Another major agency group has agreed to repay substantial sums it claimed under the government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, introduced to help companies through the pandemic.
The Property Franchise Group - which says it will repay the government some £90,000 within the next few days - is the latest of many firms to return money it took temporarily. Its brands include Martin & Co, CJ Hole, Ellis & Co, EweMove, Parkers, Whitegates, Mullocks and Hunters.
Knight Frank, Belvoir and JLL are amongst those other agencies who have already announced they are to refund payments.
All this contrasts vividly with Foxtons, which is under scrutiny for its flagrant expenditure while at the same time taking £4.4m in taxpayers’ money through furlough funding and business rates exemptions.
Last week it confirmed that despite a substantial shareholder rebellion it would pay its chief executive Nic Budden a bonus package which it total approaches £1m. Over the past 15 months Foxtons has also acquired four lettings books or agencies, costing almost £19m in total. And in December it announced a £3m share buyback scheme for shareholders.
Foxtons itself is defiant, despite the criticism. The company says: ”We very gratefully received Government support via the furlough scheme and business rates relief. We used it as it was intended and for as short a time as possible. Were it not for furlough we would have had to make lots of short-term redundancies because we were facing a revenue cliff edge. We ended up making no Covid-related redundancies in 2020. Our furloughed staff received money directly from Government during this period and as such there is no surplus to repay.”
Figures from HM Treasury early this year - the latest data released on the subject - show the number of companies accessing the furlough scheme within the property industry at the end of 2020 was 18,200, relating to some 54,000 staff.
At its peak - in July 2020 - the number of companies within the property sector using the furlough scheme was 19,000 and related to 76,000 staff.