Boris Johnson forces retail shutdown of thousands of small businesses

Boris Johnson has announced a shutdown of most retailers apart from supermarkets, pharmacies, hardware and pet supply stores; newsagents and corner shops.

UPDATED: Boris Johnson has announced a shutdown of all retail apart from food shops and chemists this evening.

The retail shutdown affects tens of thousands of retail businesses across Britain in a bid to stop the rampaging spread of coronavirus.

From now on people will only be allowed to leave their home for shopping for necessities, said Johnson, singling out clothes shops and electrical retailers as non-essential retailers.

From today, the only retailers which will be allowed to stay open are:

  • Supermarkets and other food shops
  • Health shops
  • Pharmacies including non-dispensing pharmacies
  • Petrol stations
  • Bicycle shops
  • Home and hardware shops
  • Launderettes and dry cleaners
  • Garages
  • Car rentals
  • Pet shops
  • Cornershops
  • Newsagents

The lockdown, which goes far beyond anything seen in wartime will last for an initial three weeks and will be enforced by police with on the spot fines.

The prime minister added that the public will be allowed out for exercise just once a day and gatherings of more than two people are banned.

Boris Johnson said: “From this evening you must stay at home … at present there are no easy options … in this fight, we can be in no doubt that every one of us is enlisted … the people of this country will rise the challenge”.

>See also: What does the latest Treasury stimulus mean for small business?

Government moves to stop businesses being evicted

The government has stepped in to stop businesses being evicted for non-payment of rent, giving small businesses a three-month lease forfeiture moratorium.

This means that if businesses are unable to pay commercial rent due to the coronavirus shutdown, they will have a three-month window to not pay rent without being evicted or their stock seized for non-payment. However, this is just three-month pause and does not mean businesses will not have to pay back rent once the moratorium has elapsed.

And it only applies to non-collection of rent but other landlord charges such as service charges and insurance will still have to be paid as normal.

Until now landlords have been able to seize a property within 28 days if a small business is late paying its rent or there is a default.

>See also: Government launches business Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

This will come as a relief for small businesses facing rent payment on quarter day this Wednesday, 25 March.

Kate Nicholls, CEO of restaurant and bar association UKHospitality said: “With the next pending rent day falling this Wednesday, this move by the government is hugely welcome and will help to protect jobs across the sector. The industry has been pressing ministers for several days to act on this crucial issue, and we are thankful they have responded positively to our concerns.

“While this removes the immediate cashflow pressure of quarter rent day, the government has made clear that the negotiation is now with lessee and landlord to reach a solution on payment. Hospitality businesses want to work with landlords constructively during this crisis to find solutions and the hope now is that they enter into meaningful discussions on the optimum way forward.”

Robert Jenrick, communities secretary, said: “We know many commercial landlords are already setting a great example by working closely with tenants and offering rent deferrals or holidays. However, these new measures will provide reassurance to businesses struggling with cashflows and ensure no commercial tenant is evicted if they cannot pay their rent because of coronavirus over the next three months.”

Further reading

How to ask for a commercial rent freeze from your landlord

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Tim Adler

Tim Adler is group editor of Small Business, Growth Business and Information Age. He is a former commissioning editor at the Daily Telegraph, who has written for the Financial Times, The Times and the...