A LEADING estate agency has made hundreds of staff redundant as businesses struggle with the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

It is believed more than 300 employees of Spicerhaart have lost their jobs in a move which has hit agents including Chewton Rose, Darlows, Haart, Felicity J Lord, Haybrook and Butters John Bee.

In a statement, Spicerhaart chief executive officer Paul Smith said the remaining 1,750 members of staff are working from home while branches temporarily close.

He fears with no viewings and few housing transactions going ahead, the business could lose up to 90 per cent of its sales income.

“As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, we had to take the very difficult decision to lay off some of our staff, including 29 from our head office in Colchester,” he said.

“We totally understand the challenges and hardship that this will cause, especially at this time of crisis with Covid-19, for which we have apologised.

“We know this was a shock to people but we are in unprecedented times and had to act at short notice, firstly to safeguard the financial security of the business as a whole and secondly because we knew the Prime Minister was likely to introduce lock-down measures that would prevent us from coming in to work – which he has now done.”

He added: “To do nothing would have jeopardised the future of all our staff.

“Unlike some other agents, we have followed the Government’s advice about social distancing and self-isolation in order to protect both our staff and our customers.

“As a result, we have temporarily closed all our branches across Essex and the UK and our remaining 1,750 staff are now working from home, continuing to support our customers.”

Jack Biggs, 25, had worked for Spicerhaart as a personal moving assistant at its head office in Sheepen Place, Colchester, since September.

Mr Biggs said he and about 20 of his colleagues were called into a meeting room and told they had lost their jobs.

Mr Biggs, from Stanway, said: “I was pulled into a room on Friday, people had already been working from home and it looked like they were trying to set up the rest of the office to do the same.

“The guys from IT had been checking computers and installing the right things to make it possible.

“At around 4pm we were pulled in.

“She was reading out a letter from Paul Smith, director of the company, and it basically said due to current uncertainty they were going to let us go.

“You could have heard a pin dropping another pin in that room.

“There was a stunned silence.

“I am still in shock about it and not sure how to feel.

“I have updated my CV and will be applying to all the supermarkets in Colchester as I am sure they need a helping hand.

“I am fortunate enough to still live with my family, my only major outgoing is my rent and my phone bill.

“One of the girls had just found out she was pregnant, one of the young lads was in a court case fighting for custody of his children.”

Another former employee, who asked not to named, said she had worked at the head office for under a year.

She was told over the phone by her manager she would no longer be working for the company shortly after she attended a hospital appointment.

“At first I thought they were going to ask how the appointment went,” she said.

“Instead they told me they needed to read me a statement.

“It essentially said they don’t know how the Covid-19 situation would work out and with regret they had made the decision to terminate my contract with immediate effect.

“I asked if I was going to be paid and they said I would be paid for what I had already worked.

“I was in tears. I was walking to my mum’s house at the time and when I got there she thought I had been mugged.”