There are still local spikes here and there all over the UK and as we enter the traditional winter flu season, there might be temporary measures deployed if coronavirus cases rise sufficiently.
The government has also declined to implement planned vaccination passports for people attending large events in England so individuals and businesses could now begin to plan their Autumn activities with more certainty.
Against this backdrop it’s been confirmed that the various remaining pandemic support measures including the coronavirus job retention scheme or furlough will definitely end on September 30th along with a lifting of the ban on winding up petitions.
While it was expected that creditors would be able to seek winding up petitions once again, there’s been a sizable catch - so that now bringing a winding up petition is literally a £10,000 question.
New legislation to be introduced in parliament shortly will:
These measures will remain in place until March 31 2022.
Business Minister Lord Callanan said: “The time is right to lift the insolvency restrictions that were needed during the pandemic.
“At the same time, we know many smaller businesses are rebuilding their balance sheets and reserves, and some will need more time to get back on their feet. These new measures and protections will help them to do that.”
The minister said that businesses should pay their contractual rents where they’re able to do so and also confirmed that existing restrictions will remain in place on commercial landlords from pursuing winding up petitions against limited companies to repay commercial rent arrears built up during the pandemic.
Additionally commercial tenants will continue to be protected from eviction until March 31 2022 while a rent arbitration scheme to deal with commercial rent debts accrued during the pandemic is implemented.
One measure not time bound by restrictions are new legal powers given to the Insolvency Service which allow them to retrospectively investigate the conduct of directors of dissolved companies.
If they can prove that directors were dishonest or culpable in behaviour which led to their company’s failure then as well as being made personally liable for any debts incurred, they can be disqualified from acting as a director for up to 15 years.
This includes bounce back loans so obtaining professional advice is critical if you’re thinking of closing your business.
Chris Horner, Insolvency Director with BusinessRescueExpert.co.uk said: “The new £10,000 threshold for winding up petitions sounds like a big increase from the previous minimum level of £750.
"But in reality, due to the associated expense in issuing winding-up petitions, the vast majority of pre-COVID winding-up petitions were over the new level in any event.
“Eager creditors will examine their options carefully and look to use whatever leverage they have.
“Hopefully, many companies use the new 21 day period to negotiate sensible repayment plans. Seek expert help if in doubt about how best to approach this.
“Like the insolvency moratorium that’s automatically granted if a company goes into administration, this provides valuable breathing space and time for a business to come up with plans to deal with problematic debt.
“This includes outstanding bounce back loans or VAT arrears - they haven’t been suspended - and a business can still close down, even if a company has these debts but only if it’s done using the right method overseen by an insolvency professional.
“For example, If a business with unsustainable debt wanted to close and started the process in the next couple of weeks - it could probably be concluded before Christmas, leaving the directors or owners free to begin a new venture or career in 2022.”
Time is only an asset if it’s used effectively.
The 21-day negotiation period of winding up petition restrictions and £10,000 floor is only useful if you take advantage and get professional advice now because it will, like all the others, cease eventually.
We offer a free initial consultation to any business owner or director who wants to know the best way to close their company or if possible, restructure and keep it alive, even if it has debts.
Once we get a better understanding of the situation, we can come up with a tailored solution possibly with more options and choices than you thought you had.
But this is only possible if you use your agency and get in touch.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, more commonly known as furlough, was launched in March 2020 to support businesses and employees through the unprecedented disruption caused by the coronavirus and subsequent lockdowns.
In our Year of Lockdowns report we found that one in three UK workers were in receipt of a furlough scheme payment at some point in 2020.
The popularity of the scheme peaked in April 2020 when just under nine million workers were furloughed although this total has reduced to just over 1.9 million by the end of June 2021.
According to the latest official figures, 11.9 million jobs had been placed on furlough by over 1.3 million employers at some stage during the previous 18 months at a total cost of £65.9 billion.
This might seem expensive but it would be argued by supporters that it fulfilled one of its primary objectives by holding the unemployment rate at 5.1% at the end of 2020 which saw an additional 1.7 million people looking for work but without furlough.
This figure has since reduced to 4.8% at the end of June 2021 and is currently only 0.9% higher than at the beginning of the pandemic.
Since May 2021, the central contribution to employees wages from the government has reduced from a figure of 80% of the total wage up to a maximum of £2,500 down to 60% of the total to a maximum of £1,875.
The employer continues to pay national insurance contributions (NICs) and pension contributions for staff as well as a 20% contribution to wages for hours not worked up to a maximum of £625.
Along with many other notable changes occurring at the end of the month, the one which is expected to have the most immediate effect is the final closure of the CJRS.
Chris Horner, insolvency director with BusinessRescueExpert.co.uk, thinks attention should be paid to the discrepancies between various sectors and mismatches between vacancies and employees when analysing the impact.
