EMPTY shops, offices and business premises across Dudley have cost taxpayers around £25million in the last five years.

Under the current tax relief scheme landlords do not have to pay business rates on empty premises for three months which is meant to allow for property investment and to give landlords time to find a new occupant.

But the cost of empty business units to the taxpayer has now risen to more than £1bn a year across England and Wales - and Dudley Council is among local authorities losing the most, an investigation by BBC's Shared Data Unit has revealed.

In the Dudley borough - business rates have generated more than £80million a year between 2014 and 2019 and council bosses say the authority is "middle ranking when compared to other metropolitan authorities" when it comes to business tax relief losses.

Empty premises in the borough, however, have cost the taxpayer on average around £5million a year (4.5 per cent).

Out of the 10,780 business premises across Dudley, 1,718 (around 16 per cent) are eligible for tax relief this year.

Under current legislation though around half of business rates collected are retained by the council; the rest is returned to the government for redistribution among areas generating less income.

Last year Dudley made £85,290,978 income from business rates and in the year ahead it expects to make slightly more - £85,500,000 - and to lose slightly less (£3,800,000 - 3.3 per cent) in tax relief compared to last year’s figure of £4,083,734 (3.75 per cent).

Councillor Steve Clark, Dudley's cabinet member for finance and legal, said: “Through our successful Dudley Business First programme, Dudley Council works hard to attract and retain businesses and we are fortunate to have a wide range of successful and long-term businesses here in Dudley borough.

“When a business property becomes empty, a statutory period of exemption is normally applied for a maximum of three months if it remains empty, and some industrial properties such as warehouses can have an exemption of up to six months.

“The borough also has a higher number of business properties compared to most other local authorities of our size and this, combined with the national downturn in retail, has unfortunately resulted in a higher number of empty units than we would ideally like.

“However, we remain confident that our work to attract growth and investment in modern and innovative industries is having a positive impact and this coupled with the potential £1bn regeneration in Dudley town centre will reap big rewards for our whole borough.”

Neighbouring Sandwell, which is among local authority areas with the lowest proportion of empty non-taxable business units, 1,310 of the 11,160 business premises are eligible for tax relief (11.74 per cent) this year.

Empty premises there have cost the taxpayer on average around £3.8million (3.19 per cent) over the last five years while business rates have generated an average of getting on for £100million a year between 2014 and 2019; and for the year ahead the authority looks set to make £97,600,000 income from business rates - and to lose £3,510,000 (2.8 per cent).

A spokesman for HM Treasury said: “Empty property relief strikes a balance between incentivising property owners to put vacant properties to use, while not penalising those who lose a tenant at short notice.

“Whilst the rate of business rates collection varies between individual authorities, the local government finance system has been designed so that business rates income is redistributed across the country according to the needs of local areas.

“We will announce further details of the business rates review in due course.”