Primark withholds £33m rent on its closed UK stores | World news
Primark has refused to pay £33m in rent to its landlords after the closure of its UK stores due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The payment, which was due on Wednesday, was meant to cover rent and service charges for two thirds of its 189 UK stores over the next three months.
But Associated British Foods, which owns the fast fashion retailer, is withholding the cash as it tries to negotiate a deal that might offset the financial hit caused by the UK lockdown. Primark’s sales will be entirely wiped out by store closures, as it does not sell online.
Burger King, which has 500 restaurants, has also refused to pay its latest rent bill.
Meanwhile, Next has offered a 20% bonus to staff willing to pick clothes and fill online orders from its own shuttered stores. In a letter to workers, the retailer said it would not force anyone to come in, but begged for volunteers: “We desperately need your support to keep the company operating and we hugely appreciate your help in this.”
It added: “We need to keep the online business functioning to be certain that Next emerges from this short-term crisis.”
A spokesman for Next said: “A very small number of staff at any one time are required to help with online orders. This will enable social distancing whilst these tasks are performed.”
The UK government has given businesses strict orders to keep all but essential workers at home, but has said retailers can still trade online. This has caused confusion about which companies are able to continue operating, and in what capacity.
Primark has shut its 376 sites across 12 countries until further notice. It estimates that for every month of closures, it stands to lose about £650m in net sales. It has also cancelled orders from its suppliers.
A spokesperson said: “These are exceptionally difficult times and, like many retail businesses, we are looking closely at options to mitigate the significant impact of lost sales due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
“Given that all our stores are closed for the foreseeable future, we are asking our landlords to support us by agreeing terms that will help offset some of the impact.
“We hugely value our relationships with our landlords and we look forward to resuming our normal trading relationships as soon as possible when our stores reopen.”