CASH-strapped council chiefs have been criticised after issuing charities and community groups in St Helens with rate demands.
Scout leader Jan Smee, from the St Andrews Scout Group in Windle, told of her horror after her group received a £240 per month non-domestic rate demand for the first time in their 91-year history.
Until now, the council has always applied “discretionary rate relief” to scout groups and charities, with central Government picking up the other 80 per cent of the bill.
A Town Hall spokeswoman claimed groups had simply been asked to re-apply for rate relief, as recommended in an audit report, but admitted it was NINE years since a similar request was last made.
Mrs Smee said: “I couldn’t believe it when we received the rate demand. I’ve been scouting for 44 years and we’ve never had one before - I thought it was a mistake. All charities that occupy buildings have been sent them too. I can’t help thinking it’s just because of the council’s financial situation.
“But what has really annoyed me about this is that everyone involved in our scout group does it for nothing. We’re all fully trained, give our time and don’t cost the council a penny. And they’ve got the cheek to send us this bill when we’re providing a community service.”
The rate demand letter, seen by the St Helens Reporter, calls on the 15th St Helens Scout Group - which has a waiting list until 2016 - to pay £240 per month this year for the use of their Dartmouth Drive base.
In response, Mrs Smee hand-delivered a letter to the Town Hall which detailed the scout group’s limited finances and requested that the discretionary rate relief be re-applied.
She added: “Our group is run on a shoestring as it is and we’ve not budgeted for this - it has come totally out of the blue. Any money we have left over at the end of each year goes towards trips out. Last year the beavers went to Speke Hall and the cubs went to Martin Mere.
“If we were forced to pay these rates I don’t think our scout group could continue. The subs would be too expensive. Although we’re based in Windle we take children from all backgrounds and I know, from experience, that the service we provide would cost an absolute fortune for the council to replace.”
A council spokeswoman said a decision was likely by the end of the month.
She said: “Charities receive what is called a discretionary rate. The council is currently reviewing this and they have been notified that they will have to re-apply for discretionary rates. These will be judged against qualifying criteria.
“This has not been reviewed for some time and it is considered best practice to update from time to time.”