12
Okt
2005

IS THE COUNCIL TAX PAYER SUBSIDISING MOBILE PHONE MULTINATIONALS?

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Mast Sanity Press Release: 11 OCTOBER 2005
(For immediate release)

IS THE COUNCIL TAX PAYER SUBSIDISING MOBILE PHONE MULTINATIONALS?

PENSIONERS ARE BEING JAILED FOR NON-PAYMENT OF COUNCIL TAX WHILE MOBILE PHONE COMPANIES USE LEGAL SYSTEM TO TRY TO AVOID RATES.

Mast Sanity is urging a full investigation into whether mobile phone companies who erect masts on both public and private property and land are meeting all their obligations in paying business rates, following a Court of Appeal ruling last year.

Lord Justices Auld, Thomas and Jacob ruled in the Supreme Court of Judicature Court of Appeal (Civil Division) on appeal in February 2004 that the mobile phone operators are commercial companies and must therefore declare and pay business rates on mobile phone masts.

In the light of the ruling, Mast Sanity believes that not only should business rates be paid but also paid at the correct level. This also means that business rates are payable not only on phone masts on highways land but on all masts including those on Government buildings and in parks. This would also include schools, blocks of private flats, churches and sports stadia. The relevant parts of such premises should be reclassified as business use and full business rates would then be payable.

Mast Sanity has been in touch with a number of local authorities about this court judgment. Some authorities are now investigating whether all the money owed is being collected and whether the District Valuer is satisfied that mobile phone companies are meeting all of their business rates obligations.

"The mobile phone companies are presently going through the European Court claiming VAT back on the 3g licence fees they paid, yet may be keeping very quiet about the significant sums of money they could owe in business rates," says Mast Sanity Trustee Yasmin Skelt.

"Mast Sanity believes there are a number of ‘hidden’ masts of which local authorities have no record, that should be subject to business rates. The fact that no proper records and databases have ever been maintained on phone masts, and many masts have slipped through planning loopholes, means that avoidance of business rates by these multinationals could run into millions. A number of hard working small businesses have been struggling to survive because of increases in business rates imposed on them, yet these multinationals could be avoiding business rates. Pensioners are facing the same increases in council tax and are being jailed because they are unable to pay the huge taxes imposed on them."

Mast Sanity also believes that the case also raises the question of whether these companies should be paying rent on highways and public land land in line with the rents they pay to private landowners.

"The Government should be looking at local authority accounts as a matter of urgency," says Mast Sanity Communications Director Karen Barratt. "Phone masts on highway verges are often close to houses and schools. The companies choose these sites because they are a cheap and easy option. If they are forced to pay rent in addition to the business rates they should be paying they might start looking for more appropriate sites."

Mast Sanity believes this matter should be properly scrutinized and clarified by parliament and it should be established if these commercial companies should be paying rent on public land that they are using to increase their profits. If it transpires that they are not legally obliged to pay commercial rent for use of public land to pursue their business interests then the Government should immediately take steps to change the law so that they do have to pay commercial rent in the same way as other businesses. Mast Sanity questions the basis of why free use of public land should be allowed for commercial purposes since this does not seem to be in the public interest. In effect, it means that ordinary people are subsidizing mobile phone masts through their council taxes.

ENDS

Notes for editors The formal title of the relevant case is:
Orange PCS v Bradford (Valuation Officer) [2004] EWCA Civ 155 (17 February 2004) and the Full text of the Judgement is available from: //www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/markup.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2004/155.html
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