Thirteen charities have warned that a hike in charity shop rates in Northern Ireland could mean they would have £5.5m less to spend on the most vulnerable.
A total of 18,648 charity shop customers from all over Northern Ireland signed a petition calling for charity shops to retain their no rates status – 2,262 of these were from Cancer Focus NI customers. Another 1,325 people sent an email of support to their local MLAs.
Charity shops are currently entitled to up to 100% relief on their business rates, but this being reviewed by the Department of Finance at Stormont with the possibility that the relief could be reduced or eliminated.
The 13 charities, headed by Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, British Heart Foundation NI and Cancer Research UK, launched a new campaign – #MoreThanAShop – calling on Finance Minister Mervyn Storey to ring-fence their rates bills.
They insist that their shops boost local business, provide jobs and help tackle social isolation as well as helping people in need.
One charity estimated that even a 20% rise in its rates would mean they may have to axe potentially life-saving health checks for 1,142 local people.
Robin Osterley, Chief Executive of the Charity Retail Association, said: “Every year the charity retail sector raises around £10.5m for good causes in Northern Ireland including tackling poverty, funding world-leading medical research and running local hospices.
Less for most vulnerable
“If our charity shops had to pay full rates, this could mean up to £5.5m would no longer be available to charities to fund their vital life-saving and life-changing work.
“Our shops create jobs, contribute to a thriving high street, and provide 5,400 volunteering opportunities, helping young people to gain important work skills and older people to combat social isolation.
“They also help attract visitors to the high street even during economic downturns, provide good quality products for local people on a budget, and divert over 21,000 tonnes of textile from landfill, saving local authorities very significant sums in landfill tax.
“A 100% rates bill could result in 52% of charity shops closing with 409 redundancies and 1,862 volunteer posts lost.”
Mr Osterley said that while no specific changes to the rates system had yet been announced, research from the Charity Retail Association indicated that even small amendments to the current system would have a huge impact on the wider work of the sector.
The public can help lobby their MLAs on this issue on www.morethanashop.com The 13 charities supporting the campaign are Cancer Focus NI, Age NI, British Red Cross, British Heart Foundation, Cancer Focus NI, Cancer Research UK, Concern Worldwide, East Belfast Mission, Marie Curie, NI Hospice, Oxfam Ireland, Save the Children, Action Cancer and War on Want NI. The campaign is also supported by the Charity Retail Association and the Northern Ireland Community and Voluntary Association (NICVA).