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Agents brace for pile of bills as pressures mount

Agents fear financial pressure on their businesses is reaching a critical stage as they continue to battle for lockdown aid and face a longer wait for the next self‑employed grant.

A glut of outgoings due in the next three months includes tax bills at the end of January, deferred tax and VAT bills from last year, Abta bonding and membership renewals in March, business insurance and consortia membership renewals.

In addition, loans given out by the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme will need to be repaid from March onwards.

Spear Travels chairman Peter Cookson said the biggest problem for his 12 agencies was access to Local Restrictions Support Grants (LRSGs) via different councils.

He said: “Some come through in a couple of days. Others take weeks. And some, like Birmingham City Council, still owe us £2,000 from LRSGs in early December and haven’t started looking at the most recent lockdown grants. It’s all a mess and really time-consuming.”

Meanwhile, fears are growing that the fourth Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), for February to April, will not be made available until after the March Budget.

Westoe Travel owner Graeme Brett said: “Many in travel are taking part-time jobs to supplement their incomes. They need to know if they will get the self-employed support grant so they can budget.

“They may have the worry of having to repay business interruption loans at the same time as not knowing if they are getting this grant.”

Labour MP Kate Green this week wrote to ministers who led the government’s Global Travel Taskforce to highlight “severe financial pressures” faced by agents after hosting an online surgery for constituents in the industry.

Homeworker Sue Welsh, of Ace Travel2, told Green she had been unable to access any grants. “We just want some help,” she said.

Jill Waite, director of Pole Travel, said agents would soon have to pay back Bounce Back Loans after nearly a year without income.

“We are still changing holidays and making refunds but there’s no targeted industry support,” she said.

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