Charity shops: One third could close if rates help cut

Wales now has more than 500 charity shops

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A third of charity shops in Wales could close if business rate relief is cut, a charities group has warned.

Members of the Charity Retail Association (CRA) are lobbying AMs at the Senedd later in a bid to avert a hike in the rates they pay.

A review proposed changing the relief rate from 80% to 50% and tightening eligibility criteria.

This would limit the number of premises eligible or limiting relief to one charity in a given area.

A government consultation on the review is due to end in the new year and the Welsh government said a task group was seeking the views of charities.

The review of business rates was carried out by Professor Brian Morgan, who reported his findings in June.

The CRA says if implemented the effect of the changes on charities and their beneficiaries would be "disastrous".

Wales has over 500 charity shops and the association represents about 70% of them.

Its spokeswoman Wendy Mitchell said there had been some misinformation about charity shops that they were keen to correct in a face-to-face meeting with AMs.

Charity shops: views on the streets of Aberystwyth

Russell Patterson

Russell Patterson, 38, from Newcastle Emlyn in Carmarthenshire, said: "I use charity shops all the time because you can always find a really good bargain and quality goods.

"I don't think there's too many. I'd rather see a shop used, and that gives a town life.

"I can see there's an issue around saturation, but I've never been to a town and thought: 'There are too many charity shops here.'"

Ann McSweeney, 50, from Penuwch, near Tregaron, said she had not been using charity shops as often as she used to.

"I think the prices have been going up and they don't seem to be as good value as they have been," she said.

"It's not good to see empty shops in towns, and even if it's a charity shop it's contributing something to that town.

"They do spend a lot of money on administration. I have read that some of them spend 75% on administration, so that does pose questions.

"I don't know whether they should be officially capped though."

Darren Beecroft, 38, from Aberystwyth, said having a shop serving the public was better than empty premises.

"In this current climate I think anything that puts forward an air of generosity is a good thing.

"I think it's an awful shame (that charity shop business rate relief could be cut).

"People working at these shops are often doing so for free and they're working to help other people and people in need."

"We want people to understand that the result of these proposals will mean charity shops closing," she told BBC News.

"There will be a reduction in services and jobs lost and the associated benefits of charity shops being on the high street will be lost."

She said having the shops led to "reducing landfill, carbon dioxide emissions, [and] providing high quality items to people on low incomes".

Ms Mitchell added there had been a 2-3% growth in charity shops per year since the start of the recession in 2008, which she believed may be why they were seen as an "easy target".

"They are doing well partly because people don't have a large income amount of money at the moment."

Landlords relieved

Monday marked the opening of a large charity shop opened in Newport city centre.

The YMCA has started trading in the former Mothercare shop on Commercial Street, just two weeks after the St Anne's Hospice charity shop moved into the nearby premises of the former Next store.

Cancer charity Tenovus has 44 shops across Wales, which their head of retail Tim Finch says bring over £4m into the Welsh economy.

"With the exception of one, all the the shops we've taken on have been empty for some time - up to two years," he added.

"In some cases the previous tenant had gone into administration and so the landlord was very relieved to have a reliable tenant with a secure covenant."

One of the landlords for Tenovus is John Lewis in Maesteg, who said the charity was the only organisation with an interest in signing a long-term lease.

"If Tenovus hadn't come on board, I suspect my property would have remained empty for at least another 12 months," he said.

"Not only would this have been terrible for me from a business point of view, but also for the high street and local community as an empty shop doesn't bode well."

The Welsh government said business minister Edwina Hart was "sensitive to the many viewpoints on the issue of business rates relief for charities".

A spokesperson said Ms Hart had asked Prof Morgan and Juliet Luporini, from the business rates task and finish group, seek the views of charities, business and others.

They would also look at whether reliefs could meaningfully support social enterprises and credit unions.

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