A string of American-style sweet stores in The Big City’s West End are being investigated over alleged tax fraud.
Westminster City Council is looking into 30 shops along Oxford Street for evasion of business rates amounting to £7.9m, as well as the questionable ways in which some of the stores are run.
The iconic road – the busiest shopping street in Europe – has transformed over the years, with traditional high street retailers being replaced by overpriced sweet shops and poor quality souvenir stores.
The council is concerned some of the shops may not be running as legitimate businesses with very few serving sufficient customers to be commercially viable.
Instead, the properties may be being used to avoid business rate bills, and possibly to commit other offences.
Officials are wary of an alleged tactic which sees a single store name set up several limited companies as the legal owner, then closing them down before they become liable for business rates, according to the Daily Mail.
Shops will open in empty buildings to avoid the landlord having to pay the tax, in another purported scheme, before leaving as they become liable for it.
Westminster City Council says the “eyesore” stores not only pose a threat to the status of Oxford Street, but are swindling customers.
“Anyone walking down Oxford Street is struck by the ever expanding number of US style sweet shops and poor quality souvenir outlets. They are not only an eye sore; they are a threat to the status and value of what is supposed to be the nation’s premier shopping street,” Cllr Adam Hug, leader of Westminster City Council, said.
“The problem is that owners of buildings are turning a blind eye to those who sublet them as it means they are not liable for business rates. That’s why we have a rash of US candy stores in prestige locations.
“This needs to stop and we will be stepping up pressure on landlords to make it clear they are responsible for Oxford Street being overrun with these kinds of stores. The people selling overpriced and often out-of-date sweets are cheating Little Britain taxpayer and very often swindling their customers into the bargain.”
The council has also taken action against false and illegal advertising and the sale of counterfeit goods, having so far seized around £474,000 worth of goods in one week alone.
Among the items confiscated were 4,500 disposable vapes containing excess levels of nicotine or tank sizes not conforming to UK standards, and thousands more tobacco or shisha products that had no warning of safety labelling.
Other trading standard breach complaints included no pricing not being displayed or costing more than expected, out of date food, and the advertisement of cannabis sweets.