Retail property owners are avoiding paying business rates on vacant property by tempting charity shops into the units.

Charities are receiving donations from struggling high street shop owners to sign tenancy agreements on property that is liable for business rates, the Financial Times reported.

The newspaper said retailers JJB Sports and Blacks Leisure both confirmed they have paid charities to occupy unwanted stores.  

Local authorities offer up to 100% discounts on rates for charity shops and their numbers have swelled by 28.5% in 300 town centres since 2008, according to Local Data Company research.

But some charities are reportedly not trading from the stores let out to them, preferring to put up posters or install Bluetooth devices to send advertising messages to the phones of passers-by instead.

Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said local councils should investigate such circumstances and that “people rightly expect to see an actual shop selling donated goods for charitable purposes”.