Abta seeks clarity as agents fear loss of grant eligibility

Juliet Dennis

Abta is seeking urgent clarification from government after travel agencies were removed from an official list of ‘non-essential shops’ forced to close during England’s current lockdown. The removal of agents from the

non-essential retailers list means they will not automatically be considered for grant aid from local authorities. An Abta spokesperson said:

“When the government first published its guidance on the non- essential shops that had to close under the latest lockdown in England, travel agencies were specifically mentioned

on the list – and were referenced by the chancellor as eligible for grants. However, it appears that they have since been removed. “We raised this as an urgent

matter with government officials [on November 16] and will be following up with government ministers today [November 17] to try to understand what has happened and why.” Abta was alerted to the change

after writing to local authorities urging them to make funding available to travel businesses during lockdown. Taking agents off the list would

mean they are not automatically considered for a Local Restriction Support Grant, worth up to £3,000

per premises, although they could be eligible for a discretionary Additional Restrictions Grant, said Abta. The spokesperson added: “We

appreciate how concerning this is for members and we are working to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible, as well as arguing the importance of grant funding for our members.” The news follows Abta’s renewed

plea to government to act to save the industry from the brink of collapse with a warning that jobs lost or at risk in the sector since the start of the pandemic had rocketed from 90,000

Travel agencies have been removed from an official list of ‘non-essential shops’ forced to close during lockdown

to 164,000 in the past three months. Travlaw partner Ami Naru,

meanwhile, identified the “massive implications” of the extended furlough scheme for employers. Naru said the guidance suggested

that from December 1, employees being served notice must be removed from furlough and paid their full wages during their notice period. She said this was “alarming” for employers hoping to retain staff previously identified for redundancy by putting

them on furlough. i Furlough and job loss warnings, page 39

ATT fund holds £35m post-Cook Ian Taylor

The Air Travel Trust (ATT), which underwrites the Atol scheme, survived the failure of Thomas Cook to report a balance of £35 million this week. The long-delayed release of the

trust’s accounts for the 12 months to March 2019 reveal it held £221 million ahead of summer 2019 and the biggest-ever Atol failure in September of that year when Thomas Cook went into liquidation. The trustees report Cook’s

failure cost the fund an estimated £250 million “net of proceeds from the insurance policy”, which provided additional cover. They reveal this insurance expired in March 2020 and

“could not be renewed as there was no available capacity in the insurance market” following Cook’s failure and the onset of the Covid crisis. However, the government is

committed to underwrite any payouts for Atol failures that exceed the trust’s funds, with the trustees noting: “Her Majesty’s Government will provide additional financial support to the ATT as necessary…based on…recent written assurance provided by the secretary of state for transport.” The expiry of the trust’s insurance

cover will save the fund about £11.6 million a year in premiums. The trust had £35 million in

cash reserves at the end of last week when the accounts were signed, plus £75 million in commercial borrowing

Thomas Cook’s failure cost the ATT £250 million

facilities, which need to be renewed next May. The report notes Atol Protection

Contribution (APC) payments of £2.50 per Atol booking have fallen to about one-third of the normal level since March 2020. But it concludes “the ATT has adequate resources available to continue for the foreseeable future” despite the reduced APC income and “increase in both the number and aggregate cost of Atol failures”. It notes 28 Atol-holders excluding

Thomas Cook have failed since March 2019, and 21 since the start of the pandemic, at a combined cost of £33 million. Accounts for the financial year to March 2020 are expected to be published within weeks.

19 NOVEMBER 2020 9

PICTURE: Shutterstock

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