Local authorities operating postcode lottery on business rates and waste management for charity shops

We have today published a new report, Councils and Charity Shops, revealing how charity shops across Britain are falling victim to inconsistent and unfair policies on business rates relief and waste management.

We surveyed more than 400 local authorities in England, Scotland, and Wales about their policies on charity shops.

The report reveals huge variances in the support local authorities offer to charity shops across the UK. As many as one in four local authorities do not actually know how many charity shops they have in their area, and the criteria by which they choose to allocate additional rates relief is often hidden or unclear.

Out of all local authorities surveyed, nearly a quarter choose to grant additional rate relief to charity shops on an individual basis, which often relies on personal relationships. As a whole, this means the process is inconsistent across the UK.

When it comes to waste disposal, local authorities in Scotland are far more likely to give charity shops a good deal than those in England and Wales.

Nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of local authorities in Scotland allow charity shops to dispose of any donations they are unable to sell. However, only 46 per cent of local authorities in Wales and 54 per cent in England do the same. Furthermore, many charities note that staff overseeing access to disposal sites are not always aware of this policy and sometimes incorrectly block access.

Chief Executive of the Charity Retail Association Robin Osterley said:

“Our extensive new report highlights the bizarre situation where charity shops from the same chain, delivering exactly the same services and performing in exactly the same way, can get a completely different package of support in terms of rate relief and waste disposal charges simply because they are located on different sides of an authority boundary.

“That’s why we are calling on local authorities to be mindful of their responsibilities to accept household waste coming from charity shops, and to be generous to charity shops when it comes to offering discretionary rate relief. We don’t believe the current system offers consistent, transparent or fair support to shops across the country. And we are also calling for all local authorities to publish set criteria against which they will award discretionary rate relief.”

Summary of the report’s other key findings

 Business rates

  • Despite the wide-ranging discretion local authorities have to award local charity shops anywhere between one and 20 per cent of additional rate relief, most local authorities do not use these powers imaginatively and tend to grant a shop either the full 20 per cent or nothing at all
  • Unfortunately, the latter option is far more common – just seven per cent of local authorities grant the full discretionary rate relief to all their local charity shops – meaning the majority of our members’ shops will be paying some rates
  • Location has the biggest impact on how a local authority chooses to grant rate relief, ahead of type or political control. Those in Scotland tend to be far more generous in what business rates relief they will offer, followed by Wales
  • London boroughs, followed by authorities in Yorkshire, are the least generous

Waste sites

  • Most local authorities revealed that they do accept charity shop household waste (the small percentage of donations which cannot be sold on) at their household recycling sites, and that 68 per cent of these would not charge for doing so
  • The unitary authorities in Wales and London are least likely to offer these services and to offer them for free, but those located in the North of England, and even more so in Scotland, tend to be the most generous
  • When it comes to political control, local authorities run by independents have the strongest record of allowing charity shops to dispose of this kind of waste, but these authorities are few and far between
  • Despite mutual benefits, particularly the ability to reduce landfill, very few authorities (24 per cent), choose to run a partnership with a local charity retailer at their premises


Download the full report