A judgment by the Supreme Court means that small businesses that have claimed for coronavirus-related business interruption losses will now be paid by their insurers.
The ruling comes after a test case brought by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on behalf of policyholders. It means that thousands of small firms will now get insurance payments covering losses incurred during the first national lockdown.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has described the ruling as a "big victory" and said small businesses affected will "breathe a sigh of relief".
The first lockdown saw large numbers of claims under business interruption policies, many of which had specific disease clauses. However, many insurers disputed liability; the FCA says that 370,000 policyholders have been identified as holding 700 types of policies issued by 60 insurers that may be affected by the outcome of the test case.
"Coronavirus is causing substantial loss and distress to businesses and many are under immense financial strain to stay afloat," said Sheldon Mills, FCA executive director, consumers and competition. "Our aim throughout this test case has been to get clarity for as wide a range of parties as possible, as quickly as possible, and today's judgment decisively removes many of the roadblocks to claims by policyholders.
The FCA is working with insurers to ensure that they quickly pay claims and make interim payments wherever possible. "As we have recognised from the start of this case, tens of thousands of small firms and potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs are relying on this," said Sheldon Mills. "We are grateful to the Supreme Court for delivering the judgment quickly."
Huw Evans, director general of the Association of British Insurers (ABI), said: "All valid claims will be settled as soon as possible and in many cases the process of settling claims has begun. We recognise this has been a particularly difficult time for many small businesses and naturally regret that COVID-19 restrictions have led to disputes with some customers."
Commenting on the ruling, Mike Cherry, FSB national chair, said: "Today's judgment is a big victory … For many, it has been a long and difficult road to get to this stage so this will bring clarity and hope to the thousands of firms which have been left in financial limbo for almost a year.
"While this is good news … it's disappointing that so many small businesses have had to wait to get the money they desperately need under policies they believed were there to protect them, policies they bought in good faith … Providers must now pay-out quickly, and consider the steps they can take to progress these claims in a swift and seamless manner."
Written by Rachel Miller.