A riding school established in 1965 faces closure after being hit with a huge hike in business rates.
Until recently Chris Tigg was paying around £340 pounds a month in business rates for Coltspring riding stables in Rickmansworth, but Three Rivers district council has decided that he has been underpaying.
“Our two indoor schools were rated as agricultural use which I had no idea about,” explains Chris. “They just came and did their job and worked out the rates – I never knew how they came to the original figure. But now they’ve realised they didn’t do their job properly and I’m having to pay for it.”
As a result, in addition to paying increased rates, charges have been backdated to 2010 leaving him with a bill of nearly £1,500 per month.
“We can’t afford it and I’ve told them that,” states Chris. “I offered to show them our bank account statements, but they just said that not being able to afford is not an excuse. And if we can’t pay they’ll send in the bailiffs.”
Increasing their income simply isn’t an option – even if they had the clients willing to pay for more lessons. Their horses can only work a certain number of hours a day, and to do otherwise would not only “run them ragged” it would contravene the animal welfare act 2006.
Chris is in little doubt that footing the bill will close the stables down, which his father and sister started nearly 50 years ago. He then took the business over 40 years, when he was just 16.
“I’ve spoken to the council about the animal welfare act, but they just said it’s not an excuse,” said Chris. “I also told them if we have to close down it will mean putting down some of our horses as they’re too old to sell. But again they just said it’s not their problem.”
One other option is build an outdoor school and use the indoor schools for storage, which will see the rates drop by a whopping £11,000 per year. But it took Chris and his dad six years to get planning permission for the schools and they provide a vital service for his business.
In the meantime, Chris has appealed the council’s decision and is paying £100 a month while waiting for the appeal to be heard. He has also asked his clients to write to local MP David Gauke, who is exchequer secretary to the treasury and therefore in a position to help.
“Running a stables is already an expensive business,” said Chris. “Our insurance alone is £800 a month insurance and then we have to provide feed got 35 horses. These business rates are going to destroy us.”