Latest News (COVID-19)

The government has launched a Coronavirus Business Support Hub to help businesses access the support to which they are entitled –


Detailed press releases on the latest updates can be viewed here

The Chancellor Rushi Sunak announced further flexibility to the furlough scheme.

Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said:

“The WSTA welcomes the Chancellor’s announcement which introduces much needed much needed flexibility sooner to the furlough scheme. He has been listening and we are grateful. The scheme has been a lifeline for wine and spirit businesses - especially those who predominantly supply pubs, bars and restaurants - and flexibility is something we and our members have requested.

The scheme has so far been generous and the plan to phase in employer contributions is fair – provided that pubs, bars and restaurants are able to open and operate viably. Unless and until all hospitality businesses are permitted to operate at full capacity, the Government should hold open the prospect of additional support to off-set any restrictions it needs to impose for public health reasons.

The Government must not forget the smaller number of lower profile businesses that supply into high street hospitality. So far, they have not been able to access all existing support that is available to hospitality businesses, even though their sales have also reduced to zero. Current guidance must be amended quickly to clarify that they should also have access to the business rates exemption. If not, I am afraid that there will be business closures and redundancies - and potentially a supply problem for recovering high street hospitality outlets.”

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the extension of the Job Retention Scheme. Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said:

“The WSTA is pleased that its call for an extension to the furlough scheme, including more flexibility allowing staff to return part-time, will now happen. The support will continue, in full, until the end of July giving our members much needed breathing space to plan for a way out of lockdown.

It is essential for those in the hospitality sector and their suppliers, who are prevented from re-opening, that they receive the same 80% salary support until the end of October.

We are continuing to push for the government to broaden the definition of hospitality to ensure the suppliers to our pubs and restaurants don’t slip through the net and end up facing closure.”

Members will be working hard to keep staff safe in warehouse and pick and pack situations. Some of these areas will be adapted from their normal purpose and all of them will demand new methods of working. We are grateful for the assistance we have received in developing a template of a social distancing protocol for warehouse staff. We hope members will find it helpful when considering the measures they need to introduce and how to express those to their teams.

If any members have any other examples of good working practices that they would like to share, we would be happy to disseminate them.

You can view the Social Distancing in Warehouses template here:  Template

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has been issuing a regular Stakeholder Digest outlining the various packages of support and other easements available to help people during the coronavirus outbreak.

The latest update includes full details of where businesses can find the right support, advice and information to help with the impact of coronavirus - HMRC_COVIDAssistance_Update

Following the WSTA’s discussions with Defra on whether retail shops, online businesses and the production of alcohol can continue to operate under the current restrictions we are now able to share a template letter for all food and drink industry key workers to carry.

In order to ensure that your company can continue to operate Defra has created a letter template for businesses to fill in and issue to their workers as proof that they are carrying out legitimate business if challenged.

A copy of the Defra letter template can be found here - 2020-03-27_DEFRAKeyWorkersTemplate

Members may also find it useful to have a copy of the open letter written by the Environment Secretary, George Eustice, to the food and drink industry.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced further financial measures at the daily press conference today to support the self-employed:

  • A new self-employed income support scheme will be set up
  • This will mean self-employed people will be eligible for a taxable grant worth 80% of average monthly taxable profits from the last three years of up to £2500 for at least 3 months
  • People can claim these grants and continue to do business
  • Support is available for those with trading profits up to £50k from the most recent tax year, and is only available for those whose majority of work is self-employed, and those with a 2019 tax return
  • The scheme will be accessible no later than the beginning of June
  • HMRC will contact directly and will pay the grant directly into bank accounts
  • Self-employed people will also be given extra time to submit their January tax return
  • The self-assessment tax payments due in July will be deferred to January
  • Immediate support is available for self-employed people through the business interruption loans, and they can also now can access Universal Credit in full of up to £1.8k pm
  • It was also suggested that there are inconsistent contributions by people from different employment statuses, and that contributions may need to be brought into line with those on PAYE

We’ve had a number of inquiries from member asking us if their retail shops, on-line businesses and production of alcohol can continue, given the current restriction on certain types of businesses opening to the public. Below is a quote from Miles regarding the advice we’ve been offering members.

Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said:

“The WSTA team has sought clarification from Government on what is classified as essential businesses. We have consulted extensively with DEFRA, who have not given us a definitive view, however they have accepted that we will be advising our members – with businesses in England and Wales, and in Scotland – that they can remain open, as long as all staff adhere to social distancing rules. The situation is different in Northern Ireland, where off-licences are not permitted to open. 

Based on advice issued by the Office of Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) within BEIS, officials have said only essential businesses should now remain open. It follows from this that a business that is allowed to remain open must be essential. Off-licences have been added to the list of retail outlets that are permitted to open.

In order for alcohol retailers and online businesses to trade then the supply chain for those businesses needs to remain functional. For businesses like bottling plants and distilleries it is simply not possible to work from home. Provided businesses are content that staff can respect social distancing rules while at work and when travelling to work and that staff are happy to continue to work; then businesses can stay open. 

We take further comfort from the fact that Michael Gove has said publicly that online trade in non-essential items can continue. We are therefore advising our members who trade online that if they wish to continue to offer online sales then, provided staff are able to work safely, then activity can continue.”

The government’s core message remains “Stay at home” and a link to all the relevant distancing guidance is here:

Last night, the government announced further restrictions in an effort to contain the spread of Coronavirus:
  • Restrictions would be introduced and people would be expected to stay at home with the following exceptions:
  • Shopping for basic necessities
  • One form of exercise per day
  • Travel for medical need
  • Travelling to and from work where absolutely necessary and work cannot be done from home
The PM urged all to keep movements to a minimum noting that the police would be given powers to disperse crowds. In addition:
  • All shops selling non-essential goods would close
  • All gatherings of more than 2 people are to be banned
  • All ceremonies except funerals are to be banned
It was acknowledged that these additional, further to last week’s decision to close pubs, bars and restaurants, would continue to negatively impact on businesses and people, and that the decision would be kept under review. The additional restrictions on movement will be in effect for at least 3 weeks. It was also announced that the government has launched a Coronavirus Business Support Hub to allow businesses to view all the support they are entitled to, and how to access that support:

The WSTA is following up with government today for further clarity, including around what ‘essential business activities’ constitutes.

The Prime Minister has announced that pubs, bars and restaurants must close, in addition to gyms, theatres, cinemas and all shops selling non-essential goods. As part of this announcement, the Chancellor outlined a package with an unprecedented level of economic intervention to help support businesses. The measures are outlined below.

You will notice that there is nothing on excise duty, and the WSTA has today written to the Chancellor to call for a 6-month duty suspension.

We will be pushing for this in advance of the next duty payment, due on 25 March. For those of you who responded to our survey and outlined your support, Lucy will be in touch. If you have not expressed an interest in the survey but would like to sign up to the letter, please drop Lucy an email –

As some of you will be aware, some members have found that HMRC have been declining to make time to pay agreements with businesses regarding excise duty. We have intervened today with HM Treasury, who have confirmed that the policy intention is to include excise duties in time to pay agreements. This is a positive step as a result of WSTA engagement. Measures affecting businesses:

  • Cafes, pubs, bars, restaurant, nightclubs, theatres and gyms were all ordered to close tonight as soon as they can, and not to open tomorrow.
  • On trade premises can continue to provide takeout services.
  • The situation will be reviewed each month
A new Government coronavirus job retention scheme will be set up
  • Any employer is eligible for the scheme
  • HMRC grants will be available for most wages of employees who are not working but are furloughed or kept on the payroll
  • This pay will be up to 80% of salary, up to £2500pm
  • This will allow for businesses to retain staff, even if employers cannot afford to pay them
  • It will be backdated to 1 March and will be open for 3 months, and longer if necessary
  • There is no limit on funding available for the scheme
  • The scheme will be up and running with first grants payed within weeks
For businesses, in addition to loans, grants and guarantees already announced:
  • The loans available will be interest free for 12 months, as opposed to 6 months as previously announced
  • The loans will be available from Monday
  • Further measures will be announced next week to support larger and medium sized businesses
  • The next quarter of VAT payments are deferred
  • No business will pay VAT until end of June and will have until the end of the financial year to pay those bills
  • Government will be launching a major national ad campaign to communicate business support available
Other measures announced include: For those who are not in employment, or who have lost their job:
  • Universal credit is being increased by £1k pa
  • Working tax credit will be increased by £1k pa
To support the self-employed:
  • The Government will be suspending the minimum income floor
  • Self-employed people can now access universal credit at a rate equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for employees
  • The next self-assessment payments are being deferred to Jan 2021
  • £1bn of support has been announced for renters to increase housing benefit
  • At least covering 30% market rents in each area
If you have any comments or questions, please get in touch with any of the WSTA team.