A ban on landlords evicting firms for unpaid commercial rent has been extended for another nine months.
The current moratorium, which prevents landlords taking tenants to court for non-payment, was set to come to an end on June 30, 2021. It will now be extended until March 25, 2022.
The move follows the delay of the final stage of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. Lockdown restrictions, which were to be lifted on June 21 in England, will now not end until July 19, amid alarm at the spread of the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus.
Announcing the move, chief secretary of the Treasury Stephen Barclay said that the delay in easing lockdown restrictions “present additional challenges” to business.
The government also has plans to introduce a mandatory arbitration process to tackle debts where landlords and tenants cannot agree.
Mr Barclay said the government was acting because of the “threat to jobs” in many businesses affected by the pandemic.
And he added: “We believe this strikes the right balance between protecting landlords and supporting those businesses that are most in need.”
Mr Barclay also said that businesses no longer facing trading restrictions should start to pay rent again.
Hospitality industry leaders had warned of a “cliff edge of failure” without a longer grace period, with venues still closed or operating at less than full capacity.
According to reports, landlords were down £5.3bn on rents last year and two-thirds of retailers have said they had been threatened with legal action by landlords looking to collect payments.
While evictions will be banned until next March, statutory demands and winding up petitions will remain restricted until the end of September.
Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, has welcomed the announcement.
She said: “Just as retailers feared a wave of legal action by landlords, the government has stepped in to offer both landlords and tenants more time to negotiate.
“The last 15 months have seen extended periods of forced closure for retailers, preventing many from making the turnover needed to cover rents. Retailers need time to trade their way out of debt; this announcement does exactly that.”
She added: “We’re also pleased to see the government adopt our proposal for binding arbitration where agreements between parties cannot be reached.”
The Treasury is still pressing ahead with reductions next month to both the furlough scheme and business rates relief.