge rates on 'hole in the wall' cashpoints, which saw b ills sent to thousands of retailers in 2014, backdated to the start of the last tax regime in April 2010.

Almost one in six - or more than 196,000 - current business rates appeals lodged with the Valuation Tribunal Service relate to cash machines, according to a recent freedom of information request by CVS.

CVS has slammed the Government's move to charge rates on cash machines as a "stealth tax" and said it could deprive many communities of vital access to cash, given swathes of bank branch closures across the UK.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) wants to see local authorities use funds announced in the Budget for business rates relief to reduce cost burden for hard-hit retailers.

While ATMs attached to retailers are having to pay rates, the regime does not apply to free-standing cash machines within stores.

But it still affects many thousands of hole-in-the-wall ATMs.

A spokesman for CVS said retailers are expected to lodge an appeal against the ruling.

He said: "Given the importance of the decision, both sides indicated that they would wish to appeal an adverse decision to the Court of Appeal. As such the battle looks set to rumble on.

"However, in the short term, there won't be any respite in tax liabilities which is going to hit small retailers and forecourts the hardest."

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: "Sadly this ruling will make it harder for retailers to offer free-to-use cash machines that are accessible from the outside of their store.

"This will have wide ranging and damaging implications not just for convenience stores, but also for small businesses, markets and other services on high streets and in neighbourhoods where this is often the only local free source of cash."

He added the ruling shows "what a mess the business rates system is in" following the recent revaluation.