“Freedom Day” delay not matched by relief extensions for businesses

As widely predicted, on Monday Boris Johnson announced a delay in lifting the remaining lockdown restrictions. Just as predictably, calls for additional help for struggling businesses quickly followed.

The fears of businesses, particularly the retail, hospitality and aviation sector, are not unfounded with many rating experts believing the four-week delay will impact several sectors well into the autumn.

Freedom Day is now scheduled for July 19th, even repeating such a term as ‘Freedom Day’ brings home the realisation as to the raft of freedoms which have been removed over the past 15 months. Many businesses have fought on, with current rules allowing many to, at least, get close to breaking even. Yet the cycle continues and many business owners will be fearful of what the futures holds past the new projected freedom date.  Many believe the propaganda wheels are already turning towards the ‘3rd Wave’ ….

Andrew Lloyd Webber recently stated that his theatres would still open ‘….come hell or high water’ regardless of the Freedom day decision adding he would be prepared to be arrested if needs be. Clearly a man of his means and influence may be more confident to take such a position and it appears the prime minister has heeded his threat with there being talk of the theatre production of Cinderella being exempt from the wider restrictions on night clubs and theatres.  However, many small business owners may not so easily take this stance.

The government has said current social distancing restrictions will remain in place for offices, shops and hospitality venues across the country and the rule of six indoors for hospitality venues will still apply along with the cap on outside gatherings of 30 people.

Advice for people to still work from home if they can also stays in place, putting further strain on the office market and struggling employers who now fear that a full return to the workplace is even further away which in turn impacts businesses especially in city centres which are reliant upon office worker trade.

Shops, theatres, museums and other venues will still be expected to enforce social distancing restrictions such as table service and mask wearing and nightclubs must remain closed.

Despite many restrictions still being in play, Government support and reliefs will start to be tapered off but this was always due to coincide with a full blown “Freedom Day” for the country.

This means businesses in the retail and hospitality sectors impacted by costly coronavirus H&S social distancing rules, will still see business rates return on July 1st. For larger companies the £2m cap on rates relief means that many will be back to almost full business rates payments this summer.

June 30th is also still the date that the moratorium on the evictions of tenants is lifted.

The delaying in lifting restrictions for another month will undoubtedly have an impact for much longer. Businesses with one eye on the August holiday hiatus may decide that any move back to the office can wait until September, so a 4-week delay turns into a full quarter of inactivity for the office sector.

The Government had announced a £1.5 billion business rates’ relief fund  to compensate businesses for not being able to appeal their business rate bills on grounds of a Material Change in Circumstance (MCC) related to Coronavirus but, as yet, there is still no guidance on how to apply for this funding and time is running out for many.