Published: June 26, 2013
£2,000 council bill puts Highbridge shop's future in jeopardy

A charitable business in Highbridge that sells second-hand furniture to residents on low incomes could be forced to shut after being landed with a £2,000 rates demand by Sedgemoor District Council.

Kim Chatwin and Tina Gray, who run Highbridge Furniture Ltd in Morland Road, say the organisation is run on a very tight budget and cannot afford to operate without business rates tax relief.

"This is a not-for-profit organisation and Sedgemoor is able to give groups like us 100% rate relief but instead it has asked to pay £2,079, which is a huge sum for a small group to find. It puts the whole future off our shop in question," Tina told this week.

"We already owe £600 on top of the £200 monthly payments from July and have to pay rent, water, fuel and power bills as well."

"The shop is a real community lifeline for many people here in Highbridge. It is an essential organisation that helps many people on low incomes and closing it would have a big impact on them."

But Sedgemoor District Council spokeswoman Claire Faun explained the reason for the tax demand: "Sedgemoor District Council can only consider discretionary rate relief from registered charities. There are criteria that have to be met by any organisation applying for relief to ensure fairness and transparency for all the organisations who apply for relief."

"Our Grant Panel also did not approve the request for a grant, but suggested that Highbridge Furniture links up with similar organisations to avoid duplication of resources and effort."

Tina says the proposal to link up with Sedgemoor Furniture Store "is not an option" as the Highbridge shop operates in a more community-centred way and that local residents are keen for this to continue.

Highbridge Furniture received a Mayor's Community Award earlier this year from former Mayor Ken Smout, as pictured and featured here. He praised the group's work and enthusiasm and said the shop was a great example of localism and community spirit in action.

Tina says the shop is now considering its next steps with an appeal against the council's tax demand likely. She has already received the support of local councillor Helen Groves who says she wants to help the shop survive.


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