Hampstead Village BID levy won’t be enforced, despite ‘threatening’ legal letters to local shopkeepers

Matt Townsend and Keith Fawkes, outside Keith's shop in Flask Walk. Picture: Harry Taylor

Matt Townsend and Keith Fawkes, outside Keith's shop in Flask Walk. Picture: Harry Taylor - Credit: Archant

Businesses in Hampstead will not be taken to court if they do not pay the Business Improvement District (BID) levy this year, despite a letter threatening legal action if they didn’t pay within a week.

Shops got final reminder notices through the post in the last fortnight, telling them to pay the bill within seven days or face a summons and £155 in additional costs.

Snappy Snaps is being charged £900 for the year, including the months it was closed due to coronavirus. During the lockdown and since, the BID reduced the services it was providing, but in June said it had deferred the levy and would work with businesses in financial difficulty.

Many were concerned that the letter showed a change in stance from the BID and Camden Council, which collects the compulsory levy. Shop owners told the Ham&High that they were frustrated with still being asked to stump up for the annual fee amid a difficult trading year and fears about a further lockdown in London.

READ MORE: Shop Local: Hampstead is open say businesses and the BIDThe letter tells businesses: “Records show that the BID levy that you were previously asked to pay is unpaid and overdue.”

“If you do not pay £900 within 7 days, a summons will be issued without any further recovery notices being sent.”

Some have already paid due to the fear of going to court. Keith Fawkes, who runs a book and antiques shop in Flask Walk, said he was angry about facing a bill of £795 but feared the risk of not paying it.

He said: “They said if I didn’t pay it, I would be issued with a summons. The consequences of not paying it and worrying about it make it worth paying. If I went to court, or a few of us collectively did so, you can be paying a barrister £1,000 to represent you. It’s as broad as it is wide.

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“I do resent it. Frankly I can’t see the benefit to our part of Camden as a consequence of being asked to pay the money. What have they done?”

Meanwhile Jun Mustafa, who is the franchisee of Snappy Snaps in Rosslyn Hill described the situation as “blackmail”. He said the store hadn’t qualified for the Covid business grants from the government, and had to take out a bounce back loan.

“The have got us held over a barrel. ‘If you don’t pay we’ll take you to court.’ How can they justify charging the full amount?

“We’ve just been getting by. I didn’t take a wage during lockdown. If [the BID] said, it will be half or something, fine, it would be okay. But the full amount is unfair,” he said.

BID manager Marcos Gold told the Ham&High that the wording on the letter was a legal template. He added that the BID would not be issuing summonses or prosecuting anybody who did not pay the levy.

Mr Gold urged firms to contact him if they were unable to pay, but said that the law didn’t allow it to charge businesses a reduced fee, despite services offered by the BID including the summer and Christmas festival among those axed.

He said: “We have to bill them in full as a statutory requirement, as is the wording. What we can do is to give deferment payments or payment plans.

“Some people will be able to pay, the big multi-national corporations, but I’ve been working one-on-one with others who can’t. We are not going down the route of enforcement as that isn’t appropriate.”

The BID’s accounts will be presented to members at its AGM on October 28.

Hampstead Town councillor Oliver Cooper said he believed the BID was being “poorly advised” if it felt it had to send out the demands.

He said: “It is vitally important that councils do not put BIDs and businesses in a position where these demands are being sent out. The government gave funding to BIDs so they could keep going without having to bill businesses, and councils must make sure that money can cascade down to businesses. If the BID felt it didn’t have a choice, it is being badly advised and businesses poorly supported by Camden Council.” [ADDS A Camden Council spokesperson said: “The Hampstead Village BID instructed the council in June to bill its members for the current financial year (2020/21). Any bills that remained unpaid by September, were then sent a reminder notice at their request.

“The council’s role is purely administrative in collecting the levy, governed by a statutory process. The BID operator has informed us that no enforcement action will be taken for the foreseeable future, but this decision remains at their discretion to review.”