A married couple who own the Red Lion in Overton have said they’ve “lost everything” after finding they were ineligible for Covid support grants.

Shannon and Caroline Wells stepped back from running the pub in September 2019 after finding tenants to take on the lease, which they planned to use as their retirement fund. However, after the leasees ended the contract at the height of the pandemic, the couple found they were ineligible for government support.

Caroline told the Advertiser: “We’ve got a pub back that we can’t open and we’ve lost everything – lost our income, lost our pension and we’re not getting any help whatsoever all due to timing.”

Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council said that their grants policy was “in line with the government’s eligibility criteria”.

Shannon and Caroline had run The Red Lion in Overton for over a decade after spending three decades in the hospitality business. They began to look for tenants after deciding to step back as they reached their 50s, and use the income from the lease as their pension.

“After being there for about 13 years, we finally decided that enough was enough and eventually found some tenants to go in the pub.

We’ve got no other pension, so that was our plan - lease the pub out and get an income from the rent as a pension.”

Jeremy Morey and Anthony Murray took over the pub in September 2019, having run pubs in Banbury and Oxford. However, Covid soon began to take its toll, and the pub closed along with others across the country in March 2020.

Things started to look up when the pub reopened in the summer, but following the second national lockdown, the tenants decided to surrender the lease.

At the time, Jeremy and Anthony said: "Unfortunately due to the ever-changing restrictions imposed on the hospitality industry we have needed to prematurely negotiate the surrender of the lease of The Red Lion.”

"Ant, Jem and the Red Lion team would like to thank the village for all the support over the past 15 months.”

After taking back the lease, Shannon and Caroline tried applying for Covid grants from Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council, but were refused.

Caroline said: “When we got the lease back on the pub, we applied for the grant and we got it refused because they said our names had to be on the business rate register in November. Because ours weren’t, as it was still in the tenants’ names, there was no way we could get the grant to help us.

“Now we’ve got a pub back that we can’t open and we’ve lost everything – lost our income, lost our pension and we’re not getting any help whatsoever all due to timing.”

She said that the couple “don’t seem to fit into any category,” as their savings also leave them ineligible for self-employed support schemes.

Caroline said: “After 30 years of being in hospitality when you think you’re finally retiring from it, all of a sudden your life is turned upside down, the rug is pulled from under you and you’re back to square one again.”

The issue has been compounded by the former tenants replacing the kitchen with leased equipment. While it doesn’t yet have to be paid, the pub will be charged £750 a month once it reopens fully.

“The lease company are being good and won’t do anything about the kitchen until the pub’s reopen again, but once it reopens we have the dilemma of what to do.

“We will not have the money to pay £750 a month for a commercial kitchen, but if you haven’t got a commercial kitchen you can’t run a business!”

The value of the pub, which was planned to be converted into a house in 2017, has also declined drastically, with Caroline saying an estate agent had given them a value of £450,000, down from £800,000 a couple of years ago.

“There’s no value in the pub and this was our pension,” she said. “This was all we had, so we don’t want to just give it away.

“It’s all gone, and then to be told there’s no help is just another kick in the teeth.”

For now, the couple are running takeaways to generate some income, but say “it’s hit and miss.”

In response to the Advertiser’s request for comment, Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council’s cabinet member for finance and service improvement, Councillor Hannah Golding, said: “We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a very difficult time for businesses across the borough and we have worked hard to get emergency funding and other support to them as quickly as possible, distributing over £60 million in grants and rate reliefs since March 2020.

“The council’s business grants scheme has been developed in line with the government’s eligibility criteria which includes businesses being liable for a business rates account at the date of restrictions being introduced and they need to have been trading as usual prior to the date the restrictions came into force.

“Businesses can find out what financial support they are eligible for by visiting www.gov.uk/business-coronavirus-support-finder. We continue to monitor the government’s guidance on business support grants and will update our website if and when any changes are announced.”