One example is in the hospitality sector including both accommodation and food services.
The Office for National Statistics vacancy survey showed that 117,000 jobs were available between May and June but at the same time 337,800 staff remained on furlough during this period.
Even if furloughed staff successfully reapplied for all those positions, there would still be over 220,000 workers left without positions.
He said: “When you have a mismatch between the sectors that people are on furlough from and the sectors that are actively recruiting then there will naturally be an imbalance that has to be carefully managed - both in terms of the personnel and the support given to businesses in those areas.
“Some skills will be transferable but not every position is.
“Sales assistants and hospitality staff might not want to take pay cuts to move into the care industry or spend time retraining as a delivery driver or production operative for instance.
“This could clearly have implications for businesses and unemployment in the short term at least.
“For small business owners and directors, who are already juggling with bounce back loan repayments, VAT arrears, the return of creditor actions including winding up petitions and business rates, a staffing crisis will be the last thing they need.”
If you think the school holidays and summer went quickly, you won’t believe how soon the end of September will arrive.
There is still just enough time to get in touch with us and arrange a free initial consultation with one of our expert advisors.
If you’re worried or already having problems repaying debts like bounce back loans or VAT arrears then we can help advise you on what your options are.
The sooner you take action, the more time and leeway you’ll have to use - because sadly, time and choices will eventually run out.
Social distancing rules will still apply and it will be limited to table service only but for businesses with no outdoor space or that have been relying on delivery orders alone, it’s set to be a red letter day for a lot of the hospitality industry.
Hotels, hostels and B&Bs are also able to open to the public rather than offering self-contained accommodation.
The lifting of restrictions means that a maximum of six people from two households can meet in a group indoors with further restrictions set to be lifted in June.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “There is a huge sense of relief within the sector, in particular for the six in 10 venues that weren’t able to reopen due to a lack of outdoor space.
“However, with significant restrictions still in place, this is a psychological opening rather than an economic one, with the profitability of the sector still a huge issue.
“Hospitality, as it emerges from restrictions, is still in a fragile state and continued government support will be critical to ensuring the sector is rejuvenated and plays a full role in the wider economic recovery.”
While a number of takeaways, be they fish and chip shops, kebab and pizza makers or make the best jerk chicken outside of the USA and the caribbean, have been operating during lockdown, many haven’t been able to reopen.
Some takeaways have been able to provide a click and collect, drive through or delivery services and won’t see a big change next week as they will be able to continue offering these.
Food providers with an indoor dining facility will be able to reopen this for the first time in months but will have to follow some careful steps to make sure they remain safe and Covid-compliant when they do.
Others might be reopening for the first time since the year of lockdowns began in March 2020, so will have a lot more to do and think about.
Including whether it’s worth reopening at all.
Doing the reopening shuffle
A brief itinerary for reopening a takeaway or restaurant will look something like this:-
None of this takes into the financial position of the business itself and how this has been impacted in the previous 12 months.
If the restaurant has been able to offer a take away or home delivery service then it will have been able to bring some money into the business as well as possibly taking advantage of government backed support measures such as the bounce back loan scheme or the coronavirus job retention scheme or furlough.
For those that weren’t then things could be a lot more serious and bleaker.
Debts will have continued to accrue, bills would have been paid all the while there’s no income arriving to offset it. Even if they accessed support measures, bounce back loan repayments are beginning to come due unless these have been deferred by six months.
The unfortunate but inevitable truth might be that some takeaways just can’t afford to reopen and instead should look at closing their business down properly so they can begin again.
This also applies to shawarmis, pizzerias and chippy’s that might still be trading but realistically have no way of clearing their debt and at best are just keeping their heads above water.
Some might just need some breathing space to work out if the business could be viable again and produce a plan to achieve this.
For others it would involve liquidation but depending on individual circumstances this could be easier, quicker and cheaper than they thought.
Before any decision is made the best thing to do is to get in touch with us.
We offer a free, initial consultation where we can get the full breakdown of the circumstances surrounding the business.
Then we can tell you what you can do, right now, that will have an immediate impact and what choices can follow from that.
Only then can you look forward to the future with some certainty and be able to plan far ahead of what’s for tea tonight.
It’s nearly been 365 days since the UK went into its first national lockdown as it faced its first major public pandemic in over 100 years.
From March 23rd 2020, companies in every sector closed by order and we all had to work, educate and shop from home to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Nothing has really been the same since - especially for businesses.
We’ve spent the past 12 months helping firms that have fallen into financial difficulties to restructure and pay off their debts under new arrangements or allow them to efficiently close so their owners can move onto new challenges when the lockdown is gradually lifted completely.
Alongside our business rescue and recovery work, we’ve also spent a year observing, collating and analysing data from various sources to compile a comprehensive and wide-ranging report of what happened to our country and its companies.
