Happy Sunday: 30 May

Posted on May 30, 2021. by NTI

Michelle’s friend, Fenella (‘Lips’) Romilly-Smythe, is due to marry her fiancé of two years, Maximilian Sprogette, on 26 June. Like many of Michelle’s friends the couple have a healthy collection of eclectic buddies and exes to spread around the dining hall of their local manorial hostelry at the wedding breakfast; but the question is - will they be permitted to go ahead with either the wedding or celebration of it?

To say their nuptials are ‘touch-and-go’ is a major understatement. At this stage in England’s sketchy road map to freedom any wedding gathering of more than 30 guests is illegal. This is due to change on 21 June, but the only question on Fenella and Max’s mind is; will it?

In a similar one horse race against time landlords and tenants stand on two sides of a thin line. The time is set; 11.59 30 June 2021. This is the date by which ministers have to decide how to replace the debt-collection and eviction ban which has protected so many commercial businesses during times of pandemic. 

Many landlords demand that it is replaced by ... nothing. They argue that, having pushed pause on one of the oldest relationships known to man, the Government should simply hit ‘play’ and let natural causes take effect. Others (mainly tenants) say this would lead to a blood bath and the closure of huge numbers of premises and businesses. The stakes are high; it is estimated there is a £6 billion rent arrears bill to be addressed, starting 1 July, and for many tenants the coffers are already empty, having been used to promote survival during the most torturous time for retail, outside war, ever. On the other hand, for landlords, this is £6 billion it would be nice to have.

Of course the British Retail Consortium (BRC) have a view, and it’s the one they are paid to hold. They have warned that the ending of the ban could lead to the closure of “thousands of shops” if property owners push tenants for unpaid rent. That other hard-pressed industry, the insolvency sector, who have had a difficult 18 months waiting for a distant wave to break over the the retail and casual dining sector cannot be seen to indulge in hand-rubbing, but enough is enough, surely? The Government should let history take its course. How long can you cryogenically freeze an entire sector waiting for a miracle before you wake it?

The NTI newsroom have not heard of Kate Nichols before, but now we have listened to her views we feel we should have. She is chief executive of UKHospitality (nope, still doesn’t ring a bell); anyway, she said in the hospitality sector 40 per cent of businesses had not reached an agreement on rent arrears. “Once the moratorium is lifted, those [businesses] are most at risk and you would expect to see some legal action happening pretty quickly if agreement isn’t reached,” she said. “There is a real risk to businesses and jobs.” 

Expect to see quick legal action? We’ll say, Kate. We expect areas around courts to be cordoned off from 12.01am on 1 July as lawyers in sleeping bags with little titanium water flasks and fresh croissants to form a queue, urged on by landlord clients who have suffered too long not to want to be first through the courtroom door. 

We have definitely heard of Melanie Leech, head of the BFP and currently coming in a famous fifth in ‘word-search bingo’ on the NTI news bulletins. You could have predicted her point of view after three bottles of wine, and she didn’t disappoint: “Let’s not forget either that there remain well-capitalised retail businesses exploiting the moratoriums, refusing to engage with property owners or pay any rent,” she said. 

This has long been a theory that the BFP have owned. Pesky tenants have been hiding behind the Government shield of “poor us, we can’t pay our rent - go away and leave us alone.”

It serves the Government right; they asked for proposed solutions to the problem and, of course, received various versions. British Land and Land Securities, two of the UK’s largest landlords, submitted proposals alongside the BPF. They argue that arrears built up since March 2020 should be ringfenced and tenants protected until the end of 2021, but that tenants should pay rent from the end of June as they resume trading.

The BRC is also calling for rent arrears, which it says have reached almost £3 billion in the retail sector alone, to be ringfenced.

Will concessions be given? Will holds be barred? Is there a solution? This is one for you to mull over on this fine ...

... happy Sunday. 

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