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Monday 23rd March 2020 will forever be etched in the memories of business owners up and down the country.
As Boris Johnson announced a country-wide lockdown, businesses were ordered to close their doors and employees told to work from home; some have managed to scrape by while others were forced to shut up shop forever.
The beauty sector, which contributes £28billion to the UK economy, was particularly hard hit. Livelihoods were lost overnight and many in the industry feel they have been "forgotten" during the crisis.
For those who have slipped through the cracks, it has been impossibly difficult. One person who has been unable to claim a self-employment grant is 31-year-old salon owner Hannah-Curlita Dennis from Stafford. Hannah has been forced to eat through her life savings to keep her business going.
"Before lockdown, I was due to buy my first house, which didn't end up going ahead," Hannah tells Tyla. "I've been living off my house deposit funds for the last year, but that's gone now."
"I'm a positive person, so when the lockdown was first announced I was optimistic. I thought it would simply be three weeks off work. And when they announced the government support, I thought everything would be okay."
But when Hannah tried to claim support, she was faced with a devastating hurdle. After receiving (and spending) her self employment grant, she was told she had to pay the funds back as they had been claimed in error.
"In January, I changed my business from a sole trader, to a limited company because I started employing people. The government saw this as me shutting down and starting a new company, so I wasn't entitled to the support because you had to have been trading for two years. Even though I had been in the industry for a decade," Hannah says.
"Initially I was told I could claim, so I applied, received the first two funds, which came to just under £10,000 and then got an email to say I had to pay the money back as I wasn't entitled to it. It had already been spent on the salon's bills and paying my accountant. I was just in shock."
Because the salon is a limited company, Hannah has been able to claim a £500 furlough payment each month (which has had to cover bills and overheads as well as Hannah's own living costs which would usually come to around £2,000), but aside from that, she has had no other help, and has lost approximately £3,000 a month in profit.
Like many in the industry, she feels the beauty sector has been forgotten.
One huge blow to the industry came when they were unable to reopen before July last year, with hairdressers opening on the 4th while other beauty services - such as nail treatments - returning on the 13th. Meanwhile, facial treatments - such as brows - didn't resume until 15th August.
"We opened for around a month to six weeks in August - and then we were in lockdown - and then in December - and then we were in lockdown again. It is difficult opening, closing and reopening. There are areas of loss, and lots of things people wouldn't even think of.
"For example, so many of our products have a shelf life and will have to be thrown and out and new stock bought. There's little things like our card machine - I still have to pay for that, which is minimum £50 per month.
"I do think the industry has been forgotten. There's the mental health side of it, too. I have clients who come once a month or once every two months because that's all they can afford, it's their one hour of self care.
"I've personally struggled in the last few months. I've got some clients I've had for 10 years, and I've gone through every bit of their life. Sometimes I feel closer to them than my actual friends because I see them so frequently."
Shockingly, more than 10 per cent of the sector has closed since the pandemic while a survey conducted in November revealed 62 per cent of salon owners could not say whether their business would survive until the end of the year.
With salons set to reopen on 12th April, conversations within the industry have now turned to what can be done to keep businesses from collapse as they begin to reopen.
Behind the scenes, BABTAC (British Association of Beauty Therapy & Cosmetology), along with The British Beauty Council have been urging the government to expand the eligibility criteria and speed up the 'restart grant' allocation process - the applications of which are not set to go live until next month.
Lesley Blair, CEO and Chair of BABTAC tells Tyla: "It is just devastating for those businesses that have not had support. Our industry want to work, we want to be back to our clients, we love our jobs, and that makes it so difficult.
"The regional grants from local authorities are discretionary and we would advise people to go and speak to their local authority and see if there's any additional funding.
"We have been left behind because we never received any specific funding like hospitality with the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, but a lot of industries didn't either.
"Our industry is so needed, and the mental health aspect as well is huge. When I was seeing clients regularly, they were often coming for the chat - sometimes I was the only person they were seeing in a week."
Tyla reached out to HM Treasury for comment on this article. A spokesperson said: "Throughout this crisis, we have done all we can to support jobs and livelihoods through our £350 billion package of support, and our self-employed and furlough schemes are among the most generous in the world.
"We acknowledge that it has not been possible to support everyone in the way they might want. Funding is designed to target those who need it most and protect the taxpayer against fraud and abuse."
If you work in the beauty industry and are looking for more information and advice, you can find support on the BABTAC website.
Featured Image Credit: Hannah-Curlita Dennis
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