Do they know it’s Christmas? Restaurant owner despairs at rates bill

Jonny and Charlotte Heyes at Nell's Kampus
One of Manchester’s most innovative restaurateurs Jonny Heyes has opened up to about his dealings with Manchester City Council’s rates office after being hit with a bill that could tip his business over the edge.
Heyes believes delays at the council’s rates office meant he was unable to apply for COVID support or discounts for the hospitality sector, through no fault of his, or his team.
Heyes, who runs the business with his wife Charlotte, has been a stand out icon of the Manchester hospitality scene for over 15 years having run Northern Quarter institution Common, along with Port Street Beer House, The Beagle in Chorlton and Sadler’s Yard based The Pilcrow.
They took on a new site for Nell’s Pizza at Kampus in June 2021 and after fitting out the site launched in November 2021.
“We were soon hit with the Omicron wave of COVID,” he said.
His frustration comes from being unable to access the support set up to help businesses like his, because of a delay to the listing of the new premises.
“In December 2021 the Omicron Support payment was announced which was to be distributed via the business rates list. This instigated my first contact with Manchester City Council to make sure we were properly listed and would receive the support,” he said.
“This was followed by regular calls to both the Business Rates office and VOA (the government’s business rates assessment arm).
“We didn’t receive any response. I tasked my finance manager at the time to continue calling and it wasn’t until Spring 2023 that we got any response.
“A valuation was done in the summer of 2023, we then received a bill in August 2023 with no hospitality discount applied even though we are clearly listed as a Restaurant and Bar on the bill.
“We’ve now been in contact with the Rate Office and are being told that they can’t apply the discount retrospectively and are demanding the full amount of rates for 21/22 and 22/23. There is seemingly no way of recouping the £15k of Omicron payment which we missed out on too. We’ve been putting money aside for the rates bill when it eventually arrived but taking into account the expected discount.
“So the money we’re being asked for we don’t have.”
He is concerned now that despite all of his promotion for the city and the sector, and a successful launch in a popular new location, the lack of support and understanding from Manchester City Council has abandoned them and left him in despair.
Heyes is also behind two annual beer festivals, Indy Man Beer Con and Summer Beer Thing.
“The last few years have been extremely tough but we’ve managed to make our way through, COVID, recruitment crisis, energy price crisis, rampant food inflation and the rest,” he said.
“This might just be the thing that tips us over the edge, something that should just be a common sense application of what we are due.”

Heyes has been in contact with night time economy adviser Sacha Lord who has frequently spoken out on difficulties faced by hospitality businesses.

A spokesperson for Manchester City Council said they are looking into the issue and confirmed that Nell’s Kampus was not on the business rates register. They also confirmed that if they weren’t registered as a rateable business by VOA at the point Omicron grant support was live, then the government doesn’t allow backdated grants, even though it does seem to have been caused by a delay in valuation.

The latest blow comes as Owen Bassett, a insolvency and hospitality expert at credit insurer Atradius UK, advises the sector to prepare for a rough new year lull.

“Staying tuned in to consumer habits will be vital for hospitality firms, especially as we approach a quieter-than-normal January. Consumer priorities, such as convenient online experiences (for example using booking apps), sustainable practices, and the largest uplift in recreation and culture that we saw in Q1 2023, all highlight a major opportunity for businesses that can overcome a downturn in consumer spending.”