The “Year of Lockdowns” story shows what effect restrictions have had on the various industrial sectors, geographic regions and on the individual businesses and employees that make them up.
This is the story of 2020 - a "Year of Lockdowns”.
In an already historic year, we should start with the news about history being made.
The Office of National Statistics reported that 2020 saw UK official GDP shrink by 9.9% in the previous 12 months - the largest annual fall in over 300 years since the Great Frost of 1709.
The collapse is even greater than any previously recorded including during the Napoleonic wars; World Wars One and Two; the great depression of the 1920s and the great recession of the late 2000s.
The economy regained some ground in the second half of the year as some lockdowns were eased and the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme attracted more people to support their local pubs and restaurants.
Despite these positive factors, the economy was still 6.3% smaller than it was in February, the last full trading month before the first lockdown was implemented.
This was the biggest fall among all the G7 nations with USA GDP down 3.5%; Germany down 5% and Japan down 5.6% by comparison.
Since the beginning of the lockdown and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) being rolled out, 11.2 million workers have been furloughed in the previous 12 months.
With 32.6 million people employed in the UK, this means that one in three workers was in receipt of furlough pay at some point in 2020.
The UK unemployment rate also rose by 1.1% to 5.1% by the end of 2020 with 1,744,000 additional people looking for work. This is the highest recorded level since 2015.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak extended the furlough scheme until the end of September 2021 in the recent budget with employers expected to contribute 10% of furloughed employees wages from July, rising to 20% for August and September.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimates that £73.6 billion had already been spent on employment support schemes such as CJRS and others by November 2020 so this will add to this already striking figure.
While economic and employment activity are expected to rise, greatly, in the next six months as lockdown is gradually lifted, the end of the furlough and other schemes will still create a moment of hazard for businesses and their employees if they can’t find a way to begin to trade profitably by then.
The Insolvency Service reported that since March 2020 there were 8,205 company insolvencies up to and including the end of January 2021.
Broken down by individual industrial sector they were :
The halting of various building projects, both large and small scale, have badly damaged the construction industry over the previous 12 months.
This might seem surprising given the historic damage experienced by the hospitality and retail industries but these have been well publicised and several were more visible to the public as an empty shop unit will be more noticeable than an empty building site.
There was also £453.4 million in redundancy pay and other support benefits paid out in 2020 which was the highest amount in ten years and an increase of 31% from 2019.
Another government agency, the Redundancy Payments Service, will make financial payments to employees whose former employers have gone into insolvency and cannot pay any legally due claims.
With the help of the Office of National Statistics and The Insolvency Service, we looked deeper into the regional insolvency statistics for 2020 and produced a comparative figure - the Corporate Insolvency Ratio - showing the likelihood of insolvency based on the numbers of active businesses in a region/nation and the number of business insolvencies recorded there.
The table shows the number of businesses registered in each UK nation and English region, the total number of business insolvencies and the Corporate Insolvency Ratio for each.
Because of certain statistical caveats, the figures are an approximation based on available data rather than a complete and official record.
On this matrix, the figures show that a business in the Yorkshire and Humber region of England was statistically most likely to undergo an insolvency event than in any other region (1 in 115) while a company based in Northern Ireland would be least likely (1 in 506).
Additionally, businesses in the North East, North West and West Midlands of England along with London were at greater risk compared to the national average (1 in 207) while Scotland, Wales and every other English region was less likely than the average.
Given all the news and information we already know about the year of lockdowns, it might be surprising to learn that the total number of corporate insolvencies actually fell in 2020.
They went down to their lowest recorded levels since 2007.
So what’s going on? The main reasons can be surmised as follows:-
With the exception of the insolvency moratorium, all of these measures are temporary and will be withdrawn by Autumn this year.
Ironically, 2021 could have many more corporate insolvencies than 2020 had.
Chris Horner, Insolvency Director with Business Rescue Expert said: “Ominously, even with restrictions being lifted and economic activity rising, 2021 will be a worse year for insolvencies in several industries than the year of lockdowns was,
“Government support in the form of backed loans, furloughs and the temporary ban on winding-up petitions and other creditors actions are all expected to end sometime in 2021.
“Bounce Back Loan repayments and others will begin to come due, businesses will have to decide if they can re employ or redeploy their furloughed workers and creditors that have been under severe financial pressure themselves will finally have the ability to look for repayments that might be critical to their own survival.”
Debenhams was formally wound-up in the High Court with BooHoo buying its online brands and trademarks to relaunch as an online-only retailer.
The Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge brands of the Arcadia group were bought by ASOS with BooHoo returning to purchase the remaining Wallis, Burton and Dorothy Perkins brands.
No physical properties were included in any of the deals.
