CHARITY shops in East Cambridgeshire are not playing by the rules and damaging local independent businesses according to a councillor and businessman.

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Former leader of East Cambs District Council Fred Brown, says that many charity shops across the district are now selling brand new items, putting them in direct competition with retailers who have to pay high rents and business rates.

Charity shops are guaranteed at least 50 per cent relief from business rates and almost always receive an additional 50 per cent from the district council as discretionary relief, saving them thousands of pounds.

Cllr Brown says that local business are already suffering from competition online and from a lack of support by says they are suffering a double-whammy when having to compete against charity shops which pay no rates or wages to volunteer staff.

He said: “Everybody seems to be afraid to say anything about charity shops – and im certainly not against them – but it has to be fair and equitable.

“When you have charities selling brand new and boxed musical instruments, books and stationary they are in direct competition with local retailers and it is not a level playing field.

“Charity shops should be what they are, selling second hand goods and hand-me-downs, otherwise it’s unfair competition. We looked at a unit in the High Street in Ely but the rates and rents were so high we just couldn’t afford it.

“Meanwhile you’ve got charity shops moving into empty units at a rapid rate.”

Cllr Brown said the district council should be reviewing every shop and looking at introducing a policy to limit the amount of discretionary rate relief they receive if they are in competition with local traders.

A spokesman for the council said: “We have worked long and hard to develop a discretionary rate scheme which is fair to businesses, charities and organisations throughout East Cambridgeshire.

“In recent months we consulted over a range of options in order to develop a balanced scheme. As part of this there is Government legislation which charities must adhere to regarding the items which they can sell in their shops and this is closely monitored the district council.”

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