Retailers appealing huge business rates bills suffered a blow today when a key court battle over cash machines was lost.

A legal ruling published today upheld a controversial decision in 2013 that cash machines built into the front of a shop or petrol station should have a separate business rates bill. Retailers appealing the ruling had hoped to get back £200m in rebates.

Business rates firm CVS said losing the case raised concerns that many convenience stores would be forced to ditch free 'hole in the wall' cash machines or start charging for cash withdrawals.

CVS said the number of cash machines liable for business rates has surged from 3,140 in 2010 to 14,068 this year. The company added that almost one in six – or more than 196,000 – current business rates appeals lodged with the Valuation Tribunal Service relate to cash machines.

A spokesperson for CVS slammed the ruling, calling it a "stealth tax". "It could deprive many communities of vital access to cash, given swathes of bank branch closures across the UK," they added.

Figures compiled for the Press Association by CVS showed that hefty rates bill hikes from April 1 are costing retailers nearly £2,800 on average for each ATM.