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Bailiffs visit cafe owner wrongly identified as having not paid her Business Improvement District levy
CONFUSION over a bill reference number led to bailiffs turning up at a Darlington cafe to seize kitchen equipment.
The bailiffs were operating for Distinct Darlington - a town centre improvement company funded by traders – which identified cafe owner Isabelle Fleming as not paying her annual levy.
Ms Fleming, who runs Izzy’s Cafe in Clark’s Yard, had in fact paid the bill in August but because she did not put her Business Improvement District (Bid) levy reference number on it, the payment was not registered.
This led to a bailiff and auctioneers turning up at the cafe during business hours to remove kitchen equipment in what Ms Fleming described as an “embarrassing and horrendous” ordeal.
She said: “The cafe emptied of customers and I was absolutely mortified.
“I didn’t have receipts because I’d paid it all online, but they wouldn’t let me leave the cafe to get to a computer and prove to them that I had paid it.
“There was no apology afterwards, they just said the money had been put into the wrong account.”
It took about an hour and a series of phone calls before it was established that the £104 bill had been paid, however Alex Hirst, manager of Distinct Darlington, said the incident would not have happened had Ms Fleming put her reference number on the bill.
She said: “The reason it was not picked up on that she had paid was because there was no Bid levy reference number included – at the back of the bill it says that you must state this reference number.
“It has to be referenced otherwise we can’t identify the money and it goes into a holding account.”
Mrs Hirst added that Distinct Darlington had previously helped Ms Fleming with bill payment issues, resulting in “preferential treatment” which included a reduction in her levy.
Ms Fleming, who was taken to court earlier this year over her initial refusal to pay, said that she had to borrow money to fund the levy and is aggrieved at having to pay it at all.
The Bid scheme has attracted controversy since it was introduced last year, with some traders arguing that they did not vote for it so should not have to fund it.
The levy is charged at 1.5 per cent of the rateable value of business premises within the Bid boundary and was implemented after a vote last year in which 130 of the 210 returned ballots were in favour.