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H Samuel owner Signet pays £450,000 after losing head office rent relief claim

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A branch of H Samuel The Jeweller on Oxford Street, central London (PA) (PA Archive)
A branch of H Samuel The Jeweller on Oxford Street, central London (PA) (PA Archive)

The owner of high street jewellers H Samuel and Ernest Jones has forked out nearly £450,000 after losing a claim for rent arrears relief on the chains’ Hertfordshire head office.

Signet Trading was ordered to pay £448,043 in rent arrears to landlord First Property Group in the first known award made of its kind through arbitration related to the law protecting stores from rent debt due to the pandemic lockdown.

The group, whose parent company Signet Jewelers is listed in the US, had sought to claim it was entitled to a rent debt holiday for its H Samuel and Ernest Jones head office in Borehamwood during the pandemic, given that stores were able to apply for relief on arrears, according to First Property.

Too many businesses tried to use the cover of Covid to avoid paying rent that was rightfully due. Landlords should not have to pay for this

Martin Pryce, First Property Group

First Property – which is run by former Brexit party MEP Ben Habib – alleged that Signet “tried to take advantage” of the law protecting stores from being forced to cough up rent arrears in lockdowns.

The commercial property investment group said that Gary Cowen QC, of Falcon Chambers Arbitration, ruled that H Samuel’s head offices were not affected by Covid-19 lockdown closures that forced Signet to shut its UK retail stores.

It is thought this could be the first of many such awards as it may encourage landlords to challenge office tenants who continue to refuse to pay Covid-related arrears on similar grounds.

Martin Pryce, investment manager at First Property Group, said: “We all want to see the high street thrive and understand the role that rent arrears relief played in helping to keep shops from closing during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Signet, however, tried to take advantage of the Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Act 2022 by claiming relief for its office space in Borehamwood, in addition to its retail stores. That was not what the Act was for.

“Too many businesses tried to use the cover of Covid to avoid paying rent that was rightfully due. Landlords should not have to pay for this.”

Signet was not immediately available for comment.

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