The B&Q owner, Kingfisher, has joined other retailers in returning emergency taxpayer support, pledging to repay £130m it received in business rates relief.
Last week Tesco, the UK’s biggest retailer, became the first company to say it would return business rates relief, followed by Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi, Lidl, Pets at Home and the discounter B&M. In total they have vowed to pay back more than £2bn to the UK government.
The business rates holiday was announced by the government in March to help retailers that were forced to close during the national coronavirus lockdown. However, supermarkets and other essential retailers that were allowed to stay open through the pandemic reported big sales increases and have come under pressure to repay the financial support. Their position became increasingly untenable, especially after their decision to resume dividend payments to shareholders.
Amazon will repay £2m in business rates relief it received for its food chain Whole Foods Market, according to the real estate adviser Altus Group.
However, Marks & Spencer and the John Lewis Partnership, which owns Waitrose, have refused to follow suit, even though they also benefited from strong food sales during the pandemic. They argue that they need the government support because of the financial strain placed on their clothing and homewares businesses during the crisis.
Travis Perkins, the building products company that owns Wickes and Toolstation, does not yet have plans to pay back the relief it has received. A spokesman said: “During the pandemic our business has been significantly impacted, and we have been very grateful for all the support we have received from the government, which we have used responsibly. This crisis is far from over, so we will continue to monitor the situation.”
Kingfisher said it had repaid the £23m it received under the government’s job retention scheme. Its chief executive, Thierry Garnier, said: “Returning the UK and Irish business rates relief in full is the right thing to do.”
He said Kingfisher, which owns the B&Q and Screwfix DIY chains, had reported a strong sales performance since it reopened its stores in late April and early May, helped by higher demand for home improvement during the pandemic.