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In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Government has required non‑essential businesses to close at various times since March 2020. As a result, many businesses have lost income and experienced problems paying their rent. HM Treasury has estimated that by March 2022 rent arrears could total around £9bn, although it expects the actual figure to be lower. Pubs and bars, restaurants, clothing retailers and hotels are thought to owe the most.

In November 2021, the Government announced new legislation to resolve these remaining commercial rent debts. The subsequent Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Bill is formed of 29 clauses, split into four parts. It includes provisions that would: 

  • introduce a new binding arbitration process for tenants and landlords to use when they cannot agree how to settle any outstanding rent arrears accrued during the coronavirus pandemic; and
  • expand existing restrictions on enforcing business rent arrears so they cannot be used to undermine the arbitration process set out in the bill.

The bill has completed its passage through the House of Commons. Labour supported the bill but argued the Government should give further support to businesses by, for example, reforming business rates. Labour tabled amendments during both public bill committee stage and report stage. However, none were successful, and only one was pushed to a division.

Government amendments were added to the bill without division at report stage. The majority were minor and technical, however, some removed a clause from the bill which would have given a Northern Ireland department the power to make regulations for purposes corresponding to the bill. The Government explained that it had made these amendments at the request of the Northern Ireland Department of Finance and Department of Economy.

The Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 13 January 2022. Under a new procedure, should the Government receive approval from the House, the bill will be considered in Grand Committee on 27 January 2022 before it receives its second reading, which will take place without debate.

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