US candy shops on Oxford Street ‘drop by third’ after raids and legal action

The number of US-style sweet and souvenir shops blighting Oxford Street has dropped by nearly a third, according to Westminster Council.

The local authority has accused some of the businesses of fleecing the taxpayer with £8m of tax evasion and of “lowering the tone” of the capital’s most famous shopping street.

Three sweet shops have been wound up for non-payment of rates in recent weeks, officials said, while two companies have coughed up £250,000 in business rates arrears to avoid court action.

“For unscrupulous sweet shop traders on Oxford Street, life is becoming increasingly sour,” said the council’s leader, Cllr Adam Hug.

He said legal action and Trading Standards raids have reduced the number of shops from 30 to 21.

“The rash of mixed sweet and souvenir shops which sprung up on Oxford Street during lockdown have by general consent dragged the tone of the area down, as well as in some cases openly flouting trading standards laws,” he said.

“They have fleeced both customers and the taxpayer through widespread evasion of business rates amounting to around £8m.”

“We are continuing to raid shops where we have well-founded suspicions that unsafe or illegal items are being sold,” he added.

“Our most recent raid recovered 14,000 suspect items from just two shops on Oxford Street – the largest haul we have ever seen in one operation.”

Items seized during October’s raid (Westminster Council)
Items seized during October’s raid (Westminster Council)

The Trading Standards and police sting in October recovered a haul of £215,000 worth of fake goods.

It found more than 8,000 vapes thought to contain excessive levels of nicotine and 25 suspected fake Rolex watches.

After the raid, police officers covering Oxford Street declared on Twitter: “Playtime’s over”.

The council has said a common feature of its investigations into the shops is the use of opaque shell company structures to avoid identifying the genuine owners, frustrating efforts to take offenders to court.

It launched a ‘dirty money’ campaign to unmask the owners of unscrupulous businesses, saying it would help investigations into alleged tax evasion.

Proposals included in the campaign were for the Government to hike the fee to register a company at Companies House from £12 to £50 and to introduce more rigorous identity checks.

Cllr Hug said: “In the meantime, we keep working with the police and central Government and urging ministers to ensure HMRC and the National Crime Agency have the resources they need to fight wider suspected illegality around some of these venues.”