Written answers

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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650. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if supports will be provided for businesses having difficulties paying rent and facing rent arrears due to Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6961/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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The issues businesses are facing in respect of commercial rents / leases have been raised with me through the Enterprise Forum and Retail Forum, both of which I chair, and other channels.

These are difficult times and many companies have had to temporarily close their businesses and/or premise(s), curtail their activities or make alternative work arrangements due to COVID-19 restrictions. I am keenly aware that some businesses are concerned that some landlords are continuing to insist on the payment of rents and leases as normal despite their premises being closed.

At the same time, we must remember that landlords have their own financial obligations, like debt repayments, insurance or security costs, that still need to be paid. Where a landlord has debt in place, their flexibility will likely be driven by what their bank / lender will accept. The Minister for Finance raised the broader issue of rents in meetings with the pillar banks. He referenced this in his announcement of 18 March concerning an arrangement with the banks to the effect that any landlord who has agreed a deal with the banks on foot of the arrangement will be expected to pass the benefit on to their tenants. I reiterated this in the Dáil on 30 April last.

While commercial leases are primarily a contractual matter for the tenant and the landlord, the Government has urged landlords to demonstrate forbearance in these extraordinary times and to play their part, as everyone must, in helping the country through this difficult period. I would encourage tenants and landlords to engage with each other on this matter and come to some arrangement as it is in everybody’s interest that terms are amicably agreed.

I have asked my officials to raise the matter of commercial rents and leases across a number of Government Departments. An initial inter-departmental discussion has already taken place and I understand further engagement is underway with a range of stakeholders, including groups representing businesses and landlords, to gain additional insights and gather intelligence to inform any further discussions. I have also asked my officials to look into the different responses from other countries and to identify possible options for supports.

While different options are being explored, I would point out that any support to business in respect of rents alone would ultimately end up as a support to the landlord. Not only would it be difficult to estimate the costs involved for such a scheme, but the offering of support, or even the perception that such supports will be forthcoming, may affect the market and lessen the impetus for landlords to renegotiate with tenants.

The matter of legal protections for businesses who are unable to pay their commercial rents has been raised with the Attorney General. Specifically, I asked about the potential for legislation to prevent the eviction of commercial tenants who have failed to pay rent as a result of the pandemic and the possibility of legislating to place a moratorium on businesses having to pay rent for premises they cannot used due to the restrictions imposed by Government. I have just received a response in which the Attorney General advises that there are significant legal difficulties in respect to both of the questions posed. I have asked my officials to consider this advice.

The Government is committed to ensuring as many businesses as possible survive this challenging period, and it will continue to look at how we can support businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

I would like to point out that the Government has introduced a range of measures aimed at supporting businesses including:

- The Credit Guarantee Scheme supports loans up to €1 million for periods of up to 7 years. Applications can be made to AIB, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank. Eligibility criteria apply.

- Microenterprises can access COVID-19 Business Loans of up to €50,000 from Microfinance Ireland. The terms include a six months interest free and repayment free moratorium, with the loan to then be repaid over the remaining 30 months of the 36-month loan period. Businesses can apply through their Local Enterprise Office or directly online at www.microfinanceireland.ie. 

- The new €450m SBCI COVID-19 Working Capital Scheme for eligible businesses supports loans from €25,000 up to €1.5 million (first €500,000 unsecured). Applications can be made through the SBCI website at www.sbci.gov.ie. 

- An additional €200 million in COVID-19 funding for the Future Growth Loan Scheme, which will be released in tranches, will provide longer-term loans to COVID-19 impacted businesses.

- The new Sustaining Enterprise Fund of up to €180 million is specifically aimed at firms with 10 or more employees impacted by COVID-19 that are vulnerable but viable. The fund is operated by Enterprise Ireland, providing repayable advances of up to €800,000 as agreed with the EU under new State Aid rules.

On 2 May, a number of additional measures to aid the economy as the Covid-19 restrictions start to be lifted were introduced. These included:

- A €10,000 restart grant for micro and small businesses based on a rates waiver/rebate from 2019 (see below for more information);

- A three-month commercial rates waiver for impacted businesses;

- A €2 billion Pandemic Stabilisation and Recovery Fund within the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which will make capital available to medium and large enterprises on commercial terms;

- A €2 billion COVID-19 Credit Guarantee Scheme to support lending to SMEs for terms ranging from 3 months to 6 years, which will be below market interest rates;

- The ‘warehousing’ of tax liabilities for a period of twelve months after recommencement of trading during which time there will be no debt enforcement action taken by Revenue and no interest charge accruing in respect of the warehoused debt;

- A commitment to local authorities to make up the rates shortfall, so that local authorities can continue provide full services to the public.

These supports acknowledge that impacted businesses need time and space to restructure and resume activity, without the added pressures of trying to repay legacy debts, such as commercial rents, when revenues are just beginning to return.

On Friday 15th May last, the Government agreed the arrangements for the new €250m “Restart Grant” for micro enterprises and small businesses.  The Restart Grant is a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational and re-connecting with employees and customers. Eligible businesses will receive a Restart Grant equivalent to their commercial rates assessment for 2019 (excluding arrears), subject to a minimum grant of €2,000 and a maximum of €10,000.

This grant will provide funding to enable small and micro business reconnect with their employees and customer base by helping to defray ongoing fixed costs and the costs, such as PPE, associated with re-launching the business.

Further information on all of these and additional Government supports for COVID-19 impacted businesses can be found at www.gov.ie or on my Department’s website ().

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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651. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to provide supports for the live entertainment industry (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7021/20]

Photo of Heather HumphreysHeather Humphreys (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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As the Deputy is aware, policy responsibility for the arts rests with my colleague, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD. Information on the suite of COVID-19 supports for artists and this working in the arts sector which her Department has put in place is available at .

I am acutely aware of the immediate and critical financial pressures which the pandemic has created across all business sectors. Accordingly, I have put in place a comprehensive suite of supports for firms of all sizes, which includes grants, low-cost loans, write-off of commercial rates and deferred tax liabilities. These supports are designed to build confidence, to further assist businesses in terms of the management of their companies and to allow them to begin looking to the future and start charting a path forward for weeks and months ahead.For a full list of supports for business please see .

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