Village pub fails to qualify because of parish boundary
Another loophole has emerged in the Government's extension of mandatory rate relief to village pubs.
Sole village pubs in certain rural settlements are now eligible for the 50 per cent relief, but some struggling licensees have found they do not qualify because they fall the wrong side of a local boundary.
Tony Hibbert, licensee of the Red Lion in Whyteleafe, Hertfordshire, has been running his freehouse for three years. He said he was finding it hard to manage financially and works full time in another job simply to keep the pub open.
"We're a little country pub," he said. "The foot-and-mouth crisis has hit us hard, but even without it trade is down. The rate relief would help us enormously."
But when Mr Hibbert applied for the 50 per cent relief he was told he did not qualify.
The Red Lion is the only pub in Whyteleafe, but unfortunately the village is considered to be part of nearby Princes Risborough.
Government guidelines state that to qualify a pub must have a rateable value of under £9,000 and be in a settlement of fewer than 3,000 people. Princes Risborough has a population of about 8,000 people.
Mr Hibbert said: "Princes Risborough is about a mile away from Whyteleafe but we are a separate settlement. We're down an old Roman road - off the beaten track really. A pub another mile down the road qualifies for the relief because it is in a different parish."
Last month, a council in Essex was accused of finding similar excuses.
Licensee Scouse Crathern of the Blacksmith Arms in Mistley Heath, Essex, was refused rate relief because his local authority, Tendring District Council, considers his village to be part of a settlement nearby. (See Lack of relief may close pub (16 May, 2001)for more details.)
Mr Hibbert said: "We really need the laws on boundaries changed or clarified if the rate relief is going to work for the people that need it most."
The Government agreed to extend the mandatory rate relief scheme to pubs following extensive lobbying efforts by the trade. These included letters and signatures from over 400 rural licensees and their customers collected by The Publican Newspaper as part of its Save our Rural Pubs campaign.
Campaigners warned ministers that failure to offer a financial aid package could force many small rural pubs to close. Now it is feared the criteria for the scheme could still exclude many of the hardest hit who have rateable values over the £9,000 limit or whose pubs are in larger settlements.