'My firm may fold because I can't get a bounce back loan'

By Simon Read
Business reporter

Image source, Mike Hampshire
Image caption,
Mike Hampshire says without a bounce back loan he may have to search for other work

Quitting his IT job two years ago to start a beer tour business was a dream for Mike Hampshire.

But his hopes of breaking even in his second year of operation were crushed when the coronavirus crisis hit in spring.

Now the future of his Leeds-based business is in serious doubt as he's been unable to get a bounce back loan.

"Without a loan to tide me over I'm going to have to look for other work," he said.

In September, the chancellor extended the deadline for the government's coronavirus loan schemes to the end of November.

Bounce back loans allow small firms to borrow up to £50,000 over nine years at preferential rates, with the loans 100% guaranteed by the government.

'Handpicking customers'

Mr Hampshire is not the only small business owner fighting to survive without being able to get a loan through the government scheme.

Mr Bounceback, an anonymous businessman behind a website which helps struggling small firms, said he has heard from lots of people with problems.

"Several banks are not accepting new customers, and the majority of them have chosen to only allow their existing customers to apply, or even worse some lenders appear to be handpicking customers and inviting them to apply," he said.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Small businesses which bank with smaller lenders could be missing out

Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "With many firms facing continued cash flow pressures, it is concerning that businesses who bank with non-accredited lenders remain largely unable to access these vital financial lifelines."

"Government, regulators and banks must work together to ensure that a greater number of firms can access this support during this challenging period."

Banking trade body UK Finance said that "the vast majority of applicants have been able to rapidly access the finance they need" through the scheme which has lent £38bn to 1.26 million smaller businesses.

"It isn't the only type of lending, I must say," said Stephen Pegge, UK Finance's managing director for commercial finance. "There is a possibility, even if you can't get a bounce back loan, of borrowing elsewhere."

He told the BBC's Today programme there are "28 accredited lenders account for the vast majority of existing business relationships so most people will bank with one of those".

But he said that of those 28 lenders, only "one or two" will give a bounce back loan to new customers.

Sudden halt

Mike Hampshire's guided beer tours came to a sudden halt in March when pubs shut their doors.

"I've pretty much had no income since March, but had a bit of cash put by, so thought I'd try and ride it out," he told the BBC.

"When pubs re-opened, the social-distancing rules made it impossible to run the tours and I've also had to cancel the annual beer festival I run in November."

With his money running out he turned to government support and decided to apply for a bounce back loan.

"I need about £5,000 to see me through to the spring when, hopefully, things will be better," he said.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Mike Hampshire's guided beer tours came to a sudden halt in March

But he banks with Monzo which isn't one of the 28 lenders which signed up for the government scheme.

He tried to apply through HSBC, but the bank closed its doors to new customers last week, the day before he made his application.

Now he reckons he'll have to take on a different job, just to help him get through the winter.

"There are so many unknowns. If I do find another job, it could well become a permanent thing which would mean the end of my business."

HSBC said that it had made £12bn of bounce back loans and that it was trying to prioritise existing applications, which is why it closed applications to new customers on 30 September.

"We are no longer accepting new applications for Bounce Back Loans from companies that don't have an existing HSBC business account and we will also stop taking on any new small business banking customers until 14 December," the bank said.

Lloyds Banking Group, which includes Bank of Scotland and Halifax, said limiting bounce back loans to existing companies made applications speedy, as well as helping with fraud and money laundering checks.

NatWest Group said it had always been its policy that bounce back loans were offered to existing customers.

NatWest also owns the brands Coutts, Royal Bank of Scotland, Ulster Bank and Adam & Company, which are each listed in the 28 lenders taking part in the scheme.

The deadline for bounce back loan applications is 30 November, which means time is running out for firms who have yet to secure a loan.

The latest Treasury figures show lenders have approved 1,260,940 applications for the bounce back loan scheme.