Traders at one of the country's oldest markets have been hit by their second rent increase during the pandemic.

Stall holders at Ashton Market have criticised Tameside Council after implementing a rent increase this month while also continuing to charge traders rent for months they were unable to operate in lockdown.

Emma Smith, who runs E5 Beauty, says that business was already difficult before the pandemic.

Events of the last 12 months have not done anything to make life easier for traders - and Emma says she feels the council has not offered enough support.

"When we opened back up last year it was just about trying to keep our head above water," she said.

"Things are uncertain with most businesses at the minute, and to think we are going to have to find more money is just hard.

"I'm not in debt, I've paid my rent, but there's nothing for the future really and to know that the rents are going up - it's all uncertainty."

Traders told the Manchester Evening News that they were facing a 2% rent increase this year, in line with inflation, similar to last year.

They explained that Government grants during the Covid crisis have been a lifeline - but for many stall holders, they have only covered the cost of rent during months in lockdown.

Mohammed Rauf, who runs Mobile Revolution, said: "I think their excuse is 'you've got the grant, now pay the rent' - but we've got other expenditure.

"We've not even been trading and it doesn't make sense. There are other markets that have abolished it, that have not had to pay rent, so why do we have to pay rent here?"

The rent increase was brought in before non-essential traders were allowed to reopen their stores on April 12, having been closed since January.

There has been a market in Ashton for hundreds of years

One trader, who wished to remain anonymous, said his business was hit with a double whammy as the timing of the lockdown announcement coincided with Britain's break from EU rules on trade.

He said: "The costs of the items have gone up because of where we get our stock from, due to leaving the EU.

"So rent has gone up, the price of stock has gone up, and we are not having much footfall as well - so it's having quite an impact on us.

"Lockdown didn't help because we had more winter stock, and now it's summer, so we've had to buy new stock to keep trading.

"We did get the grants, but to be honest the grants have just been there to pay the rents off."

Traders selling food were allowed to continue operating at Ashton Market during lockdown.

One stall holder who could continue working earlier this year said he feared for other businesses at the historic market.

Ashton's outdoor market was largely empty in lockdown

He said: "It's a bit of a concern for people with families, homes and mortgages.

"A few businesses are just going to see how it goes for the first few months after lockdown is over, but it's not looking good for them.

"It's not so much scraping through, it's the extra worry for rent increases and having to pay rent for periods that you were closed, when other councils didn't charge.

"I think it's an indictment on the level of care that they give to a market that's hundreds and hundreds of years old. That's a reflection on them, not on us, and I just think it's a really sad state of affairs."

Tameside Council insists that it 'appreciates the scale of the challenge that faces all businesses during these unprecedented times' but says the income brought in from rents is essential to keep the borough's markets running.

It adds that a new website and app has been developed for the markets, promoting traders offering 'click and collect', while it has also supported a number of campaigns and initiatives to boost the markets.

A Tameside Council spokesperson added: “Each council is in a very unique position when it comes to their financial situation.

Ashton Market welcomed back non-essential traders on Monday

"As stipulated within the markets tenancy agreement, the council also has a legal obligation to apply a linked rent review in line with the Retail Prices Index (RPI) each year.

"In consideration of this, and without the council receiving any financial support from central government to enable the subsidy of market charges the income from market rents is essential for the upkeep, maintenance and successful running of our markets.

"Tameside Council is not the only council to have continued to charge these fees, however we are fully committed to supporting businesses to access all the financial support available to them during these difficult times.

"We are also offering additional support to those traders who have been unable to resolve any outstanding amounts by agreeing to put in place a payment plan whereby payments can be made over a longer period."