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Dixons Carphone to keep business rates relief despite jump in online orders

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Dixons Carphone intends to hold on to the cash support it received form the Government during the pandemic despite a jump in sales and profits. 

The electronics retailer said it received £103m in furlough support for workers and business rates tax relief, but that it had not used the Job Retention Scheme since October.

It has not followed the lead of retail rivals - mostly supermarkets that stayed open - in paying back the support. 

Chief executive Alex Baldock said: "The Government has closed down our stores this year twice. We were classed as non-essential. The outlook is still uncertain.

"We are grateful for the support, but the closed shops did cost us more than we received. If we're performing strongly, it is not because anything's been handed to us on a plate." 

Booming online sales during the pandemic helped the company to swing to a half-year profit as it overcame the hit from store closures during both lockdowns.

It posted statutory pre-tax profits of £45m for the six months to Oct 31 against losses of £86m a year earlier.

Mr Baldock, who said he will take a definitive view on repaying the rates relief at the end of the financial year, added: "Meanwhile, leaders have taken salary cuts and waived bonuses, and we suspended the dividend."

His remarks came after Wickes and Toolstation said they would return about £50m in business rates relief to the Government.

Wickes is an "essential" retailer and Toolstation has benefitted from a surge in DIY trade during the year, owner Travis Perkins said. 

A string of chains that were classed as essential and not forced to shut at the height of the crisis have said they will hand back the tax break, which was designed to help firms ordered to close.

They are expected to hand over £2.16bn in cash, but so far they have been struggling to work out a process for repaying the money. 

The business rates tax break was designed as a 12-month hiatus in payments. Money is typically collected by councils on a shop-by-shop basis, and around half of the cash then goes to the central Government. 

However, councils were told on Tuesday not to accept the payments as the Treasury and mandarins have not yet come up with a way to accept it.

Dixons Carphone also said the business was well-placed to "cope" with disruption at ports such as Felixstowe after a jump in sales and profits. 

A host of retailers have raised the alarm about a massive logjam at the dockside as Britain's ports reel from Covid-19 disruption and stockpiling ahead of Brexit.

Cuts to shipping services
Cuts to shipping services

He said: "We've seen a little disruption but this is something we've been getting ready for some time. We've been getting ready for any outcome."

Items such as laptops, mobile phones, fridges, freezers, cookers, TVs and washing machines have been affected to an extent. 

"We've seen some supply delays of up to two days worst case, but we can deal with that," Mr Baldock added. "We're first in the queue to get stock from suppliers [due to our scale]." 

The Currys PC World owner reported a 16pc hike in like-for-like UK and Ireland electricals sales, while online sales jumped 145pc, which offset some of the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on its shops.

Mr Baldock said: "We've successfully navigated through an exceptionally challenging period... even when we've had one arm tied behind our backs against our competitors with our stores closed for months. We're winning online, we're beating the competition as well as growing fast."

Shares soared by 14pc to 124.30p in morning trading. 

The group, which normally makes most of its profits in the final six months of its financial year, revealed that current trading remained buoyant, with same-store sales up 16pc in the six weeks to Dec 12 despite store closures in the UK and Greece.

On an underlying basis, group interim pre-tax profits rocketed to £89m from £2m a year earlier.

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