BrightHouse, the UK’s largest rent-to-own retailer went into administration in April along with Laura Ashley while fitness retailer DW Sports announced it would not reopen in August.
Regional UK airline FlyBe went into administration in March where it remains until a buyer is found. With other carriers unable to operate a regular, reliable UK-wide service yet, 2021 is another year that might have historical consequences.
Research from the Local Data Company shows how devastating the year of lockdowns was for the retail industry.
They estimated that 17,532 chain store outlets located in high streets, retail parks and shopping centres closed last year - an average of 48 per day. This is compared to an overall total of 7,655 openings to replace them, or 21 per day.
The net loss of nearly 3,500 locations was a third higher than in 2019.
“The rise of online shopping and home delivery which provided a shot in the arm for the hospitality industry, might be a more mixed blessing for retail” said Chris Horner, Business Rescue Expert’s Insolvency Director.
“We won’t know for some time how many new habits and shopping methods we adopted in 2020 will stick in 2021 and become permanent or how many will revert to the previous physical model.
“Some companies might bet big one way or another and hope to reap the benefits of being a successful early mover. Others might hedge their bets and hold back investing, redeployment and retraining which could prove more sensible in the medium and long term but would impact negatively in the immediate future in terms of investment and activity.”
We still don’t know how 2021 will unfold as many businesses are still unable to open their doors and trade freely and some won’t until we get into the Summer at the earliest.
For others, even when they do return, they’ll find that customer behaviour, retail trends and other changes will mean that they will have to recalibrate their own offerings if they want to make up lost ground.
One thing we can guarantee this year, maybe the only thing that can be, is that Business Rescue Expert will continue to be here to help advise and guide any business that is having financial issues or doesn’t know what their next professional step should be.
We offer free virtual consultations for any company that needs to clarify its position and understand what options are open to it.
The benefit of acting first is that you usually find you have more choices and strategies available than whoever acts second.
Get in touch and find out what they are for your business - today.
The 2021 budget announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday contains more news items for businesses than you’d immediately spot or was expected.
Despite several announcements, there was no change to Capital Gains Tax or Business Asset Disposal Relief (BADR), meaning that there is still time to close a solvent business using a Members Voluntary Liquidation (MVL) and take advantage of the tax benefits before the end of this financial year at the end of March.
The other main headlines that will affect companies include:
The first rise in Corporation Tax since 1974 was confirmed although it has been delayed until April 2023. The rate will rise to 25% for businesses making profits over £250,000 although any company earning less than £50,000 will continue to pay the current rate of 19%. The rate will taper upwards for businesses as they get closer to the £250,000 level.
The CJRS of job furloughs will be formally extended until the end of September 2021. Employees will continue to receive 80% of their wages until then although businesses will be asked to contribute 10% in July and 20% in August and September.
Extended for a fourth time to cover the period from February to April. Will be based on 80% of average trading profits up to a maximum of £7,500. Applicable this time to those who have filed their 2019/2020 tax returns with HMRC.
Hospitality and Leisure businesses will pay no business rates between March and May 2021, then rates will be discounted by two thirds for the remaining nine months of the fiscal year. The 5% reduced rate of VAT will be extended until the end of September. It will then be gradually increased to 12.5% for six months before returning to the standard rate by April 2022.
There will be £5 billion of restart grants available for businesses to apply for once the lockdowns are gradually lifted later in the year. Additionally a new loan scheme will be launched to replace the Bounce Back Loans (BBLs) and Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILs). It will run until the end of 2020 and lend amounts from £25,000 to £10 million.
Colin Haig, President of R3, the insolvency and restructuring trade body, said: “The Chancellor’s decision to extend the furlough scheme, to provide further business grants and a new loans scheme, and to continue the business rates holiday will give welcome certainty for many business owners concerned at their prospects over the coming months.
“However, what was missing from the Chancellor’s Budget was detail about the Government’s role once these measures start to be withdrawn.
“As a key creditor in most corporate insolvencies, the Government has a direct role to play in supporting viable restructuring and business rescue proposals. HMRC in particular has not always taken a constructive approach to these proposals, and we would like to see this change sooner rather than later.
“By taking a more active and engaged stance as a creditor, the Government could help to save more potentially viable businesses, thereby safeguarding thousands of jobs, securing future tax income, and giving companies a chance to deal with liabilities resulting from the pandemic.
“There’s no denying the Government’s COVID measures have helped business in the short term, but as the Chancellor pointed out, these can’t last forever.
“Directors of struggling companies now have a few months in which to start making plans and taking decisions to secure the future of their businesses.”
There’s no time like the present to start planning for a better future.
While there is some degree of certainty about pandemic support measures being extended, they will end at some point meaning a cliff edge is waiting for some businesses that don’t take the necessary steps to secure their future now.
