Blind panic averted for business owner as local council steps in to help

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A blinds company in Studley was saved from dire financial straits by Stratford District Council after overly expensive bills put it on the brink of collapse during the pandemic.

Ellie Johnson, managing director of Cre8tive Blinds on Crooks Lane Business Park, was issued with a much bigger bill than expected for her business rates in May as well as further bills in later months which were also too high.

But Stratford District Council worked seven days a week on Ellie’s case, the bills were corrected, and Ellie’s business was able to carry on.

Now, business has picked up for Cre8tive Blinds and Ellie is hopeful of a strong 2021 after a major scare in 2020.

Ellie said: “When I opened those bills, I couldn’t believe the amount on them – I knew something was wrong straight away.

“Without the council’s help in getting the bills corrected, our company would have gone backwards by about two or three years.

“I was able to contact their team in the day, the evening, and even at weekends. They just went above and beyond to help us out, and I want to thank them for what they’ve done for us.

“The second half of 2020 saw our business return a bit, so we’re now in a better position. But if we’d have had to pay all that money, we’d really be struggling.”

Cre8tive Blinds has three separate small units, but still qualifies for rate relief as the total floor area of the units is below a certain level.

However, in May, the business was incorrectly billed separately for all three units, which would have meant rate relief no longer applied.

This meant Ellie had to pay an extra £450 a month – with several backdated bill payments significantly adding to the cost.

She immediately tried to rectify the mistake by calling the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), which sets business rates for companies.

But because of the pandemic, Ellie was unable to reach anyone at the VOA who could help her.

As a last resort, she contacted Stratford District Council, and was able to get hold of someone at the Revenues department.

The team listened to Ellie and took on her case, helping her file the necessary paperwork to get the bills changed, and visited Cre8tive Blinds to assess the buildings to check if they could be merged together for rate relief.

While the council was helping Ellie, she received subsequent bills which were also too high, increasing the business’s debt.

The council was also able to help Cre8tive Blinds receive a ‘hardship grant’ to keep them going.

Eventually, the VOA accepted the council’s findings, which meant rate relief applied to Cre8tive Blinds and Ellie’s bills were massively reduced.

Cllr Jo Barker, Portfolio Holder for People at Stratford District Council, said: “It’s so important that we look out for our businesses when they need us, even if that means having to go the extra mile to help them.

“Without the intervention of our diligent revenues team, Cre8tive Blinds would be in a desperate financial position.

“It’s wonderful to hear that Ellie has been able to keep her business afloat thanks to the council doing a good job. We wish her all the best as we head into 2021 and aim to get the district’s economy moving forward.”

And David Platts, Head of Customer Services at Stratford District Council, said: “This year has been difficult for businesses for all sorts of reasons, but Ellie’s case was particularly challenging.

“It isn’t nice to receive an overly-large bill at any time, but to be issued one in the middle of a pandemic when times are tough is especially worrying.

“I’m really proud that our revenues team was able to help Ellie at Cre8tive Blinds by getting her bills reduced, saving the business from financial hardship.

“We would encourage any business within the district with questions about their business rates to contact the council directly.”