Up to ten market stallholders say they may have to close permanently after they were told to pay back rent deferred during the lockdown.

Stalls at Blackburn and Darwen Markets opened on June 15 following nearly three months of closure.

Blackburn with Darwen Council says it is willing to listen and help traders and local businesses who are experiencing a downturn in footfall due to the coronavirus pandemic and assistance is still available.

The council said they were also continuing to lobby government for additional financial support.

Traders say they have been told that rent and service charges will be ‘clawed back’ for the period April to July and added on to their payments for the coming year. Charges which may mean up to 10 stalls may be forced to close.

Footfall in the Mall shopping centre and the market has plummeted following the lockdown, made worse by the recent rise in infection rates in Blackburn.

Speaking to the Lancashire Telegraph, a Blackburn Market trader, speaking on behalf of the businesses, said: “We have not had to pay rent or service charges for four months but have been told this will be clawed back.

“Our trade has gone down up to 50 per cent to where it was before the lockdown. It some cases it has fallen 90 per cent. Since opening on June 15 trade was picking up but in the past two weeks it has fallen off again.

“As traders we simply cannot afford to pay this charge.

“Rent makes up 50 per cent of our charges with the remainder being the service charge.”

Traders argue that asking for service charges when the premises was closed also makes no sense.

He added: “We have received some assistance in terms of a £10,000 grant but people don’t realise that you still have to pay suppliers, van insurance, VAT and any money still left has been spent carrying the business through these trying times with foot fall dropping by 70% with that money.

“Up to 10 stalls have already said they may not be able to survive this period and permanently close with more likely to fallow.”

Traders on Darwen Market also spoke out. One trader, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We have a Whatsapp group amongst all the traders and the market management said we would not have to pay rent for April, May and June.

“When we got to July and people started to get back to opening and then the market management told us that July’s payment would be deferred as well as April, May and June.

“As far as we were concerned they said we did not have to pay for rent in April, May and June.

“It is a kick-in-the-teeth for traders who are trying to get back on their feet and may be struggling to pay their rent as it is without being told that over the next 15 months there would be an increase to cover those months.

“A lot of businesses are finding it hard with footfall being down.

“We are hearing about the initiatives to get the economy back up and running but some traders cannot afford to run.”

Cllr Vicky McGurk, executive member of finance and governance, added: “We’re saying to traders, if you’re struggling please contact the council as soon as possible.

“We’re here to listen and to help make sure you get all the support and advice that you’re entitled to, to help ease pressures during these fragile and uncertain times. They can do this through the online form in the Support for Business section of our website and we can then channel this to the most appropriate person who will get back to them as soon as possible.

“Please be assured we are continuing to lobby government for the additional financial support that is needed for both our businesses and our borough.”

Business support can be found at: https://blackburn.gov.uk/coronavirus/support-business