Get in touch with us to arrange a free virtual initial consultation, whenever it’s convenient for you.
We can help explore the support and options available to you and your business and put steps in place so that when circumstances change, which they will, you’ll be in a position to take advantage and literally profit.
For most people, guessing what the Chancellor will announce in his budget and how it will affect them is a diverting parlour game.
Making a couple of pounds here and being offset by losing a couple there is how it usually goes. Online calculators and tools let people try their own hand at opening the red box and making some of the intricate calculations and seeing what the consequences could be.
It can be fun to be a sim Chancellor but if you’re a business owner or director, however, the consequences can be a lot more drastic and expensive in real life.
For instance, one area that will be getting a lot of attention and close scrutiny will be any plans for changes to Capital Gains Tax.
The government already commissioned a report that was published last year recommending a significant increase in rates - doubling them in all circumstances - and also further limiting the scope of Business Asset Disposal Relief (BADR) - the new name for Entrepreneurs Relief.
The report’s tightening recommendations included:-
If any or all of these recommendations are accepted and become law they’ll have a significant effect on any shareholder hoping to benefit from the Members Voluntary Liquidation (MVL) process.
Changes could come into force in a little as a month’s time so if you were considering an MVL to take advantage of BADR then there’s really no time to lose.
One thing we need to point out is that the tax point relates to the time you receive a distribution from the MVL, not when the company enters the arrangements.
So if you want to make the biggest tax saving in an MVL then you need to act before it’s too late.
If there are any changes announced in the Budget on Wednesday and you instruct us and provide the necessary required information no later than Friday 12th March 2021 then we guarantee* to facilitate the liquidation within this tax year, allowing any distributions to be made before Monday 5th April 2021 - when any new rules and changes would take effect.
Get in touch with us today to talk about an MVL.
We’ll show you how easy it can be to proceed swiftly and take advantage of an important benefit before it’s cut back or removed altogether.
*subject to demand and correct information being supplied in time
While his main earnings come from the one-off purses for his fights, he also has lucrative sponsorship deals with the likes of Under Armour, Jaguar Land Rover, Beats, Sky Sports and Hugo Boss.
He’s CEO of his own company - AJBXNG group - which he formed in 2015 which oversees his sponsorship deals, his own fight promotion and negotiations, his own clothing range and other merchandise and is actively signing and promoting the interests of other boxers and sports stars which will give the business longevity beyond his own athletic career.
After his latest fight on Saturday with dangerous Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev, he will be straight back in the office working on his next deals for 2021 - probably including a huge unification fight with Tyson Fury.
The analogies between boxing and running a business run deep.
The mental strength required to begin and continue through adversity, the stamina to work long hours, the intellect to work out what’s working, what’s not and adapt accordingly.
To have long term plans and other alternatives if plan A doesn’t work out and possibly the most important - not only to be able to absorb the blows you know are coming but be sufficiently stable not to fall when hit by those you don’t see until they connect.
Joshua will watch hours of his opponents' fights to prepare for their attacks so consider this blog something of a training session because whether you know it or not, businesses need to be ready for the fight of their lives in 2021.
In a heavyweight bout, an unseen punch can be absolutely devastating but more often than not it’s the cumulative damage caused by a combination of blows landing accurately in quick succession that will knock a fighter off their feet and into next week.
In March and April next year, there’s a four punch combination coming that could lay out any unprepared business.
If you know it’s coming you can take action either by getting out of the way or putting your defences up in time. Time to begin your training session...
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is ending on March 31st 2021.
The CJRS has probably been the most noteworthy success from the range of coronavirus support measures the government rolled out to support the economy and will have been operating for nearly a year when time is finally called.
But it is being called as the government, despite twice extending the scheme, have announced that the scheme will be withdrawn at the end of March and workers on furlough will have to be reemployed or made redundant.
As part of the recent Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act becoming law, there was a restriction placed on the issuing of statutory demands and winding-up petitions which has also been extended temporarily until March 31st 2021.
Bailiffs are still able to operate in the meantime in the pursuit of outstanding Council Tax arrears but will also be able to be invoked for other outstanding business debts certified by a court within 14 weeks.
Once the embargo is lifted and it’s assumed that courts are operating at close to full capacity, expect a deluge of winding-up petitions and statutory demands to be issued and granted in the Spring.
Additionally, a temporary removal of the threat of personal liability for wrongful trading for directors is being lifted on April 30th 2021.
As Chris Horner, Insolvency Director with Business Rescue Expert already said when the first suspensions were announced: “These rules are not a get-out-of-jail-free card.
“The rules on preferential payments and transactions at undervalue will still apply and wrongful trading will still apply if the business had already reached the point of no return prior to March 2020.
