By Scott Wright

THE Scotch whisky industry has urged the UK Government to suspend duty payments due to the Treasury this week for at least six months to help distillers through the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis.

And it is calling on Scottish ministers to clarify whether the business rates holiday announced last week applies to visitor centres, shops and cafes at distilleries which are now closed under measures to help halt the spread of the virus.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said suspending duty due to be paid to the Treasury tomorrow (March 25) for at least six months would help distillers stay afloat and ease the pressure on their supply chains amid the downturn. Responding to questions from The Herald, the organisation said companies generally have between 15 and 45 working days to make duty payments after their whisky has left bonded warehouses. Producers can apply to defer payments for a month, but smaller firms may not be approved to defer payments, meaning payment is due imminently. “This makes the matter very urgent,” a spokeswoman said.

Duty is levied on Scotch whisky at a rate of £28.74 per litre of pure alcohol. Citing figures from HM Revenue & Customs, the SWA said the duty value of the UK spirits industry is £3.8 billion. Scotch makes up around 20 per cent of spirits clearances from bonds.

Meanwhile, distillers are demanding to know if their shops and visitor centres are eligible for the 100 per cent business rates holiday brought in for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses last week.

SWA chief executive Karen Betts said: “The support measures set out by the UK and Scottish governments, covering business rate relief, access to loans and a safety net for employees, is hugely welcome and offers important reassurance to Scotch whisky producers, large and small.

“However, we still need clarity on some aspects of the support. Business rates relief is key for distilleries which also run visitor centres, shops and cafes which have had to close, but it’s not clear that they will qualify under the terms announced. We’re asking the Scottish Government for urgent clarification.

“We are also asking for the payment of excise duty to government to be deferred for at least six months. Payment is due this week, and deferring will support distillers’ cash flow and give them much-needed breathing space.”