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Key COVID Update for Food and Beverage Operators

A second national lockdown came into force in England on 5 November and businesses in the food and beverage industry need to be aware of changes to the Government’s guidance. The country has, at least temporarily, moved away from the regional approach to lockdown, with the introduction of regulations that apply nationally.

Key points that businesses in the industry in England should know are:

Can my business stay open?
  • Retailers providing essential goods and services, such as food shops, supermarkets and off-licences, can remain open.
  • Other venues, including hospitality venues such as bars, cafés, pubs, restaurants and social clubs, have been ordered to close. There are, however, exceptions to the rule:
    • Takeaways (excluding takeaways of alcohol) can still be served between the hours of 5am and 10pm.
    • Deliveries of food and drink (including alcohol) can be made in respect of orders received online, by telephone or text, or by post (but not in person at the bar).
    • Click and collect services (including orders of alcohol) can be provided, so long as the purchaser does not enter inside the business’ premises between the hours of 10pm and 5am.
    • Drive-through services can operate, providing that food and drink (including alcohol) can be passed to the purchaser without anyone leaving their vehicle.
  • In the limited circumstances where hotels and similar accommodation are able to remain open, they can continue to provide room service where orders are placed by phone or online.
  • Food and drink (excluding alcohol, other than that served to people seated on an aircraft) can be served on public transport services, such as aeroplanes and trains, where those transport services are not primarily provided for dining or other recreational purposes.
  • Where your business remains open for employees and customers, you should be sure to take the government’s Guidance for food businesses into account.
Will the Government provide support for employers?
  • The furlough scheme is to be extended, at 80% of pay (subject to a cap), to the end of March 2021, with employers only responsible for NI and employer pension contributions. This will be reviewed in January. A knock on consequence is that, instead of paying the retention bonus due early next year, the government will “redeploy a retention incentive at the right time”.
  • We anticipate that in the detail of the scheme there will be tighter rules of access than we have seen previously, but it should bring relief to employers and employees facing uncertain times.
  • For further details about the support available to employers, please see our Employment team’s briefing, ‘Government extends furlough scheme to March 2021’.
Is any other financial support available?
  • Business premises forced to close in England will be eligible for support under the Local Restrictions Support Grant. Grants will be made on a monthly basis, beginning with the new 28 day lockdown period, and are based on the rateable value of the property occupied by the business at 5 November:
    • Where properties have a rateable value of £15,000 or less, businesses can receive grants of £1,334;
    • Where properties have a rateable value of between £15,000-£51,000, businesses can receive grants of £2,000;
    • Where properties have a rateable value of £51,000 or more, businesses can receive grants of £3,000.
  • Where businesses suffered from reduced demand due to local restrictions in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas between 1 August and 5 November, they may be eligible for backdated grants at 70% of the rate of the value of the Local Restrictions Support Grant (closed), up to £2,100 per month for this period.
  • The Government is giving English local authorities approximately £1.1bn (authorities will receive £20 per head) to enable them to make one-off payments to support businesses more broadly.
  • The Government has also extended the application period for a number of loan schemes until 31 January 2021. This extension applies to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme, the Bounce Back Loan Scheme and the Future Fund.
  • The existing business rates relief and VAT reductions will continue until the end of March 2021
    What happens if my business does not comply with the new rules
  • Where a business does not comply with the new rules, it can face fines ranging from £1,000 to £10,000, depending on the number of offences it has previously committed. A business can also face prohibition notices, and restrictions imposed by local authorities, such as orders to close.
  • Anyone over the age of 18 who carries on a business in breach of the regulations may also face personal fines.
Has any other guidance been released?
  • The Government has released guidance on repaying Eat Out to Help Out scheme payments. Businesses should repay money claimed under the scheme where they realise they have been overpaid or were not eligible for the scheme; where they receive a letter from HMRC indicating that they have claimed too much, or where they voluntarily want to make a repayment.
  • Where a business has received money that it is not entitled to, it must notify the government within 90 days of receiving the payment and make the repayment itself, rather than through an agent. The business may be subject to a penalty if it does not make the repayment.
Will support be available for businesses operating elsewhere in the UK?
  • The Government’s updated support is intended to benefit the devolved administrations. However, this is will be subject to further agreement and clarification in the days ahead. For further information on this point, please do contact us.

Whether the national lockdown continues beyond 2 December, or the country returns to the tiered system of local lockdowns, many businesses in the food and beverage industry will remain subject to strict restrictions. In light of the impact that this will have on working practices and revenues, industry leaders are rightly calling for the government to consider longer-term strategic plans to help the sector recover. In the meantime, it is hoped that further support for businesses, such as the revival of the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant, will be announced in the coming days.

If you need support or have any questions about the new restrictions and available government support for your business, please get in touch.

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