“It remains important to take advice if you still expect solvency issues, regardless of the government assistance.”
As well as March being the first anniversary of the first UK-wide lockdown, it’s also going to be when the first repayments come due for a host of temporary government support measures.
Anybody who took out Bounce Back Loans (BBL) or Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) early will have to make their first repayments in April if they haven't repaid the amount already.
The standard length of these loans was six years but companies will have the option to extend the repayment term to ten years if required. They will also be able to ask for a six-month window when they will make interest-only repayments (up to three times during the loan term) or ask for a six-month repayment holiday (only if they have made at least six repayments).
A potentially bigger problem also crystalises in March when any deferred VAT payments for 2020 come due.
Businesses who took the opportunity to defer their VAT until then will have the option to pay their owed amount in full by March 31st 2020.
They can also opt in to a new VAT deferral payment scheme that will allow them to pay the delinquent amounts over a year until March 2022, although this just covers the 2020 deferral, 2021’s amount will also have to be paid.
The latest temporary measure announced this week is that landlords are forbidden from evicting business tenants until the end of March 2021.
Announcing the measure the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP said: “I am extending protections from the threat of eviction for businesses unable to pay their rent until March 2021, taking the length of these measures to one year.
“This support is for the businesses struggling the most during the pandemic, such as those in hospitality - however, those that are able to pay their rent should do so.
“We are witnessing a profound adjustment in commercial property. It is critical that landlords and tenants across the country use the coming months to reach agreements on rent wherever possible and enable viable businesses to continue to operate.”
Some businesses have found meeting their commitments a stretch this year but others have taken advantage of the situation and actively withheld rent even if they’ve been able to pay.
Others still have used insolvency tools such as CVAs to their advantage and secured lower rents or exited expensive leases as part of the process.
Regardless of previous relationships, March and April 2021 will see gloves coming off all over the economy as aggrieved and frustrated creditors finally get to unleash their pent-up frustrations and seek repayment and possibly revenge.
Of course not every business has acted badly during this time but in the wave of recovery action unleashed as the restrictions expire, it will be hard to separate the goodies from the baddies.
The only sure way of making sure that your business is spared from aggressive creditors is to get professional advice now on what you need to do in the meantime.
We’ll work with you to better understand where you could be vulnerable and produce a plan to shore up these weaknesses and make the overall business strong enough to survive whatever 2021 might throw at you.
Others will wait until the engine warning light comes on because this is a sure sign that something isn't right.
Others still will be happy to drive along with the engine on fire, black smoke billowing from every hole and window until stopped by the authorities. They’ll throw up their hands and question why they’ve been stopped. If the car’s still going then there’s no problem, is there?
Anyone with an interest in the UK’s hospitality industry must feel like they’re in the third scenario right now. Red lights are flashing everywhere and it couldn’t be any more of an emergency than if they were on fire themselves.
The latest alarming evidence came with the publication of a new survey from the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) - the representative body for this section of the hospitality sector.
400 respondents took part and even in this year of shocking news and statistics, the findings are stunning.
The stark headline is that three quarters of pubs and clubs operating in tiers 2 and 3 expect to be permanently out of business by Christmas.
75.6% said that without support, they would not be reopening again.
Just under this total said they’d been forced to make staff redundancies this year while nearly two thirds said they’d made over 40% of their workforces redundant already.
Michael Kill, Chief Executive of NTIA, sounds like a man with no more figs to give.
“This announcement by the government has led us to believe that they are intentionally aiming to collapse our sector.
“Every town and city across the UK stands to lose valued and much loved venues. This will be another stab in the heart of our town and city centres.
“We stand to lose the cultural institutions and amazing workforce of professionals that the UK are renowned for globally. Our clubs, bars, venues, security, freelancers, staff, managers, DJ’s and many more will lose their livelihoods and continue to suffer financial hardship without government intervention.
“I make a direct appeal to the Prime MInister - Mr Johnson, what are you doing to save the lives and livelihoods of the many businesses and workers within the night time economy, businesses that have been closed since March and are continuing to suffer?
“They have staff and freelancers that will lose their jobs irrespective of furlough because the businesses won’t survive.
“What do you say to that Prime Minister, I hope you’re sleeping well at night because thousands within our sector are struggling to sleep, in fear of their future.”
The survey also found that just under three in four respondents were commercial tenants and 77.6% said they were more than two quarters in rent arrears too.
The government has been commendably agile in devising and implementing support schemes this year including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), Bounce Back Loans (BBL) and several other initiatives such as rent holidays and VAT suspensions.
But there hasn’t been and can be no economic “magic bullet” solution that will save every business and every job.
The Chancellor himself and others have been unusually forthright about this and recognise the gravity of the situation but it’s still hard not to feel sympathy for everyone in the hospitality sector, not just the night time bars, clubs, pubs and venues, but restaurants, cafes, bistros, micropubs and coffee shops too.
