U.K. Extends Commercial Eviction Ban to Help Covid-Hit Firms
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. extended its ban on evictions of commercial tenants by nine months to protect Covid 19-hit businesses from losing their premises while pandemic restrictions are still in place.
The ban had been due to end on June 30, but Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay on Wednesday told the House of Commons the government would extend it until March 25 next year. In the meantime, he said, the government plans to establish a binding arbitration protest for tenants and landlords who are unable to reach agreement on repayment programs.
“All tenants should start to pay rent again in accordance with the terms of their lease, or, as otherwise agreed with their landlord, as soon as restrictions are removed on their sector if they are not already doing so,” Barclay said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under pressure to extend government support to businesses after he pushed back a full lifting of Covid-19 restrictions by four weeks on Monday amid rising infections. The eviction ban will give reprieve to some businesses, but others are still waiting to find out if they will keep getting help.
“It feels to us logical that if you have support in place to a certain deadline which was the roadmap, and then the roadmap moves, that that support should move with it,” British Chambers of Commerce Director General Shevaun Haviland said on Wednesday in an interview.
The government’s flagship furlough program won’t expire until the end of September, but businesses are due to start paying more next month, including 10% of the wages of furloughed employees. A 100% business rates holiday for the retail, leisure and hospitality industries will also be tapered to a 66% discount.
Haviland called for a month-long delay to those changes, and also said the government should extend its program of free coronavirus workplace testing, currently set to end on July 19.
The final stage of the reopening roadmap had been planned for June 21, but Johnson was forced to delay due to the faster-spreading delta variant of the virus, which originated in India and has become the dominant strain in the U.K.
The delay will cost the economy 4.7 billion pounds ($6.6 billion), the opposition Labour Party’s shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves said on Wednesday, She blamed the additional cost on the government’s failure to close the border early enough to travelers from India. The government maintains it acted when it had sufficient information to do so.
Living With Covid
The delay prolongs the 15-month shuttering of nightclubs, while social distancing rules remain in place preventing pubs and entertainment venues from operating at full capacity, denting their profitability.
Haviland said she’d met on Tuesday with Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to push for increased aid for businesses, including grants for companies most affected by the delayed easing. Many, such as microbreweries that are BCC members, had invested money in anticipation of a June 21 reopening and now have to write off stock that won’t keep, she said.
She said the government’s plans to vaccinate all the most vulnerable groups of adults with two doses of vaccine by July 19 means this should be the last period of restrictions. She called for clarity and certainty to allow businesses to prepare ahead of the new deadline.
If the vaccination program continues successfully, “we don’t see why we should have to extend again,” Haviland said. “We have to learn to live with Covid.”
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