As the owner of a successful bed-and-breakfast cottage, Mandi de Burgh-Thomas, 69, never expected to find herself considering applying for benefits. But she is ineligible for some of the government support afforded larger businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic and fears for her livelihood, she tells me on the phone from her home at The Old Bookshop B&B in Williton, Somerset.
This is partly because Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s one-off grants of up to £25,000 to small businesses in the hospitality sector only applied to those paying business rates, not those who run a business at their home and only pay council tax.
Meanwhile, small hotel owner Peter Garwood, 63, who has run Michaelson House Hotel and restaurant in Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria for the past 29 years, did receive a one-off grant, since he pays business rates. Even so, he fears he may never be able to re-open as lockdown eases to make way for a “new normal”.
一本道理不卡一二三区This is not only due to the financial concerns resulting from closure, with a mortgage and bills still to pay, but also because he is shielding his vulnerable 87-year-old mother, who lives in the hotel building (a nine-bed composed of two conjoined Victorian houses) with him.
Hosting guests again, who normally pay in the region of £67.50 per night for a single room, could be to invite a deadly risk to her health through his doors. “I’m hyper-conscious of hygiene and social distancing, and the need to keep Mum safe and protect her," he says. "As it is, the cold, brutal reality is that at one point I was down to £49 left in my business account. I’m caring for her in isolation, with just one weekly trip out for groceries."
Like thousands of others, Garwood has approached Turn2us for support. The nationwide charity, which is supported by the Telegraph's Coronavirus Appeal, provides emergency financial grants to those hit hardest by the coronavirus crisis, and provides practical support via its website and phone line, helping those in financial difficulties access the benefits they are entitled to.
"Until Turn2us helped me to successfully apply for Universal Credit, I was worried about how we’d continue to afford the essentials, " Garwood says. "For four weeks, we both lived solely on Mum's pension."
Their situations are not unique. Bed and breakfasts and smaller, independent family-run hotel businesses run by individuals have been dealt a particularly harsh blow by the pandemic since they had to close their doors indefinitely in March. While being forced to close to abide by lockdown measures, thousands of small bed and breakfasts were ineligible for the emergency grants made available to other small businesses, simply because they pay council tax instead of business rates as a result of the owners living in the same property.
一本道理不卡一二三区For people like Mandi de Burgh-Thomas, these unprecedented times are tough – but a Small Business Grant would have at least ensured the survival of her business. “The small-business grant of £10,000 would have just about seen me through the lockdown period, provided it doesn’t last for several more months,” she says.
According to the latest lockdown guidance issued by the Government in its 50-page lockdown-easing roadmap一本道理不卡一二三区 published on 11 May, hotels, bed and breakfasts, campsites, caravan parks, and boarding houses for commercial or leisure use are among those that must continue to stay closed for now – excluding for use by those who live in them permanently, those who are unable to return home and for critical workers where they need to for work. Like pubs, there is a possibility that they could be able to open from July 4, provided they "meet the Covid-19 secure guidelines". If they cannot meet them, or if there is a second spike in virus levels, they may not be able to reopen - and in any case, business is unlikely to make a speedy return to pre Covid-19 levels.
David Weston, chairman of the , says that de Burgh-Thomas’s situation is not uncommon. The Bed & Breakfast Association is currently making efforts for the Government to issue grants to support B&Bs in the same position. “There are something like 35,000 B&Bs across the UK and we think a good proportion – at least 5,000 to 10,000 – are in this position of not paying business rates but paying council tax,” he told the Yorkshire Post一本道理不卡一二三区. “Since the first package of measures were announced, we have been pointing out to the Government that there is this gap.”
Now, a new £617m “top-up” fund for councils announced by the Government on 2 May is designed to 'top-up' grants to struggling businesses who missed out - including bed and breakfast owners who were previously not eligible to receive money. De Burgh-Thomas is currently waiting until June to find out if she’s eligible for financial aid via the Government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. However, if she is eligible, she cannot then also receive any money from the top-up fund – even though B&Bs were specifically cited in the Government's statement as being among the “left-out firms” that should be prioritised by councils to benefit from the new funding.
“People need certainty and they need the cash soon – their business has completely stopped. All of their bookings have gone for the next few weeks and months. They really need the cash flow,” points out Weston.
一本道理不卡一二三区De Burgh-Thomas, who both runs and lives in The Old Bookshop B&B cottage with her husband Ivan Angell, 52, has found the process of applying for any kind of support since her last paying guest left on February 28 difficult. She has had no income for the past two months, while continuing to pay for outgoings such as insurance and fees for online travel agency booking sites. Things were tight and takings were down even before the time of coronavirus: “Visitor numbers were already down over the last couple of years due to uncertainty over Brexit.
"I’d been using my savings to pay the bills in the months when we made a loss. When I made a profit, I invested the money into the business,” she says. Her income for the year 2018/2019 fell just under £16,000, whereas for the year 2019/2020 (up to April this year) they come to just under £5,500.
一本道理不卡一二三区For her, it’s still a waiting game. “I’m angry at having to wait so long,” she says. “My bank won’t extend my overdraft so I’m very concerned about the business – which doubles up as our home – failing before we can host guests again.” Unlike the 1.8 million people who signed up for Universal Credit between March 16 and April 30, she isn’t eligible because of her husband's job, and doesn’t believe she qualifies for pension credits because of her husband's age.
一本道理不卡一二三区“I’ve written to my MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, but I’m yet to receive a reply,” she says. But the organisations she has found helpful include the B&B Association, which has been fighting her corner and applying for emergency funding, and Turn2us. She has also been in contact with two of her local councillors. “I feel extremely let down by everybody else,” she says.
一本道理不卡一二三区Garwood has also found the process of seeking out support given his situation frustrating, confusing and difficult. “In the time since the business had to close, both my personal and business finances have suffered greatly and the future looks bleak. The government has just paid my furloughed staff’s wages up to 80% for April, but I paid them myself for March, so I’m still in the red.
“I applied for Universal Credit to get by. It’s been a long, complicated and frustrating process with a seven-week delay, but thanks to the one-to-one advice on the phone from Turn2us and the help of their Benefits Calculator, I’ve qualified for the benefit and my first payment is due this week.
一本道理不卡一二三区“Before I found Turn2us, I was overwhelmed by how much information there was to break down – pages and pages, links to follow, leading to more links. I was so grateful there was a person on the end of the phone to reassure me as I worked through it. It was such a relief.”
一本道理不卡一二三区“I feel so glad to have been able to access this support to put food on the table for now,” he says. “But given how concerned I am about both my mother’s health and her state of mind, I still feel extremely worried about the future, for the survival of my business but also for my staff, who could lose their jobs for good.
一本道理不卡一二三区"We’ll get through today, but what about tomorrow?”
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