Sympathy won’t pay the bills however and given the forbearance of creditors is not infinite, the window for finding help is perilously close to slamming shut.
Back when there were only four TV channels, the same films would be shown at Christmas every year - the only thing that changed is which of the channels they’d be on.
The one that got most attention is the excellent but definitely unchristmassy “The Great Escape”.
It’s a tremendous misnomer because for a film called and about a large number of prisoners escaping from a POW camp, the actual number who do ultimately get away, three, is incredibly small. Most just don’t make it.
This is the scenario facing the majority of not just night time venues but most of the hospitality sector. That the majority might not make it.
Once this unpalatable but realistic scenario is recognised then the next step is easier - doing something about it.
As well as the various Covid-19 support measures, the government has suspended some insolvency rules and introduced others to make administration not just a viable but an attractive option for many businesses that’s only other path would have been liquidation.
Get in touch with us today and we can let you know what options are available for businesses that are themselves or in a sector that is in trouble.
We can quickly arrange a free virtual consultation where we can better understand the unique challenges you’re facing; what strengths and assets you’ve got to rely on; what the biggest threats are and what you can do to protect, rescue, restructure and relaunch.
We’ve got some tremendous tools to help businesses survive but we can only do so if they let us know they need them. Because despite the odds, for some a great escape can be achieved in the end.
Just when the hospitality sector didn’t think things could get any worse for most of them - it does.
Pubs, cafes and restaurants in tier 3 have to close unless they offer a takeaway or delivery only food service option.
Previously hospitality venues could stay open in tier 3 areas if they also operated as a restaurant but this requirement has been placed upon tier 2 areas.
Even then they are limited to takeaway, delivery or table service only and can only serve alcohol if it accompanies a substantial meal.
All hotels and accommodation destinations in tier 3 have to close regardless of any food offerings.
UKHospitality said this is the biggest threat facing the industry and its revenues. They said: “This is effectively a lockdown for businesses in tier 3 and further purgatory for those facing even tighter restrictions in tier 2. At best it’s a restrictive straitjacket and at worst a lockdown in all but name.”
Approximately 98% of their members will be in tiers 2 and 3.
“Rather than saving Christmas, these damaging measures will ruin it for hospitality businesses and their customers.”
Sacha Lord, Night Time economy advisor for Greater Manchester said: “I’ve heard reports this morning that 94% of pubs in tier 3 areas will go under by Spring, and while this may seem excessive to some, it is no exaggeration.
“These places are the lifeblood of communities...to kill these vital social spaces with these hardening measures will be a devastating blow to the very fabric of British culture.
“It’s clear that the ever increasing debt from rents, rates and bills will be too much for the majority, especially the independent operators which cannot lean on parent companies.
“Operators across the UK have spent several millions on making their venues covid-secure, following the government’s own guidelines, and these new regulations are a knife to the heart of the sector.”
Tourism and Indoor Entertainment
Indoor play centers including soft play and trampoline parks must close in tier 3 areas. As should casinos, bingo halls, bowling alleys, skating rinks, amusement arcades, escape rooms, cinemas, theatres, snooker halls and indoor concert venues.
In tier 1 or 2, they can open but must close at 11pm unless a performance starts before 10pm. Public attendance is permitted but limited to either 50% capacity or 1000 people.
The good news for retailers is that all stores can reopen across the UK from December 2nd regardless of what tier their local area is in although existing Covid-19 restrictions will apply.
Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium said: “While retailers have stepped up their online delivery over the course of 2020, the bulk of Christmas shopping tends to be done in store.
“The government’s decision to keep all of retail open will help to preserve jobs and the economy and keep Christmas a festive occasion for everyone.”
Hairdressers and barbers can reopen across the various tiers along with nail salons, spas, tanning salons, tattoo parlours, massage parlours and spas although steam rooms and saunas remain closed.
Outdoor exercise classes can continue but “higher-risk contact activity” shouldn’t take place. Neither should organised indoor sport, physical activity or exercise classes.
The tier system is due to stay in place until Spring 2021 with regular bi-weekly reviews of each area allowing some movement between tiers if possible.
The first one is scheduled for December 16th which would allow some pre-Christmas trading to occur but even this window of opportunity might come too late for some businesses.
While the awaited tiers system might have brought some hope for businesses in some areas, it might have sealed the fates of several more if there is no realistic likelihood that they can reopen and resume a regular service or operations before Christmas or even New Year.
Now would be the perfect time to get in touch with us to arrange a free consultation to discuss what decisions you can take now to help your business make it into 2021.
The sooner you make contact, you’ll find that you’ve got more options and room to move than you might have believed.
