The owner of an independent boutique in Darlington has received a series of bills amounting to thousands of pounds because “the shop has two doors.”

Betty’s Boudoir on Blackwellgate, in Darlington, opened in November 2021, following on from the success of the original Betty’s Boudoir branch in Sedgefield, opened in 2018.

Yesterday (Thursday, February 16) Lily received a bill for £1663.27 to be paid by Wednesday, March 8.

For the first 11 months the Darlington shop was open, owner Lily Ho was charged business rates of roughly £250 per month.

The Northern Echo: Lily Ho, Betty's BoudoirLily Ho, Betty's Boudoir (Image: Sarah Caldecott, Newsquest)

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Although she was expecting the rates to increase after her first year in business, Lily was shocked to see that she was now expected to pay £500 a month.

Lily said: “It was agreed that it was going to be £250 a month for the first year and we set up a direct debit to the council and then in October 2022 we got another bill through for the whole of 2022 telling is to pay it upfront, and we had to pay by November 1.

“That bill was for £791, and since then each month we’ve had a bill for £500.

“Initially I was confused because I’d already had a bill, so I thought they thought I hadn’t been paying when I had.”

The Northern Echo: Betty's Boudoir in Darlington, with the shop's two doors picturedBetty's Boudoir in Darlington, with the shop's two doors pictured (Image: Sarah Caldecott, Newsquest)

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Lily contacted the council to ask why the extra bills kept coming, despite paying her direct debit every month for her business rates, but was told that if she failed to pay the bill she would be “blacklisted.”

Panicking, Lily paid the money. Her problems, however, didn’t end there.

The council told Lily she would have to speak with the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). She put in an application for the VOA to revaluate her business.

The building from where Betty’s Boudoir operates has two doors, only one of which is in use as the other is blocked off.

The Northern Echo: Betty's Boudoir, Blackwellgate, DarlingtonBetty's Boudoir, Blackwellgate, Darlington (Image: Sarah Caldecott, Newsquest)

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Lily said: “I think they (the VOA) had seen that we have two doors and decided that it’s two separate businesses and so we’ve been charged double, so we’ve been billed for both Number 35 and 36 Blackwellgate. So, they’ve valued us without even physically entering the shop because I’ve not spoken to anyone valuing it.

“It’s been really stressful. Business is hard enough as it is with the cost of living and people not spending as much so I feel like it’s just getting harder and harder for small businesses.

“Last Christmas was our worst Christmas since the business started. We’ve noticed a massive decline in footfall. It’s has made me question the future of Betty’s in Darlington because this isn’t sustainable.”

The Northern Echo approached Darlington Borough Council who said the authority had no role to play in the valuation of the property and it was a matter for the VOA.

A VOA spokesperson said: "We cannot comment on individual cases.

"The rateable value for a retail property reflects its open market rental value. Valuations depend on a wide range of factors, for example, where it’s located and its size.

"Ratepayers can check the details held about their property and report any changes by using the VOA Check and Challenge service." 

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Since the Echo contacted the two parties, Lily was approached by the council and was told she could apply for Retail Discount which would mean she could pay half the business rates.

Lily said: “Why wasn’t I told that from the beginning? They could’ve told me that 18 months ago but they’ve only told me about that today (February 16).

“Nothing’s been clear. I’ve had no breakdown on what these bills are for and no one’s been able to answer these questions.

“I know it’s not up to the council but they’re the ones sending me these bills, and if there was help there, I should’ve been told that from the start.”

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