High Court shuts down empty rates scam

Thirteen companies involved in a scheme that originated in Manchester to assist landlords to avoid paying business rates on vacant properties have been closed following an Insolvency Service investigation.

The investigation found that the companies formed part of a scheme devised and operated by a company run out of Worsley by a Brian Russell which allowed landlords of commercial and industrial property to avoid national non-domestic rates liabilities payable on empty premises.

The scheme was initially used by the Manchester company, solely for its own properties, but around April 2009 this was extended to properties owned by approximately 100 third party landlords. The enquiry found that between March 2008 and 31 March 2011, operation of the scheme had facilitated the avoidance of paying business rate liabilities of approximately £8.9m and generated fee income of £1.4m for the company operating the scheme.

In winding-up the 13 companies, the court found that they never traded. Instead, they were used as vehicles in the operation of the scheme under which they signed a lease in respect of premises which would otherwise have been vacant. Each of the companies were then placed into members voluntary liquidation but no liquidator was appointed to deal with the winding-up of its affairs. The effect was that the landlord was no longer liable for business rates and the councils were unable to collect any national non-domestic rates due on the premises.

The court also found that there was a lack of transparency over the identities of those controlling the affairs of the companies.

Investigation Supervisor, Alex Deane, said: "In making the decision to wind-up these companies, the court is sending a clear message that schemes which abuse the insolvency regime to avoid paying business rates liabilities are not acceptable."

The companies are:

  • BR Packaging Limited
  • HR Packaging Limited
  • XR Services Limited
  • SYM Services Limited
  • FTY Services Limited
  • JRE Services Limited and
  • KGR Services Limited

All the above companies had their registered office at Former Eatons Site, Norfolk Street, Off Worsley Road North, Worsley, Manchester, M28 3GJ. The sole director of the companies is Mr Brian Russell.

  • Dorset Solutions Limited
  • Wareham Services Limited
  • Okeford Properties Limited and
  • Melchett Property Services Limited.

All of these had their registered offices at The Old Bakery, 23 Worthington Crescent, Whitecliff, Poole, BH14 8BN. The sole director of the companies is Nigel Pigott.

  • Penywern Solutions Limited and
  • Pennant Solutions Limited.

The latter two had their registered offices at Suite 49, 235 Earls Court Road, London, SW5 9FE. The sole director of the companies is Toufic Kahale.

The petitions were presented under s.124A of the Insolvency Act 1986 on 31 May 2011 and the Winding-up Orders were made on 27 July 2011.

The Insolvency Service carries out confidential enquiries on behalf of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills through its Companies Investigation unit.

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