This section of our guide is a little less about the exciting world of pop ups, and more about the boring legalities. This section only applies if you take an empty shop to use for your pop up.

Understanding business rates

If you’re hoping to occupy a building that’s not domestic, you’ll need to pay non-domestic rates, often called business rates. These apply to shops, offices, pubs, warehouses and factories. But there are some exceptions, including:

  • Places of public religious worship
  • Most farmland and farm buildings
  • Public parks
  • Some types of property used by people with disabilities

Empty properties with a rateable value of less than £12,000 are exempt from business rates. Larger empty shops are exempt from business rates for a ‘void period’ of three months, after which landlords are eligible for full business rates. Once shops are in use, they are eligible for 100% business rates.

If you’re operating as a business, you will be entitled to Small Business Rate Relief if you occupy only one property and its rateable value is below a certain threshold. Check the government website for current guidance, as exemptions do vary as the government tries to address the problem of empty shops.

Local authorities have discretion to grant rate relief of up to 100% for not-for-profit organisations such as charities, local clubs or societies, or up to 80% for social enterprises. Contact your local authority for more information.

And there’s local support, too – contact Dorset for you for more details if you are based in Dorset, or BCP  if your pop up project is in Bournemouth, Christchurch or Poole.

You can find the rateable value of any property in England and Wales via the Valuation Office Agency here.

Shop windows can be exempt from business rates

Some projects in empty shops never open their doors. They either wrap the windows in vinyl, create something that is viewed through the window, or hang an exhibition in such a way that it can be viewed without anyone entering the shop. This kind of work does not usually involve paying business rates. Check what your local authority will allow.

You may also be able to:

  • Do anything as long as the door is shut, and the public don’t enter
  • Use a certain depth within the shop rate-free, for example, up to two metres from the window
  • Display anything that doesn’t touch the floor; it must be suspended from the ceiling or hung on the walls
  • Only attach materials directly to the shop windows

Save the landlord from business rates

Remember that by persuading private landlords to allow you to rent their space, they don’t have to pay business rates. This might be a key part of your pitch to them.


(c) Dan Thompson