B&Q to return €1.1m in Irish rates as DIY takes off during pandemic

Retailer is first in Ireland to pay back local authority rates waived as part of Covid relief

DIY and home improvement stores have witnessed a mini-boom  as  consumers spent to decorate their homes instead of splashing out on holidays in 2020. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

DIY and home improvement stores have witnessed a mini-boom as consumers spent to decorate their homes instead of splashing out on holidays in 2020. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

 

DIY chain B&Q has become the first retailer operating in Ireland to confirm it will pay back local authority rates that were waived by the State as part of business Covid relief measures.

Kingfisher, the UK stock market-listed owner of the chain, told investors on Monday morning that it plans to hand back £130 million rates relief in Britain and Ireland. It later confirmed to The Irish Times that about £1 million (€1.1 million) of this amount relates to rates relief in the Republic, where it operates as B&Q and also as the fixings supplier Screwfix.

Kingfisher said it decided to return the State supports because its sector has performed strongly when it has been allowed to open during the pandemic. DIY and home improvement stores have witnessed a mini-boom recently, according to data from digital platforms such as Revolut, as many housebound consumers have spent to decorate their homes instead of splashing out on holidays in 2020.

Wage subsidies

The company earlier this year also announced that it would repay £23 million to the UK government it received as part of a taxpayer-funded job retention scheme, although it did not say whether it planned to return any Government wage subsidies it received in the State.

B&Q’s local rival in the Irish market, the stock market-listed Grafton Group, which owns DIY chain Woodies, announced in August that it would repay about €2.5 million in State wage supports. Woodies declined to say on Monday night if it would follow its rival in handing back any waived commercial rates. “Any further updates would be provided as part of the group’s next trading update in January,” it said.

There has been a rush recently among British retailers that performed well in the pandemic to hand back state supports, after several stock market-listed groups were criticised for accepting taxpayer help while also paying out dividends to shareholders.

Various British retailers, mostly supermarkets, have committed to returning more than £2 billion to taxpayers in recent weeks.

Criticised

After Tesco was recently criticised for paying dividends to shareholders, it promised to return £585 million in waived rates to taxpayers in the UK. The group has said it did not avail of a rates waiver in Ireland and was reported by The Irish Examiner last week as saying it was “informing the relevant authorities of its decision” to pay rates here.

Most of Tesco’s stores in Ireland would not have qualified for rates relief anyway. The Irish scheme, in which rates are waived for nine months until the end of December under an automatic credit scheme, is not available to supermarkets over 500sq m in size, an exemption that would capture all but the smallest of Tesco’s Express outlets.

Aldi and Lidl have both committed to repaying rates waived under the UK’s much broader scheme but, again, the size of their stores in Ireland means they are unlikely to have qualified for waivers anyway. Other companies that do not qualify for rates waivers in the Republic include banks and IT manufacturers.

Marks & Spencer is among the handful of large UK retailers that has said it does not plan to repay any state supports.