A SHOPKEEPER is being prosecuted for refusing to pay more than £1,200 in business rates due to disruptive building work outside her store.
Georgina Henderson, who runs Foam Fashion in Hart Street, Henley, claims her takings have fallen drastically and that she couldn’t afford to make two payments of £601 to South Oxfordshire District Council earlier this year.
She has been summonsed to appear at Oxford Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday.
Ms Henderson, 51, who has run the boutique since 2006, says her business has been badly disrupted by the construction of two houses in a courtyard behind the shop.
The work has meant that three parking spaces on the road outside the store have been fenced off since March last year to provide a storage area for skips and building materials.
Ms Henderson, who lives in Duke Street, says the noise and smell puts off customers and her takings have halved. A neighbouring salon called the Rules of Beauty closed in October after just six months.
She said: “The work is due to finish in September this year but the amount of comments we have had from customers is huge. They come in and are then distracted by the noise and leave, especially mums with pushchairs.”
She first complained to the Henley Standard in April last year when an industrial-sized skip was place in the parking spaces, almost totally blocking her shop from view.
In October, she demanded compensation from Oxfordshire County Council, which licensed the use of the parking spaces, after a cement mixer repeatedly blocked the shopfront and made a loud noise. Another skip also appeared.
At the time, Ms Henderson said: “I’m not opposed to progress whatsoever and it’s really good that they are doing the building work but the council is receiving money for the construction and the space it’s using.
“I’m still paying full rates from a private landlord but the council has completely ignored my trade. I should receive compensation.
“It would cost a lot to move and I haven’t got any money coming in. Why should I move because of the construction work?”
In March, she contacted the business rates office to tell them she would struggle to pay her rates and claims she made a verbal agreement to pay £601 by the end of that month and the rest when she was able to. Ten days later, she received the summons telling her the district council was taking her to court for the unpaid charges and £75 in administration costs.
Ms Henderson said: “Basically, I didn’t have the money to pay the rates for February and March this year. My landlord knows about the situation and has been taking 40 to 60 per cent off my rent for the time being but the business rates are charged whether I have the money or not.
“I’ve looked at the takings from the shop and I know we are in recession but they have been severely worse since the skips and fence have been here. I understand that due to the location of the houses being built it is essential that they have a place for deliveries and storage as close as possible, which happens to be outside my shop.
“However, I feel that it is the district council’s obligation to ensure that local traders are supported. I’ve approached every office at the council that I can think of and have been sending emails since April last year. No one is taking responsibility.
“I’ve now applied for a business rates reduction from when the work started but in the interim it doesn’t help me.”
She is now organising a petition asking for compensation in the form of a business rates reduction for the duration of the building work and hopes other shopkeepers will sign it.
“I’m not happy with this at all,” said Ms Henderson. “I’ve been screaming for something to be done for more than a year but I shouldn’t have to.
“Compensation or reduced rates should be part of the council’s plan of action when they know work is taking place. At this rate, this will kill Foam.”
A district council spokeswoman said: “The council has attempted to accommodate Ms Henderson on several occasions and also offered advice about making contact with the Valuation Office regarding the reassessment of business rates due to the ongoing works.
“However, unltimately, we have to protect the council’s interests by taking legal action when debts are due.
“Up to this point we have done our utmost to assist Ms Henderson and will continue to do so.”
The houses are being built by Henley developer Court Park Properties on behalf of River 88.