British retail sector faces 'tsunami of closures' unless moratorium on debt is extended

Most tenants say landlords have given them less than a year to pay back rent arrears incurred during pandemic when shops remained closed

Pedestrians walk past shops at lunchtime in the City of London on April 29, 2021. Britain has been the European country worst-hit by the virus, recording more than 127,000 deaths, although it rolled out a succesful mass-vaccination campaign in early December, using AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. / AFP / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

Britain's retail sector will endure a "tsunami of closures" if the government does not extend a moratorium on aggressive debt enforcement, industry lobby group the British Retail Consortium, said on Sunday.

Citing survey data it said two thirds of British retailers have been told by landlords they will be subject to legal measures to recover unpaid rent from July 1 when the moratorium ends.

Many UK retailers deemed "non essential" had to close their shops during several COVID-19 lockdowns over the last 15 months, accruing total rent debt of £2.9 billion ($4.1bn), the BRC said.

The pandemic has hammered the sector and industry data shows one in seven shops already lie empty.

The BRC's survey found 80 per cent of tenants said some landlords have given them less than a year to pay back rent arrears.

Without action, the end of the moratorium could result in the closure of thousands of shops, said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.

She called on the UK government to allow the rent arrears built up during the pandemic to be ring-fenced and the moratorium on repayment of these debts to be extended to the end of the year.

"With this in place, all parties can work on a sustainable long-term solution, one that shares the pain wrought by the pandemic more equally between landlords and tenants," she said.

"Without action, it will be our city centres, our high streets and our shopping centres that suffer the consequences, holding back the wider economic recovery.”

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