MORE than half a million businesses are now close to going bust as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Problems accessing government loans have also hit businesses hard and the figures are just the "tip of the iceberg".
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In the first three months of the year, 509,000 businesses were described as being in significant distress.
This is because of factors including the pandemic, according to the insolvency firm, Begbies Traynor Group.
It says if a company is in significant distress, it's just one step away from being in "critical distress" which happens just before a firm goes bust.
The majority of those affected are small businesses, with under 250 employees.
The firm has a database of all UK businesses and it publishes a quarterly "Red Flag" report looking at their finances.
It says these results are just the “tip of the iceberg” as it won’t be until later in the year that the full impact to businesses from the pandemic is known.
The impact of the pandemic has hit businesses hard and the firm says it saw the largest quarterly increase in businesses in distress since the end of 2017.
The number of companies described as being in “critical distress” rose by 10 per cent between January and March to reach 2,289.
Of those there was a 37 per cent rise in bars and restaurants, 21 per cent in real estate and property, 11 per cent in construction and 8 per cent in general retail.
But the group says the figure is probably a lot higher than the records show because some creditors have been held back from taking court action because of the lockdown.
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This data comes as the government is criticised for not providing enough help for those affected.
The taxpayer-funded bank running the new business loan scheme has had 28,460 loan applications since lockdown began but just 6,016 have received money.
UK banks have also been ordered by the Bank of England to speed up the process of issuing loans to small businesses.
Julie Palmer, partner at Begbies Traynor, said: “The coronavirus pandemic is a true ‘black swan’ event that has decimated short term business financial performance.
“Although it is still early days and with no end to the lockdown in sight things could get much worse, with the Red Flag research highlighting landmark levels of financial distress already.
“While the loss of a business is devastating, UK business owners are talented entrepreneurs and after coronavirus will find opportunities. At this moment, we just have to anticipate what those opportunities are."
At the start of April there were warnings that thousands of small businesses would go bust in three months because of problems accessing government loans.
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Supermarket prices are up by 10 per cent because of panic buying.
Topshop boss Philip Green could shut 100 Arcadia high street stores.
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