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Insurance sector warns majority of firms not covered for Covid-19

Britain’s insurance industry has warned that firms will not be able to make claims on their policies – irrespective of whether the government orders shutdowns – as restaurant groups such as Carluccio’s warned they were only days away from major closures. The Association of British Insurers issued a stark warning that “business interruption cover” bought…

Britain’s insurance industry has warned that firms will not be able to make claims on their policies – irrespective of whether the government orders shutdowns – as restaurant groups such as Carluccio’s warned they were only days away from major closures.

The Association of British Insurers issued a stark warning that “business interruption cover” bought by most firms will not pay out for coronavirus-caused stoppages.

It said: “Irrespective of whether or not the government orders closure of a business, the vast majority of firms won’t have purchased cover that will enable them to claim on their insurance to compensate for their business being closed by the coronavirus.

“Standard business interruption cover – the type the majority of businesses purchase – does not include forced closure by authorities as it is intended to respond to physical damage at the property which results in the business being unable to continue to trade.”

It is understood that fewer than 10% of businesses – possibly only about 2% – will have any form of extension to their business cover for closure caused by infectious diseases.

The lack of insurance payouts will leave many businesses in a desperate financial situation.

Carluccio’s chief executive, Mark Jones, told the BBC’s Today programme on Radio 4 that the restaurant chain “was days away from large-scale closures” without state aid and called for immediate help for the industry from the government.

Footfall has been declining “on a daily basis” and the government restrictions announced on Monday meant “we’ll be in a situation where sales start to decline even more rapidly from today onwards”, he said.

Boris Johnson has urged the public to stay away from pubs, clubs and restaurants in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading. Jones said: “We understand the role we have to play in public health, so I won’t question the government’s advice on that. But to do that to an industry without any fiscal support whatsoever condemns us to death, effectively.”

He urged the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to stage an “enormous state intervention”, pointing to measures for business announced by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, on Monday.

The Italian chain of 73 restaurants across the UK and Ireland said its sites in London had suffered the biggest declines.

Compass, which provides meals for schoolchildren and office workers, said the pandemic had forced it to shut the vast majority of its sports and leisure, and education operations in continental Europe and North America. The division that provides catering to businesses has also been “severely impacted” because many people are now working from home.

Compass recorded 6% growth in revenues in the five months to 29 February but a sharp drop in March will all but wipe that out. It is expecting zero to 2% growth in revenues for the first half, which will translate into a 25% to 30% fall in profits.

Half-year operating profits will be £125m to £225m lower than expected, the group warned. A year ago, Compass made a first-half operating profit of £951m. Analysts had pencilled in £1.95bn for the full year but had not produced a half-year forecast.

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Compass shares were the biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 index on Tuesday morning, tumbling 20% to 896p.

Over the weekend the French and Austrian governments decided to close all nonessential places used by the public, while Spain declared a two-week state of emergency.

Compass, which employs 600,000 people worldwide, provides catering for Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea football clubs as well as the Wimbledon tennis championships and football and baseball stadiums in the US.

The group had already warned in November that hundreds of jobs could be at risk from cost cuts because of the weakening global economy.

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