Inner Temple has pressed ahead with annual rent increases despite fears that chambers will not be able to afford their overheads, the Gazette has learned.
Barristers have condemned the inn’s decision to raise rent by 1.3% during lockdown - in line with inflation - arguing that the Inns of Court should shoulder some of the financial burden of the pandemic.
A group of 29 chambers has been in discussions with Inner Temple about the payment of rent since the lockdown began in March. The inn agreed to waive, reduce or defer rent for sets that demonstrated a significant interruption or reduction in their income.
However, the Gazette understands that few sets met the criteria save those entirely dependent on legal aid. Those who did not qualify for the scheme were asked to pay their rent in full and some tenants were refused a reduction on request.
Inner Temple rejected the criticism, saying it is providing ‘unprecedented support for the profession’ and has encouraged all chambers facing hardship to contact them.
A spokesperson for the inn said: ‘A decade or so ago, at the request of chambers in the inn, a standard annual inflationary increase of rent (in line with government inflationary measure RPIX) was introduced to leases in return for the inn’s concession on other measures in the leases. These have applied ever since, as part of that agreed package, and have not been “imposed”.
‘The Inner Temple has implemented substantial measures to assist its tenants and members who are experiencing hardship. From the beginning of the current lockdown the inn has offered all of its tenants rental deferrals or waivers to those who could demonstrate hardship. So far, we have assisted a number of chambers in this way’.
At least two London sets are considering downsizing their offices to cut costs and encourage more remote working. Individual offices are expected to be replaced by communal hot desks and barristers will be encouraged to work from home. More space may also be allocated for client meetings.