The pot of business rates relief money that major retailers have offered to return to taxpayers has risen to almost £2bn.
The milestone was reached on Friday when discount grocery chain Lidl confirmed it was to hand back a benefit of over £100m from the one-year holiday – granted to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in March to help them through the coronavirus pandemic.
Seven other brands have now followed Tesco’s lead in giving up the cash as they were allowed to stay open throughout the crisis and have benefited from a surge in sales as a result.
Lidl UK said it had “brought forward” its plans to return more than £100m.
Its chief executive, Christian Hartnagel, said: “The business rates relief that was provided to us, and the rest of the supermarket sector, came with a lot of responsibility that we took extremely seriously.
“We’ve been considering this for some time and we are now in a position to confirm that we will be refunding this money as we believe it is the right thing to do.
“We feel confident that the business is well positioned to navigate and adapt to any further challenges brought by COVID-19.”
Tesco was first to reveal the gesture on Wednesday – saying it would return a total of £585m in business rates relief to the Treasury and devolved administrations.
It was later joined by Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi, B&M and then Pets at Home.
A clutch of business interest groups have demanded the proceeds are used to support jobs in the hospitality sector which remains in the grip of tight restrictions.
Sky News revealed on Thursday how the Co-op was coming under pressure to join its grocery competitors and pledge its £70m benefit to the total.
The chain has said it will make a decision early next year, citing high costs, while the owner of Waitrose, the John Lewis Partnership (JLP), appears to have ruled it out saying proceeds have been invested in its operations.
Marks and Spencer said it had no plans to give back more than £80m it had received.
Like the JLP, its business is split between a grocery and department store-style offering – the latter of which has been hammered by restrictions governing the operation of non-essential retail.
Each of the fashion-led businesses is continuing to trade, for now, in the crucial Christmas season for the sector as buyers are sought.
However, 26,500 jobs are hanging in the balance.
Commenting on the business rates repayments, a Treasury spokesperson told Sky News: “We’ve been clear throughout the pandemic that businesses should use our support appropriately, and we welcome any decision to repay support where it is no longer needed.”
“As with other support schemes, any funds returned will support the ongoing efforts to protect people’s jobs and incomes.”