Confusion swirls as local authorities challenge retailers that remain open during lockdown

Some KBB retailers are being told to close their showrooms by local authorities despite central Government ruling they can stay open under the new lockdown rules.

Kbbreview understands that Tivoli Interiors in Camberley was forced to close by its local council; Rothwell Tiles in Kettering was asked to close but stood its ground and remains open, while More than Baths in Doncaster was told it should close when it asked for clarification of the rules from its local Trading Standards.

These challenges by local authorities comes less than a week after the KBSA reported it had confirmation from the Government that KBB retailers could stay open under the new lockdown rules.

“The Government has stipulated that ‘hardware stores and builders merchants’ are essential retail and this classification has been confirmed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for KBB retailers,” the KBSA said. “This is related to the integral role that independent KBB retailers have within the construction industry.”

But this message has clearly not filtered down to some local councils.

Ann Hassell, a partner in More than Baths, said she was instructed to close in no uncertain terms. In an email from Doncaster Trading Standards’ licensing compliance coordinator Nigel Green, she was told: “I have taken advice about your query and this has confirmed my initial views on this matter. Our position about showrooms being open is that they shouldn’t be. The spirit of the legislation is intending to prevent unnecessary journeys, social contact and activities.”

He added: “We are one of many authorities that will be seeking further clarification of the rules and this may well lead to amendments that will specifically deal with issues such as yours.”

The general advice was echoed by interim head of service at Business Doncaster, Chris Dungworth, who said: “It is clear appointments cannot be made to the showroom, however, operating in a Covid-secure manner going forward with existing orders and deliveries can be undertaken.

“Please keep up to date on the regulations as they change regularly and specific industries/businesses are added/changed daily.”

Ann Hassell said: “With builders merchants or those who deal with the trade direct, it appears they can open as they are dealing with installers. But just because we are not a merchant or don’t have a trade counter, doesn’t mean we don’t deal as much with the trade as they do.

“It just seems unfair with different authorities saying different things. There are probably other retailers in Doncaster staying open who have not made enquiries, but that’s their choice.”

Brian Annalls, proprietor of Tivoli Interiors in Camberley, got the bad news that he would have to close in an email from Surrey Heath Borough Council.

In response, he sent the council a copy of kbbreview’s news story announcing that the KBSA had got the green light for KBB retailers to open from BEIS.

Annalls said: “On Saturday, we had a visit from the Surrey Heath Borough Council Covid checkers and they told us we should be closed. What we were told is that the council met with Trading Standards and that at that meeting they decided all kitchen showrooms should be told to close.

“So we are now shut. But you have people like Wren just up the road in Farnborough advertising that they are still open. It is all very ambiguous.”

He added: “I don’t think that over the next three weeks it is going to impact our business greatly. We can still work from our showroom by email and phone. But it is the principle of it that the big people seem to get around this and the small family businesses get closed down.”

But one KBB retailer stood his ground when local council representatives came into his store in Northamptonshire and told him he had to close.

Craig Casciani, owner of Rothwell Tiles in Kettering, told them he was in the building and construction category, which he believes means he can stay open. He told them: “If I have to close, presumably you will also go to B&Q, Screwfix, Wickes, Toolstation, Howdens, Tile Choice and Carpetright to tell them they can’t stay open?”

He was then told that those stores are mainly for the trade to which Casciani pointed out that he also sold to tradespeople. And when he took them out to the warehouse area of his showroom, he said they seemed to “change their tune a little bit”.

According to Casciani, the council representatives conceded that perhaps he would fall under the construction category. They did, however, suggest he needed to display a sign advising customers to wear masks or face a £1,000 fine. Which he has complied with.

He told kbbreview: “I struggled [during the first lockdown] when I was shut for seven weeks. As a limited company, I got £10,000 the first time, but I lost £41,000 pro rata, so I had to borrow that on a bounce-back loan.

“I also made the point [to them] that they assume I know all about the lockdown, but I had no official letter either from the Government or the council to tell me the rules. I have never seen anything official.”

So far, he is still open and has heard no further from the council.

Despite these localised challenges, the KBSA remains firm on its confirmation that showrooms can open.

“The KBSA confirms that its interpretation stands, based on the current legislation and the information which was received from the BEIS during the last lockdown,” said Richard Hibbert, KBSA national chair. “If any KBSA member is asked to close by trading standards then the KBSA will engage with the relevant local authority, trading standards and any other government body on their behalf.

“If a retailer is not a KBSA member then they would advise that the retailer looks to see if any local Wren, Howdens or Wickes stores are open, and uses this as a basis to have further discussions with the authority that is asking them to close.

“Above all, the advice is to ensure that retailers adhere to all Health and Safety rules and regulations relating to COVID-19, and that it is also their own decision to stay open or close.”

  • Have you been challenged by your local authority and told to close your showroom during lockdown? Let us know – email the editor, [email protected]

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