Russell Scanlon, specialist insurer to the brewing industry, on how businesses will be affected during the Coronavirus pandemic
Normally, if your building is going to be unoccupied for more than a set number of days (on average around 30 days), you must notify your insurance provider, as this will have an impact on the cover offered in your policy.
However, due to the current situation, many insurers are now relaxing their position on temporarily unoccupied premises. A number of them now consider temporarily unoccupied to mean where you have followed government advice to close your premises and it will be out of use for up to 90 consecutive days, or in some cases have suspended these conditions in their policy wordings.
Some insurers have also waived requirements for their business customers to immediately notify them of their unoccupied status. This should help those customers concentrate on managing their businesses and allow insurers’ call centres to focus on managing the significant number of insurance claims being processed.
At present, not all insurers have taken these decisions, so if you are unsure, contact your insurance broker, check the latest advice on your insurer’s website, or speak to them directly for clarification.
Regardless of how long your premises will be closed for, it is advisable that you take precautions to protect your building and business assets. Some key recommendations to consider are:
- Where practical and safe, you should endeavour to inspect your premises internally and externally and keep a log.
- Risk assessments should be carried out on the changing risk/lack of supervision in place.
- Any and all hazardous processes to be shut down safely and not run unmanned — safety should not be compromised.
- Heating should be left on, but other critical services powered down if not required, unless to support protection or detection systems.
- Drain all water and fuel supply tanks, apparatus, and pipes.
- All external areas must be clear of waste and combustible materials.
- Consider waste build-up and the controls needed if waste collection services are affected.
- All fire protection, detection, and security systems to remain active and monitored remotely where possible.
- Adequacy of security controls should be assessed based on likely periods of unoccupancy and type of business, particularly in high-crime areas.
- Secure and seal all letter boxes and openings, and redirect post if necessary.
- Consideration should be given to the accumulation of vehicles, proximity to buildings, and their security when premises are unattended.
- Perimeter security, fences, and lighting should be in good condition and operational.
- All physical security and locking devices should be working and in place.
- All protection and detection systems must be operational.
- Ensure there are no leaking fluids or spills and any unsafe conditions are identified and remedied.
HM Treasury’s head of excise confirmed that the Chancellor will not be cancelling the March beer duty payment. Despite calls for the cancellation, the Chancellor has, as yet, decided against it, although this may change over the coming days.
Brewers are strongly encouraged to call HMRC’s ‘time to pay’ helpline on 0300 322 9483 or 0300 322 7821 to defer the payment. It is important to note that these helplines are currently experiencing a high volume of calls, therefore wait times have increased.
However, HMRC has advised that the service is fully staffed and you will have the option to speak to someone specifically about excise duty on the phone. We will provide updates as we receive them with regards to the next payment.
Offering a take-away service
The Prime Minister has announced that all non-essential businesses should close unless they are listed on the exception list, which can be found here. On Wednesday (25th March) the government clarified its guidance on the closure of retailers, and after pressure from SIBA and other industry bodies has confirmed that ‘off-licenses and licensed shops selling alcohol, including those within breweries’ are exceptions to the closures.
This means that if you have a bottle shop or taproom selling beer for take-away, you can remain open. Online shops and delivery can also remain open, and breweries should ensure they follow the government’s safety guidelines, which can be found here.
It is also important to note that, as of the present time, the Home Secretary has decided not to relax licensing laws, which would enable breweries that do not have an off-license to sell and deliver beer directly to the public. However, this will remain under review depending on future government advice.
The government has announced that no business will be expected to pay VAT until the end of June. This is an automatic change and businesses do not need to worry about making any payments during this quarter or calling HMRC to confirm their payments have been stopped.
Commercial tenants who cannot pay their rent as a result of Covid-19 over the next three months will be protected from eviction. If your business is struggling as a result of having to close, you will not have to worry about losing your premises instantly.
We do recommend that you alert your landlord as soon as possible to make them aware of the situation, if this is the case for your business.