coronavirus empty high street

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The government has extended the ban on evicting businesses until 30 June, in a move that has been welcomed by retailers but angered landlords.

The move would help those business worst affected by the pandemic prepare to reopen from May, the government said today.

“We’re doing everything we can to ensure businesses get the support they need to get through this pandemic and reopen when it is safe to do so,” said business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

“I know business owners will welcome this latest package of support and the breathing space it will give them to prepare for a safe reopening, and, ultimately, to build back better.”

Restrictions on landlords taking commercial rent arrears recovery action were also extended.  

The protections for occupiers will have in place for a year by the end of this month. Commercial tenants are estimated to have racked up £4.5bn in rent debt by the end of 2020.

The BRC said the extension was needed because of sales lost in the latest lockdown.

“After months of lockdown, this announcement provides much-needed breathing space to retailers, many of which are sitting on rising rent liabilities,” said BRC CEO Helen Dickinson.

“Retailers have lost over £22bn of sales during the three lockdowns, and the ban on aggressive rent enforcement is a vital protection against being pushed into administration by landlords.

“Where new rent plans have not yet been agreed, tenants and landlords must use this final opportunity to reach a deal before 30 June.”

However, the British Property Federation accused the government of performing a u-turn since the last extension was announced, in December. The government said at the time it would be the “final extension to protections from the threat of eviction”.

BPF CEO Melanie Leech said: “As they prepare to reopen, in premises which property owners and their agents have kept safe and well-maintained, the scandal of those well-capitalised businesses who can pay rent, but have chosen not to, cannot be allowed to continue.”

The government also today launched a call for evidence on commercial rents aimed at monitoring the progress of negotiations between tenants and landlords, and setting steps the government could take after 30 June.

Dickinson said alongside business rates reform it was an opportunity to ”reset and revive the landlord/tenant relationship”.

“If government and landlords can work constructively with all tenants to achieve a new normal where all parties are economic partners not adversaries, there is scope to support the reinvention of our shopping centres, out-of-town parks, and high streets all across the country,” she said.

Leech said: “The government’s call for evidence is a year too late. Alongside the independent data published quarterly, we have already provided extensive evidence of the way in which property owners are supporting their tenants and creating new sustainable partnerships which work for both parties.

“We await further details on what more is required – and on how the government proposes to ensure that the local authorities, pensions and savings funds invested in commercial property are finally able to see light at the end of the tunnel after a year with little or no income.”