Government demand for March beer duty payments ‘disappointing’

In the wake of the closure of all pubs, bars and restaurants, the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) has branded the Chancellor’s decision to collect March’s beer duty payments as ‘incredibly disappointing’

The Society of Independent Brewers says the average small brewer will be landed with a beer duty bill of around £5,000, while for larger independent breweries in the UK it could be as much as £500,000.

Brewers have been calling on the Chancellor to unilaterally cancel the beer duty payment, scheduled to be debited from bank accounts on 25 March, in the face of decimated sales following social distancing measures.

In lieu of beer duty being cancelled, brewers are being encouraged to phone the HMRC time to pay helpline, with options to speak specifically about excise duty.

However, a poll of small brewers by the society showed that only 21% have been able to successfully reach the helpline.

James Calder, Society of Independent Brewers chief executive, said: ‘It is incredibly disappointing that the Chancellor has decided not to act, given he knows how poor the answer rate and experience on the helpline is.

‘The Chancellor has left brewers with few options if they are unsuccessful in reaching the helpline. There will be brewers who will have thousands of pounds direct debited from their accounts by HMRC.

‘This is a huge blow for the UK’s small independent brewers.’

However, the government has responded to another issue raised by the society, which said independent brewers are seeking to replace beer sales to pubs with sales direct to the public, via options such as takeaway beer, free local delivery services, or even ‘Pub at home’ boxes.

Not all breweries have the correct licenses in place to be able to sell beer in this way and as such the society was calling for the government to relax off-sales licensing, or fast-track applications in order to let businesses get services up and running.

Calder said: ‘It’s great to see independent breweries engaging with their local communities and finding innovative, no-contact ways to supply quality beer to people that are self-isolating, but for many brewers they just do not have the option and an urgent relaxation of the rules is needed.’

In an update to its published list of essential services, the government has now added off-licences and licenced shops selling alcohol, including those within breweries, to the list of premises able to stay open during the pandemic.

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