Gill Wright and Ian Graham set up Moorfield Boarding Kennels and Cattery in Walton, near Brampton, in 2010.

“We started with absolutely nothing and we’ve built it up from scratch,” Gill says proudly. “This is our seventh year and it’s gone very, very well.”

She hopes it will continue to do so – provided it doesn’t run into financial difficulty. But Moorfield could be about to see its annual rates bill rise almost triple.

It’s because of changes the Government is making to business rates – the commercial equivalent of the council tax. They are the charges that all but the smallest companies have to pay to go on doing business.

After seven years without any adjustments, the rates are being reviewed. Some firms will end up paying less, but for more than half a million of those in rural areas it will mean an increase – often a very hefty one. Some fear the rates hike will cripple them.

Business rates are based on the amount of space a business occupies, rather than how much money it makes. And places such as equestrian centres or boarding kennels can take up a lot of room but won’t necessarily generate a high income.

“We’ll carry on, but it will be difficult,” says Gill. “A lot of people will severely struggle.”

She adds: “If you were a manufacturing business you could say: ‘We’ll work overtime to pay the increase’.

“But we are dependent on the dogs and cats and you need to care for them properly. You can’t suddenly think: ‘I’ll double up’.

“You do the best for them and then it seems you get walloped. It makes you wonder if it’s worth doing things.”

Gill concedes rates will inevitably rise with inflation, but asks: “How do they figure out a threefold increase?

“There’s no way on earth they can justify that. I don’t honestly think they have a clue. They just sit in their office and think of a number.”

Mandy Wilson Mandy Wilson has run Greenlands Equestrian Centre in Wreay for 26 years. During those years her business rates have crept up bit by bit. Now they’re set to almost double.

“My rates are £27,000 at the moment,” Mandy says. “In April they’re going up to £53,000.

“It’s a 100 per cent increase in business rates.”

She explains: “We have a large site because we deal with horses and they need a lot of space – they need big stables. This is not reasonable at all. It’s unjust.”

She also needs a large site because she offers more besides accommodation for horses. “We have show jumping, dressage, carriage driving, cross-country courses, and we have dog agility shows. Pony clubs use us, riding clubs use us.

“And we provide employment here. If we closed it would leave a huge hole.”

Mandy is already looking at other ways of making money. She had a wind turbine on her land and a park of solar panels is due to be connected in March – and is hoping they will be enough to help her cover the new rates.

Over the years she has faced other problems, difficulties and rate increases but says: “This is the worst so far. It’s extremely worrying.”

John and Joanna MacInnes have been breeding horses at Whalton Stud, near Penrith, for the past 17 years, and John notes: “Our rates have barely changed in all the time we’ve been here.

“Everybody expected them to be reduced – but not a bit of it.

“I haven’t found out what ours are going to be yet, but I hope they aren’t too high. It is a worry. Everyone is in straits at the moment.”

He hopes the modest size of their business means any rates rise will be modest too, but adds: “There are some rural businesses that are on a knife-edge, and something like this has the potential to tip them over it.”

Kevin Beaty Farms, churches and the smallest businesses are exempt from business rates, so dairy farmer Kevin Beaty won’t have to pay them.

But he is also leader of Eden council and says: “There are concerns out there that rural business will be affected by this.”

And it’s adding to the money worries that are already there. “Businesses in rural areas have higher costs because of their rurality – transport, further routes to market.

“Nearly all rural policy, and substantial amounts of rural money, come directly from the European Union, and we don’t know how this funding will be replaced when we depart.

“The worry is that funding streams could be diverted to the urban aspects of UK life.”

Is there any chance the Government will change its mind? “If there’s a big enough outcry it might,” Mandy says. “And there’s a big outcry in the equestrian community. There will be an awful lot of appeals.”

But John warns: “From what I can make out, it’s going to cost more than £100 to appeal it.”

Can the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) help?

“The 2017 rates revaluation has resulted in significant rate increases for many rural businesses,” says Dorothy Fairburn, the CLA’s regional director for northern England.

Dorothy Fairburn The businesses are being assessed by the Government’s Valuation Office Agency and she says: “The CLA will be meeting with senior staff at the Valuation Office Agency to discuss the need to retain the current relief mechanisms for valuations in rural areas.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government promises it will.

“No small business will see more than a five per cent increase this year and we’re providing £3.6 billion in reliefs to help make sure no business is unfairly penalised,” its spokesman said. “Nearly three quarters of business in England will see no change, or even a fall – including 600,000 who from April will have their bills cut altogether.”

But Kevin points out: “There are a lot of small rural businesses in the Eden area and most of them get some rates relief.

“It’s the larger businesses that are going to be affected.”

Nick Kittoe is going to escape business rate increases in one way and not in another.

Nick Kittoe He is managing director of Solway Communications, based in Thurstonfield. Companies that are improving communications infrastructure in the countryside are exempt from rates.

But Nick and his wife Tazeem also own the Tranquil Otter holiday homes on the shores of Thurstonfield Lough – and they could face the increase.

Like the MacInneses he does not yet know what his new rates bill will look like, but predicts: “It’s an extra cost.”

Yet Nick is also philosophical. “The fact is that if we want local services then local government has to have money. Nobody likes them, but rates are one of those things that you can’t complain about.”