Business

BHS: What are the next steps?

BHS headquarters Image copyright Lauren Hurley

Retailer BHS is teetering close to collapse after going into administration. But what are the next steps for the UK department store group and its customers?

BHS brought in administrators on Monday to sell all or part of the firm, but it will keep trading in the meantime.

The move has left almost 11,000 staff fearing the worst.

And 20,000 BHS pension holders will be anxious about future payments as it grapples with £571m in pension debt.

If a buyer for BHS is not found, it would be the biggest High Street collapse since Woolworth's in 2008.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption British Homes Stores first opened for business in Brixton, south London in 1928

Bidders

BHS claims administrators have already received more than 30 expressions of interest from potential bidders.

Business minister Anna Soubry also stressed in parliament that the company has no immediate plans for redundancies or store closures.

However, analysts warned buyers would be more likely to take parts of the 88 year-old business than save the whole group.

"What we tend to find in an administration is that people look at it as a distressed company," said Julie Palmer, of business recovery firm Begbies Traynor.

"People will look at it and say: 'What are the best bits we can cherrypick here?'" she said.

Thirty expressions of interest is "not actually a huge amount", and it would be surprising if more than half a dozen turn into firm interest, she added.

Phil Dorrell, managing partner at Retail Remedy, predicted the BHS name would "disappear" from the High Street if the company were sold off shop by shop.

Sports Direct has already taken a look at acquiring stores, but talks collapsed over the weekend.

The little-known Retail Acquisitions group bought BHS for a nominal fee of just £1 from entrepreneur Sir Philip Green just over a year ago.

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BHS in numbers

11,000

employees

164

stores across the UK

  • £1.3bn - total debt

  • £571m - pension deficit

  • 1928 - the year BHS opened its first store, in Brixton, London

AFP

Staff

So where does that leave the staff employed at its 164 UK stores?

BHS owner Dominic Chappell gave assurances in a letter to employees on Sunday that they would receive pay for April.

However, beyond that it is less certain.

BHS is struggling with debts of over £1.3bn, and its administrators said it is "very unlikely" to meet all contractual payments.

Shopworkers' union Usdaw said: "We don't want to see BHS staff locked out of discussions, sent to the back of the queue of creditors and treated like fixtures and fittings, as happened at Woolworth's."

Staff at establishments that collapse can claim up to 90 days pay if not properly consulted, an award Usdaw helped to secure for thousands of Woolworth's employees.

If staff are let go, statutory redundancy pay is up to £479 a week for those who have worked for more than two years.

Image copyright HANNAH MCKAY

Shoppers

Consumer group Which? issued a clear warning to BHS customers on Monday.

"Our advice to anyone with a BHS voucher is to spend it as quickly as possible," Which? said.

BHS has posted a note at tills saying it will accept gift vouchers purchased in the last two years, but only for 50% of the value of the purchase.

So if a customer has a £10 voucher, they must buy at least £20 worth of items to use it.

For returns, the notice says: "Purchases can be exchanged for goods to the same value or less when accompanied by proof of purchase within 35 days."

It says cash refunds will only be given for faulty goods bought after 22 April 2016, and that American Express card will no longer be accepted.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption In 2000 billionaire Sir Philip Green bought BHS and made it part of the Arcadia Group, then the UK's second-largest retail empire, but was ultimately unable to stem its losses

Pension holders

The Pensions Regulator is looking into whether BHS deliberately avoided its pension obligations, leaving a rescue team to pick up the tab.

It said this would be a long and complex process, and refused to confirm any targets of the investigation.

In the meantime, BHS pension holders face months, if not years, of uncertainty.

The two BHS pension schemes have already gone into the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) - the lifeboat for pensions that ensures people are paid their pension even when a company goes bust.

As a result, those who are preparing to receive their BHS pension from the age of 60 will get at least 10% less than they would originally have expected.

"The bad news for everybody is that the annual inflation increase provided under the PPF rules is less generous," said John Ralfe, independent pensions consultant.

He added that some of the liabilities would rest with previous owner, Sir Philip Green.

"Unless Sir Philip comes up with a lot of money, it could easily take five years to be finally resolved," Mr Ralfe said.

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