September 30, 2018 / 3:04 PM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 1-UK could change business rates to help high street -business minister

(Adds quotes, comments on protecting consumers)

BIRMINGHAM, England, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Business minister Greg Clark said on Sunday he could seek an adjustment to the tax system to help Britain’s struggling high street retailers, which he said played an important role in communities.

Competition from online retailers has left many high street firms struggling, prompting calls from traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers for a relaxation of business rates — property taxes on businesses.

“Obviously the high street is undergoing a tough time. We know that, and we know some of the reasons for it,” Clark said, highlighting the increase in online shopping, particularly among fashion retailers.

When asked, he said that business rates could be one of the ways that the government might offer some relief. The finance ministry, which is responsible for setting the rates, is already undertaking a review of the subject.

Some retailers have complained that changes to business rates made in 2017, following a revaluation of property, raised the burden on them.

A string of UK retailers has failed or announced plans to close shops recently. Toys R Us UK and electronics retailer Maplin collapsed into administration this year while department store chain House of Fraser was rescued by Sports Direct .

Clark, speaking at an event on the sidelines of the governing Conservative Party’s annual conference, took a tougher stance on other areas of business conduct, saying he wanted to protect consumers from being taken advantage of by firms with access to data about their habits.

He backed Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority, which said last week it would consider a complaint over the telecoms and financial services sector made on behalf of citizens who were being overcharged.

“I want this to be substantial and thoughtful to make sure that in the future, as new technologies are deployed, consumers can embrace them with confidence,” Clark said.

Clark’s business department has already legislated to cap energy prices, addressing an issue whereby customers who did not regularly change tariff were being charged above-market rates for their gas and electricity. (Reporting by William James; Editing by Adrian Croft)

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