Coronavirus: If we cannot get a loan we 'will go under'

By Howard Mustoe
Business reporter

Image source, TPi Magazine

Laura Hurlocker, who runs a power generation company with her husband, has been turned down for a bank loan to keep the business going amid the virus.

Her bank said the fact her firm had other debts meant that it was not suitable to receive further help.

The firm is one of many struggling to get help amid the coronavirus crisis.

Figures show banks have so far agreed less than half of applications made under the government's Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

Bank lobby group UK Finance, which publishes the figures each week, said so far £2.8bn of loans had been agreed compared with the £1.1bn approved up to last week.

In total, only 16,624 applications have been approved out of 36,000 as banks wade through a large backlog.

UK Finance didn't reveal how many companies had been turned down for loans.

"Bank staff are working hard to help viable businesses access the support they need to get them through these challenging times.

"Over half the total number of loans provided through CBILS have been approved in the past eight days alone," UK Finance said.

'We feel we are being penalised'

Ms Hurlocker's Luton-based firm Fourth Generation supplies power generation equipment to live events, powering concerts hosted by Coldplay, Beyonce and Robbie Williams.

She applied for a CBIL loan with her bank Barclays, with whom she has been a customer for 16 years.

But her bank turned her down, partly because the business had other loans.

The business has some debts because she and her husband have invested £350,000 in equipment for the firm in the last three years.

"We feel we are being penalised," she told the BBC. "To be told because you have an existing loan you are deemed by us to be unaffordable. It was a kick in the teeth."

Whilst she accepts that the events industry has been hit harder than other sectors since it relies on mass gatherings, she says she feels businesses should be measured on their health before the crisis hit. The firm owns 90% of its equipment outright, with only a small percentage outstanding on asset finance, she adds.

"We were quite happily trading along six weeks ago," she says. "Were you viable at the point of the shutdown? If the answer is yes, you should get the loan."

While she praised her relationship manager with the bank for doing his best, ultimately without financial help, she says her firm could collapse.

Barclays didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Her next move is to apply to some of the specialist lenders who are becoming CBIL providers.

"We are hanging onto the hope that while the initial funding portals - the banks, which were not so willing to fund us - we can only hope those secondary level funders will be able to," she says.

"Otherwise we will go under. We have no income coming in."

Behind the scenes, banks are keen to stress that they are dealing with an extraordinary number of applications, and that they must follow the rules set by the British Business Bank when it comes to these loans as well as their own lending criteria.

Image source, Getty Images

Business lobby group the CBI welcomed the fact that the pace of loan approvals had improved, but it said many firms were still missing out.

"More loans must get out the door faster for the businesses facing distress, especially smaller businesses.

"Finding quicker and simpler routes for smaller firms to access cash and extending repayment schedules to encourage more businesses to take them up, are two ways that could make a difference," said chief economist Rain Newton-Smith.

It was a criticism echoed by the Federation for Small Businesses.

"We now need to know how many micro businesses have been helped by the scheme to date.

"We continue to hear from small firms that made enquiries when this scheme launched but have still been unable to make an application because of unresponsive customer service teams. For those that have made an application, the process is very slow," said chairman Mike Cherry.

'More reform needed'

Lenders were criticised early in the programme for requesting personal guarantees from small business owners, in spite of the fact that the loans are backed by the state.

More reforms are needed, said Tej Parikh, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, Britain's oldest business lobby group.

"The Government must consider reforms to improve the scheme, from raising its backing of small loans to helping more non-bank lenders play their part," he said.

"To help those unable to access the scheme, we need to explore how to make the affordability criteria clearer, more consistent and less stringent, while looking at other routes such as overdraft facilities."

Separately, the Office for National Statistics said that 80% of businesses are interested in the government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which offers to pay four fifths of the wages of staff who have been furloughed because of the lockdown.