The die has been cast until at least midway through December - you can spend this time worrying about the future or taking charge of your future and finding out what you can do, right now, to make it a better one after this Covid Christmas.
You’ll know when the best time to push your two for one special offers are; what drinks go best in happy hour and what combination of flavours work best to complement each other at any given food service.
You’re adept at influencing and positively manipulating your customers wants and needs before they realise they are displaying them so you understand just how important customer behaviour is in influencing and driving their decisions.
Some of the most fascinating and profitable insights can be gained in the space between what customers say they want and what they actually purchase.
Understanding this small but significant space can help us make sense of some seemingly contradictory evidence based on customers' attitudes to the Covid-19 lockdowns currently in place.
Opinion polls found that over 70% of respondents agreed with the latest national lockdown announced by the Prime Minister on Halloween.
What happened next is where the deficit between the opinions and actions meant that restaurant and bar owners who fundamentally understood their customers could take advantage of their desires.
When it was announced that the lockdown was due to be implemented, it gave customers a four-day window to react in advance of the lockdown. As an overwhelming majority favoured the lockdown, you might think that they would take the extra time to prepare for an extended period at home and maybe get some extra supplies and luxuries to pass the time more agreeably.
What actually happened, as any good pub philosopher would have told you, was that hundreds of thousands of people went out to enjoy themselves.
OpenTable, the site that tracks online restaurant reservations, reported that bookings rose by 11% the day after the announcement compared to the previous year and on the day before the lockdown was imposed, they rose by 70% annually.
Data for foot traffic at retail parks showed that they also spiked in the three days before the lockdown - being greater than their 2019 levels for the first time since the Covid-19 safety measures were introduced in March.
Another piece of the puzzle landed last week following the news that a largely successful Covid-19 vaccine had been developed - online searches for holidays in 2021 leapt by 48%.
At first glance it appears counterintuitive. People are in favour of lockdowns and tighter restrictions yet in case after case, it appears that actions speak louder than words.
35 million people took advantage of the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme in August even though Coronavirus infections remained stable. Once the scheme ended, restaurant custom plummeted. When restaurants were told that they would be closing, they were packed in the three days leading up to the final bell.
Similarly, NHS Track and Tracers are reporting increased difficulties in reaching potentially infected individuals by mobile.
One explanation is the increasing reluctance to answer calls from unknown numbers but equally the suspicion remains that there could be financial repercussions from being ordered to self isolate so it would be beneficial to practice feigned ignorance to avoid it.
Weighing the evidence then, what is the most likely result for hospitality businesses when they are finally allowed to reopen, for argument's sake, without restriction on December 2nd?
Full houses as families and individuals take the chance to enjoy a meal and drink out with friends and family they haven’t been able to meet up with in weeks and months.
The cloud on the horizon is that all expert analysis, evidence and experience points to the immediate return of the tiered local system of restrictions being resurrected and ominously, according to the Bank of England, staying in place until at least the end of Q1 2021 - that’s March.
This is when the extended Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme (CJRS) furlough is due to expire although some expert predict that this would invite a similar surge in cases so the only adequate response would be more lockdowns - either locally or nationally - in the New Year.
The answer lies in finding the sweet spot between the competing demands of public health, normal economic activity and individual freedom. There is some recognition of this among policy makers as the second lockdown period is already shorter and less restrictive than the first as they recognised that despite what people were telling opinion polls, more would be willing to break rules to socialise and shop.
If you’re relatively successful at reading and understanding customer behaviour in your restaurant, cafe or bar then you could try to apply the same judgement criteria to what the official response will be.
Weighing up the competing motivating factors - will the lockdown be in place for Christmas? Will they waive the rules for a week but look to impose a stronger, longer lockdown afterwards to make up for it? Will more people welcome stronger restrictions in the traditionally darker and quieter months of January and February? When will the first virus trials and inoculation programs be likely to be implemented? Will this affect your customer base? - it might if it’s disproportionately made up of senior customers.
Everybody has opinions about how to best combat and beat the virus but if you run a hospitality business then it might be viable for you to apply your innate knowledge of what people eat, drink and do rather than what they say they do to build a reopening plan based on this evidence.
Combined with your existing customer data, you can produce a draft roadmap that could help you with your stock, supply and staffing requirements in advance of the busiest season of the year.
You’ll have to make contingencies and be agile - what services could you offer under various types of local lockdown for example - but there’s no reason you can’t start laying the foundations of your winter recovery right now.
Another easy step you could take would be to get in touch with us to arrange your free initial consultation.
Like you, we don’t have a crystal ball, but we do understand our industry and we know how creditors, HMRC and other businesses dealing with administration and insolvency think and act.
You can use what’s left of the enforced downtime to shore up your company’s financial defences so that if there’s another unexpected and unwanted closure, you’ll be in better shape to see it through.