Cornwall Councillors Back Rate Relief for Charities

20.02.12: Members of Cornwall Council are committed to supporting local community groups and charities in Cornwall and have pledged that organisations such as village halls, scout and guide groups and local charities will not lose out as a result of a proposed review of the discretionary rate relief scheme

Under current national legislation charitable organisations can apply for 80% mandatory rate relief from the Government and a further 20% discretionary rate relief from the Council. Non profit making organisations such as village halls, sports and arts clubs, community groups, including scouts and guides groups, bands and musical groups, charity shops and heritage organisations, can apply for up to 100 discretionary rate relief.

2,300 organisations in Cornwall currently receive the mandatory rate relief from the Government. Of these around 1,600 also receive the 20% top up rate relief from the Council. Each of the six former district and borough councils had different guidelines for awarding discretionary rate relief. Although discretionary rate relief guidelines were agreed for the new unitary council in 2009, there are still a number of anomalies in place.

A working group of Members from the Council’s Corporate Resources and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committees, set up to consider this issue last year, has recommended that the Council formally reviews these arrangements and draws up new more detailed guidelines to ensure there is a consistent approach across Cornwall

“At present a significant number of organisations, including some which can raise income from charging fees, are receiving discretionary rate relief” said Steve Double, the Council’s portfolio holder for alternative service delivery and shared services and a member of the working group.  “There are also likely to be additional financial implications arising from the Government’s proposals for local retention of business rates. We want to make sure that the funding which is available for this scheme is targeted at the smaller community groups and organisations such as the local scout group, musical or drama group or village hall, which is what the scheme was originally intended to do. The aim of the review is to ensure that we can continue to support these local groups and organisations and I would like to reassure them that the Council does not intend to reduce the level of discretionary rate relief they currently receive.”

National legislation requires all recipients of discretionary rate relief to be given a full year’s notice of any potential change- even if they are unlikely to see a reduction in the level of their rate relief. This means that existing recipients will be sent letters giving formal notice of the review by the end of March so that any changes can come into force in April 2013.

Steve Double added, “We appreciate that some groups might be worried if they receive a letter but want to reassure them that the Council remains committed to supporting community groups and local charities. However we are legally obliged to send letters to all organisations receiving the discretionary relief. The working group has been asked to draw up new guidelines which will be considered by the Cabinet in June. We will then be consulting on the options over the summer with a final report going to the Cabinet in November. Organisations receiving the discretionary relief will then be advised of the level of their relief for 2013/14 by the end of the year.”

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