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UK government’s COVID cancellation insurance scheme launches

By | Published on Wednesday 22 September 2021

Live Music

The UK government has launched its long-awaited COVID cancellation insurance scheme for the live events sector. It was expected to launch yesterday, although was slightly delayed, seemingly due to negotiations between the government and insurers not quite being finalised in time.

Insurance issues have been a big problem for the live sector, and especially larger events and festivals, throughout the pandemic. Earlier this year, when it looked likely that COVID restrictions would be lifted in time for much of the festival season, many independent promoters nevertheless had to cancel their 2021 editions because it was impossible to get insurance against COVID-caused cancellations on the commercial market. For many promoters the risk that COVID restrictions might extend forcing last minute cancellations was just too big without insurance in place.

To overcome that challenge, the British live music industry repeatedly called for state-backed cancellation insurance, as had been introduced in some other countries. But the UK government resisted those calls while most COVID restrictions were still in force, saying instead that it would consider some sort of insurance scheme once those restrictions were lifted, but while there was still a chance new restrictions might be enforced at a later date.

Most COVID restrictions in England then lifted in July, and it was confirmed the following month that a state-backed cancellation insurance scheme would now be launched in the UK. Then, earlier this month, the government posted more information about how that scheme would work.

Basically, organisers of events open to the public that buy general cancellation insurance – specifically or as part of a wider package – from insurers like Arch, Beazley, Dale, Hiscox and Munich Re will be able to opt into extra state-backed coverage for COVID-caused cancellations. Although that cover will only apply if an event is “cancelled, postponed, relocated or abandoned” because of any future government-instigated COVID shutdown. It wouldn’t apply if new social distancing rules forced a cancellation, or a major downsizing of an event.

Despite that limitation, the live sector generally sees the proposed scheme as a definite step in the right direction, and was therefore ready to welcome its official launch yesterday. But anxiety set in when that launch did not happen, Access All Areas saying that “the start of the scheme has been delayed – it is understood that the government is continuing to negotiate with insurers and an announcement regarding the start date will be made shortly”.

Thankfully, the delay was only brief, and promoters can now, finally, begin to benefit from the insurance scheme. New Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries says: “The pandemic has been a unique challenge to live events, from gigs to business conferences. It’s a huge relief that so many are now back up and running, but it is crucial that they can also plan for the future with confidence and this scheme helps them do exactly that. With the sector contributing over £70 billion annually to our economy, it is right that we do all we can to support it and the talented people that work in it”.

Meanwhile, CEO of live industry trade body LIVE, Greg Parmley, comments: “The live music industry welcomes the introduction of a government-backed insurance scheme, which we have been calling for since the start of the pandemic. While there are still gaps in the cover available, such as for an artist withdrawal due to catching COVID or enforced social distancing, this is an important and valuable step in the right direction and provides additional security as we head into autumn and winter. After a year of almost total shutdown the industry needs a period of time where it can get back on its feet by providing the live experiences that fans are desperate for”.

Although arriving very late in the day, and almost entirely missing the summer festival season, the scheme does arrive in time for England’s inevitable winter lockdown.