Pets at Home and B&M join supermarkets in repaying business rate relief

PETS at Home and B&M have joined supermarkets in repaying business rates relief worth £28.9million and £80million respectively.

Yesterday, Asda, Aldi, Sainsbury's and Morrisons said they'll hand back a collective £1.15billion saved from the government's business rates holiday.

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The moves came after Tesco said it'd return £585million it saved thanks to the support to help struggling retailers through the pandemic.

Sainsbury's said it will hand back around £440million, Morrisons will return £274million and Aldi will pay back more than £100million.

Asda, the last of the big four supermarkets to announce the refund, said it would return £340million of taxpayer's money.

On Wednesday, Tesco chairman John Allan said the board "are conscious of our responsibilities to society".

He added that the supermarket didn't need the savings due to remaining open and trading strongly throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Morrisons was then first to follow its rival's move, with chief executive David Potts saying the supermarket was "grateful for the government's swift action at the start of the pandemic".

While Sainsbury's said sales and profits have been stronger than expected since the start of the second lockdown in England and the payment will come despite spending £290million on making the business Covid-safe.

Sainsbury's chief executive, Simon Roberts, added: "While we have incurred significant costs in keeping colleagues and customers safe, food and other essential retailers have benefited from being able to open throughout.

"With regional restrictions likely to remain in place for some time, we believe it is now fair and right to forgo the business rates relief that we have been given on all Sainsbury’s stores."

Giles Hurley, Aldi's chief executive, said: "Thanks to our amazing colleagues, we have been able to remain open during lockdowns.

"Despite the increased costs we have incurred during the pandemic, we believe returning the full value of our business rates relief is the right decision to help support the nation."

Asda president and chief executive officer Roger Burnley added that the news of a vaccine has left the supermarket confident about 2021.

The retailer is now working with the government to ensure the returned cash will go towards other industries and businesses fighting to survive amid the pandemic.

He said: "Almost half our customers are telling us they expect their financial position to worsen in the next 12 months and we recognise that there are other industries and businesses for whom the effects of Covid-19 will be much more long lasting and whose survival is essential to thousands of jobs."

In a stock market announcement, B&M said "although significant uncertainty remains, the group believes it is now right to forego the business rates relief granted to B&M".

While Pets at Home's chief executive, Peter Pritchard, said: "We were very grateful for the rates relief provided back in March during a time of significant uncertainty, which helped us to take the decision to keep our stores, online operations and veterinary practices open.

"Recent positive news around the launch of vaccinations for Covid-19 has led us to reassess the level of uncertainty ahead."

The decisions have led to calls for other supermarkets and essential retailers to make similar commitments.

There are also calls for the money to be handed to the pub sector, which is struggling hardest from the new tiered restrictions.

In September, industry bosses warned that thousands of pubs will shut for good if the business rate relief isn't extended.

New data from real estate adviser Altus Group shows "essential" retailers enjoyed savings of £3.03billion thanks to the business rates relief.

The support was aimed at helping retailers which were unable to open and struggling to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, data by Altus Group last month projected that the UK's four largest grocers – Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons – and rivals Aldi and Lidl would save around £1.87billion as a result of the rates holiday.

This was set to represent more than a sixth of the total £10.1billion rates bill which has been written off for all businesses during the year.

Rates relief was first announced by the Chancellor for retail, leisure and hospitality firms until March 2021.

The figures from Altus show Lidl is projected to save £108million for the year.

Last month, Sainsbury's said it had received a break worth £230million for the half-year to September in an update which also saw it reveal plans to axe 3,500 jobs.

However, the company came under fierce criticism as it also declared an interim dividend of 3.2p plus a special dividend of 7.3p for shareholders.

In Wales, the six major supermarkets still had to pay around £78million for rates for some stores as a result of devolved business rates.

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