UPDATE 1-Kingfisher joins other British retailers to return virus business rates relief aid

(Adds chairman comments, details, background)

Dec 7 (Reuters) - Kingfisher, which has benefited from a jump in do-it-yourself projects during coronavirus lockdowns, on Monday joined a growing list of retailers as it announced it would return COVID-19 business rates relief aid given by the UK and Ireland governments.

The move follows similar announcements from big players Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons to smaller ones, including Pets at Home, as retailers who are benefitting from the stockpiling and other lockdown-driven sales have come under scrutiny for taking government funds while paying out dividends.

Sales of the company have been improving since it reopened stores in late April and early May, supported by higher demand for home improvement across its markets, Kingfisher said.

“Kingfisher is in a sound financial position with continuing positive trading momentum, due to both strong consumer demand and the benefits of our strategy,” Chairman Andy Cosslett said.

The British government and devolved administrations in March exempted all retailers from paying the tax on their stores for the 2020/21 financial year to help them through the crisis.

Kingfisher said its total annual business rates bill eligible for the relief was roughly 130 million pounds ($173.86 million), the returning of which will lower its cost savings by nearly half. Earlier this year, it repaid 23 million pounds it received under the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme.

The company added it now expects that adjusted earnings for the year would include 85 million pounds in cost savings, versus the 175 million pounds it had forecast earlier. ($1 = 0.7477 pounds) (Reporting by Shanima A in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich)