In an effort to help businesses struggling in the face of the global coronavirus pandemic, the Government announced, on 17 March 2020, a business rates holiday for businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality industries, which is set to last for the next 12 months. However, when the Business Rates Local Authority Guidance was published the following day, it became apparent that the Treasury had specifically excluded casinos, bingo halls and betting shops from the business rate relief by classifying them as financial services.
The Betting and Gaming Council (“BGC”) lobbied the Government in an open letter, advising that its members, which constitute approximately 90% of the betting and gaming industry in the UK, employ over 70,000 people and pay tax of over £3bn, and clearly form part of the UK leisure industry in providing entertainment, food and drink to millions of people every year. Around 64,000 jobs in the betting and gaming industry are at risk following Government-mandated business closures on 20 March 2020, and the cancellation of football matches and horseracing, which has led to a significant reduction in sports betting.
In its letter to the Government, the BGC made clear that:
“If there is no change in the Government’s approach, within months many casinos will be insolvent and we run the very risk that permanent closures of betting shops will occur.
Without the kind of help that the Government is rightly prepared to offer other sectors, including in other parts of the hospitality, leisure and entertainment industries, there is a real danger that the physical presence of our industry on the high street, in our towns and cities, will be largely wiped out.
Not only is this a sector which provides a leisure activity enjoyed by millions of people up and down the country, but its closure could lead to a migration of gambling to the black market, which is not only unregulated and an unsafe place for people to bet, but it also contributes nothing to the Exchequer or the country.”
The BGC also suggested other short-term measures which could be introduced to help its members’ businesses survive, including assistance with payroll costs, access to loans and additional time to pay taxes and gaming duties.
Following the BGC’s lobbying, and cross-party support, the Government has now confirmed that the business rates holiday is to be extended to all businesses based in the UK in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector, with casinos, betting shops and bingo halls now forming part of the leisure sector. Businesses do not have to apply for the business rates holiday; it will automatically be applied to their next tax bill.
Additionally, on 20 March 2020, the Government announced its Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which is available to every employer in the UK, large or small. Under the scheme, employers who have asked their employees to stop working and have designated them as furloughed workers (and notified them of this change in status) can apply for a grant to cover 80% of their wages, up to a maximum of £2,500 per employee per month, enabling the employees to retain their jobs. This scheme is open for three months, initially, and will be extended if necessary. Details of how to claim through the scheme have now been published.
Further help for small and medium sized enterprises is available via the Government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (“CBILS”), under which such businesses will have access to loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5m, with no interest payable by the business for the first 12 months. 40+ accredited lenders offer CBILS, which opened for applications on 23 March 2020 and can be accessed by UK based businesses with an annual turnover of no more than £45million, so long as they meet the British Business Bank eligibility criteria. Further details of CBILS are available here.
Larger businesses can seek help through the HM Treasury and Bank of England Covid Corporate Financing Facility (“CCFF”) which will buy the company’s short-term debt in the form of commercial paper. An explanation of CCFF and its eligibility criteria are available here.
Finally, businesses which pay UK tax and have outstanding tax liabilities may also be able to receive support with their tax affairs via HMRC’s Time to Pay service which has a dedicated telephone helpline on 0800 0159 559.
Further details are available on the BGC’s designated webpage on COVID19.