Death on the High Street as Laura Ashley faces closure

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Laura Ashley looks almost certain to become first retail casualty of coronavirus, putting 2,700 jobs under threat.

A late attempt to find a funding lifeline and avert collapse looks to have failed when the company announced it appointed PwC to oversee the administration process hours.

It came only hours after Dixons Carphone announced it was to close all its UK Carphone Warehouse stores, with the loss of 2,900 staff.

Salman Haqqi, personal finance expert at money.co.uk, described it as “sad but not surprising”.

He added: “Clearly, COVID-19 has had a role to play, with potential customers worried about going out and doing non-essential shopping – the fashion and homeware chain has even said it has filed for administration after rescue talks were thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic.

With COVID-19 causing a further reduction in footfall, this proved to be the final blow

“It’s undoubtedly distressing news for employees of Laura Ashley and their families,  especially in such worrying times. Now is the time to check what redundancy rights you have and dig out any income or mortgage protection policies you hold, just in case.

“It’s currently unknown whether or not Laura Ashley will honour gift vouchers and refunds now administrators have been called in. It isn’t illegal for them to refuse refunds so if you were hoping to return any goods you may be in for a lengthy battle to get your money back.”

Similarly, Stuart Evans, commercial litigation partner  at law firm BLM, was quick to note what he described as “further very sad news from the high street”. He said: “If I pictured a list of well-liked brands that I have shopped at in my lifetime, Laura Ashley would be yet another one to cross off in what feels like no time at all.

Reports are that Laura Ashley has been struggling for some time, although its last annual report indicated that liquidity was manageable. However, with COVID-19 causing a further reduction in footfall, this proved to be the final blow.”

He added: “Help from the Government may be on its way, but it won’t get people out to the shopping centres, into airport lounges or the front row of the cinema.

“Whilst it’s easy to say, do think about reducing activity in areas of your business where there will be lowered demand and try to see if you can diversify and repackage your business to mitigate the current situation.

“I got an email last night from a local gastro pub that is normally packed, offering an online takeaway service for a discount. That’s a good example of manageable lateral thinking to try and get through this.”