Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones’ camera chain Jessops faces closure over unpaid taxes

Jessops, the iconic 89-year-old camera retailer owned by Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones, is on the brink of closure after HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) issued a winding-up petition due to unpaid taxes.

This development marks a critical juncture for the struggling retailer, which has entered administration three times in the past four years. If Jessops fails to settle its tax debt, it risks insolvency once again.

Recent financial disclosures reveal that Jessops’ sales dropped by 7.5% to £19.97 million for the year ending October 1, 2023, down from £21.58 million the previous year. This decline contributed to a loss of £1.2 million, widening the company’s total net liability to £16.9 million.

The winding-up petition from HMRC, as seen in court filings, could be rescinded if Jessops manages to clear its tax arrears.

Founded in 1935 in Leicester by Frank Jessop, the chain flourished under his son Alan Jessop’s leadership as personal photography gained popularity. It changed hands several times, including a £116 million acquisition by ABN Amro in 2002 and a debt-for-equity deal by HSBC in 2009 during the financial crisis, which led to the closure of 80 out of 300 stores.

In 2013, Jessops went into administration and was subsequently acquired by PJ Investment Group, Peter Jones’s investment vehicle. Jones revitalised the brand by boosting online sales and reopening stores nationwide. However, the rise of smartphones with advanced cameras has severely impacted high street sales of traditional photography equipment. In response, Jessops has pivoted to target a new generation of social media influencers on platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

Despite these challenges, Jessops remains optimistic, stating, “The group’s strong heritage, trust, and awareness of the Jessops brand and reputation for quality continue to be the driving force behind our customer loyalty and highly regarded position in the imaging sector.”

Peter Jones, awarded a CBE in 2009 for services to business, enterprise, and charity, has invested millions in start-ups during his tenure on Dragons’ Den. His investments include Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae Sauce, Bladez Toyz, and Boot Buddy.

HMRC typically engages with companies over unpaid taxes, resorting to court orders only when negotiations fail. After being restrained from issuing winding-up petitions during the pandemic, HMRC is now under pressure to act, with total tax debt reaching £45.9 billion as of March last year. PwC’s analysis shows a 44% increase in winding-up petitions in April, reflecting heightened demands from HMRC, local authorities, and businesses.

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