Coronavirus update 25 March: Sole traders, construction, brewing, fuel prices and more

From a business perspective, the last 24 hours have not seen any major government announcements designed to help businesses so here is our Coronavirus update for 25 March.

The key topic at the moment is whether the chancellor will introduce a better support package for the self-employed. Currently, sole traders do not qualify for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which the government is using to pay 80% of ‘furloughed’ employees’ salaries. Instead, the only safety net the self-employed have is Universal Credit – albeit at an increased rate to match Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

Chancellor Rishi Sunak currently says that designing a scheme to support sole traders is ‘incredibly complicated’. If so, he may want to ask himself how a team of self-isolated fintech contributors have designed just such a system, in what has been dubbed the ‘fastest fintech project ever implemented’.

While the outlook is currently bleak for many self-employed people, we hope that more generous measures will be introduced soon. We will share any updates on this as soon as we know more.

In other business-related news over the last 24 hours:

  • There are calls to bring a halt to all non-essential construction work, says the BBC. So far, government has said work can continue as long as workers remain 2m apart, but pressure is building to safeguard their health and shut down projects – except for essential building, such as for new hospitals.
  • Pub journal The Morning Advertiser reports that the chancellor plans to go ahead with the collection of March’s beer duty. This is set to hit many small brewers particularly hard and industry bodies are urging the government to cancel the payments, allowing firms to invest in their survival. The Society of Independent Brewers said that, on average, small brewers will have to pay about £5,000.
  • In better news, The Guardian says that bike retailers and repair shops are seeing an uptick in business, after the government classed them as an ‘essential service’ under the terms of the lockdown. Increasing numbers of people are switching to two wheels, either to avoid the risk of infection on public transport or to take their allowed daily exercise.
  • Also according to the Guardian, things are looking tougher for both renters and (by extension) landlords. The ‘complete ban’ on evictions in reality only extends the notice required for possession from two months to three. While mortgage holidays are now being extended to buy-to-let landlords, those with tenants who are struggling hard choices. Do they work with their current tenants to find a solution, or do they evict someone who is struggling? Replacement tenants are likely to be hard to find, especially – as the Daily Mail reports – the housing market has ground to a halt.
  • On a more positive note, although few of us will be doing much driving, fuel prices have finally dropped after the recent crash in the oil price. Both Asda and Morrisons have cut their prices by 12p per litre, meaning you’ll be paying only about 104p per litre of petrol at the pump. There’s a strong chance that prices will drop to £1 per litre very soon.

That’s it for today. Be sure to check back tomorrow for the latest COVID-19 business and personal finance updates.

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About Ben Locker

Ben Locker is a copywriter who specialises in business-to-business marketing, writing about everything from software and accountancy to construction and power tools. He co-founded the Professional Copywriters’ Network, the UK’s association for commercial writers, and is named in Direct Marketing Association research as ‘one of the copywriters who copywriters rate’.

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