A WEDDING dress maker has criticised “unfair” covid restart grants and is appealing for a change in how in-house seamstresses are treated.

Bex Lombard-Earl, who owns Bexbrides in Darlington and makes bespoke wedding dresses, as well as offering an alteration service, says bridal designers should be treated as a personal care service.

Instead, her business has been classified as non-essential retail, entitling her to a lower amount from the Government’s restart grant.

The grant is available to businesses in the non-essential retail, hospitality, leisure, personal care and accommodation sectors with a one-off grant, to reopen safely as restrictions are lifted.

Ms Lombard-Earl, who has premises in Hurworth, said Darlington Borough Council has paid £2,600 rather than £8,000 paid to personal care services like hairdressers and tattooists – despite her having to open using the same protocols.

She said: “I still have to work to the same protocols as hairdressers and tattooists. My customers have to visit alone, I have all the PPE, do full clean downs and quarantine any fabric that comes in. It reduces capacity for appointments by about half.

“They have lumped me in with bridal retailers but I’m not a bridal shop, I’m a dress designer.”

She added: “I’m very grateful for the grants we have had but I think it’s unfair to expect us to operate under one protocol and be paid under another one.”

She has set up a Facebook group for people in a similar situation, which has attracted more than 170 members, and has also been in touch with the UK Weddings Taskforce, which is lobbying the Government.

While many local authorities have applied guidance in the same way as Darlington, a number are using a discretionary clause to pay the higher rate to wedding dress makers and tailors. 

The wedding industry is expecting further difficulties this year amid ongoing uncertainty over events.

Ms Lombard-Earl, says she lost 90 per cent of revenue in 2020 and expects it to be down about 70 per cent this year.

She added: “I don’t see how it is fair. There are less than 1,000 bridal designers in the UK and in the scheme of things it’s a miniscule amount of money. But we’re also talking about 80 per cent of brides’ dresses being affected.

“People will end up going under and brides will end up buying dresses online from China.”

She added: "It's not fair I've had to remortgage my house to survive and I'm one of the lucky ones.

"I'm frightened for some some of the other people affected by this."

A spokesperson for Darlington Borough Council said: “Throughout the pandemic we have administered more than £37m of grants and other local business support, providing essential support via more than six thousand individual grant awards. As lockdown eases, we continue to administer the grants on offer.

“However, this is national government funding administered by the local authorities, and we must follow their guidance and criteria which must be met by each business to qualify for support. We want businesses to get the support they are entitled to and our teams have worked hard to administer applications and deal with relevant queries as quickly as possible.

“Whilst we are unable to comment on individual cases we are aware that the Department for Business & Industrial Strategy has confirmed that bridal retail, tailors and dressmakers are classified as non-essential retail. With this in mind, we have followed their guidance when dealing with grant applications of this nature.”