CoviD-19: Business Support
We are gathering all the information we can to support you and your business through these challenging times. The latest announcements are also covered in our blogs. We are staying alert, to control the virus and save lives. Our offices remain closed as we continue to work from home, but you can still get in touch as usual.
Update 11 & 12 May 2020 – Covid19-secure
Following the Prime Minister’s address on Sunday 10 May, the government has published “OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy”. You can read the full guidance here. Our summary of the 50 page document is as follows:
- Phase 1 was containing the virus. A phased recovery is planned, and is largely dependent on keeping the Reproduction Rate -R- below 1. The government has repeatedly stressed all the measures below are contingent on the R rate. If it rises, they will apply the brakes.
- Phase 2, stresses that handwashing, social distancing, limiting the number of social contacts, reducing the exposure of vulnerable groups and shielding extremely vulnerable and self isolation and quarantining of households that are symptomatic or diagnosed all remain central. The message to “stay alert”, recognises that some people cannot work from home and provides modest steps to allow them to return to Covid-19 secure workplaces.
Step One of Phase Two includes:
- There is a slight change of emphasis towards facilitating a return to Covid-19 secure workplaces for those who cannot work from home. Guidance has been published on what constitutes Covid-19 secure workplaces. We have summarised the 5 key points common to all Covid-19 secure guidance in our blog.
- Those returning to Covid-19 secure workplaces, should avoid public transport wherever possible, walking, driving or cycling instead. Social distancing guidance on public transport must be followed rigorously. Guidance has been issued on how to make journeys safely on public transport
- Face coverings – not medical grade PPE – should be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible.
- Exercising as often as you like outside is permitted, and if you wish, you may meet up with one person from outside your household whilst outdoors, but you must adhere to the social distancing rules.
- You may drive to an outdoor space, but you must socially distance while you are there and do not have contact with people outside your household.
- The clinically vulnerable are strongly advised to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their household.
- The extremely vulnerable are strongly advised to stay at home at all times and avoid face to face contact.
- Higher fines for those who do not follow the rules.
- The government expects to introduce a series of measures and restrictions at the UK border, so international arrivals will be expected to supply contact and accommodation information and strongly advised to download the NHS contact and tracing app and to self isolate for 14 days on arrival. There is no specific date for these measures at this point.
Step Two of Phase Two covers:
- A phased return for early years settings and schools from 1 June.
- Opening non- essential retail when and where it is safe to do so – On 25 May , the Prime Minister announced timeline for retail to reopen on 15 June. Covid-19 Secure guidelines to protect shoppers and workers updated and available here.
- Permitting cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed-doors for broadcast while avoiding the risks of large-scale social contact.
- Re-opening more local public transport in urban areas, subject to strict measures to limit as far as possible the risk of infection in normally crowded spaces.
- Government is giving consideration to ways that people can expand their household group to include one other household in the same exclusive group. SAGE is looking at this, but no changes as yet.
Step three of Phase Two covers:
- By July at the earliest, to open at least some businesses and premises that have been required to close, including personal care, hospitality, public places and leisure facilities – provided that they are Covid-19 Secure.
Guidance is now available on what constitutes Covid-19 secure and we anticipate announcements from the Chancellor regarding phasing of government support. We will update our information, as we receive it.
Financing your business through Covid-19
1. What Government support is available?
Following the Prime Minister’s address 23 March 2020 in addition to previously announced measures, all shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms and places of worship must be closed and we should all be working from home. The impact on businesses is significant and the Government has pledged to “do what it takes” to support businesses through the Covid-19 outbreak. You can read the official Coronavirus (Covid-19): UK Government response here and the Government’s Business Support pages are here.
The summary below is subject to change.
Support for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses
- All shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing, electronics and libraries, playgrounds, gyms and places of worship to close from 23 March 2020. The measure was reviewed after three weeks and on 16 April, the government confirmed that the lockdown would be extended for at least a further three weeks, 7 May.
- All cafes, restaurants, pubs, and leisure businesses told to close from 20/3/20. They can continue to provide a takeaway service. The lockdown measures will be in place until at least 7 May.
- Business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England for 2020/21 tax year.
There is no action for you. This will apply to your next council tax bill in April 2020. However, local authorities may have to reissue your bill automatically to exclude the business rate charge. They will do this as soon as possible.
- Cash grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses. A £25,000 grant will be provided to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses operating from smaller premises, with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000. You will need to contact your relevant local authority. You can find guidance given to businesses by the government in the Small Business Grant Fund(SBGF)/Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund (RHLGF): guidance for business document published 1 April 2020.
Planning rules will be relaxed so pubs and restaurants can operate as hot food takeaways during the outbreak. This will apply to hot food and drinks. Alcoholic drinks will continue to be subject to existing licensing laws.
If your business insurance has cover for pandemics and government-ordered closure, you should be covered as the Government and Insurance industry confirmed on 17 March 2020 that advice to avoid pubs, theatres etc. is sufficient to make a claim.
Support for businesses that pay little or no business rates – Small Business Grants Fund
If you have commercial premises and receive Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) or Rural Business Rate Relief you will be eligible for a one-off grant of £10,000 to help meet your ongoing business costs. This is known as the Small Business Grant Fund (SBGF). You do not need to apply. Your local authority (LA) will contact you, writing to all eligible businesses with details of how to claim the grant as soon as possible.
We understand that most LAs have already been in contact with eligible businesses. The Business Secretary confirmed that the funds had reached the local authorities in early April and that they were being urged to distribute this as quickly as possible.
We can confirm that according to Derby City Council’s website (2 April 2020), it has despatched its letters advising eligible businesses on how to obtain their Small Business Grant. Eligible businesses, receiving the letter are asked to apply online through the Council’s website.
As at 20 April, we can confirm that less than 50% of the grant funding available to eligible business has been distributed to date. We encourage you to respond quickly to your Local authority when they contact you, and if you believe you are eligible but have not been contacted bu your authority, get in touch with them.
You can find guidance given to businesses by the government in the Small Business Grant Fund(SBGF)/Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund (RHLGF): guidance for business document published 1 April 2020.
Update 4 May 2020: Alok Sharma has announced that a discretionary grant fund has been set up to accommodate certain small businesses previously outside the scope of the Small Business Grant and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant fund schemes. An additional £617m will be distributed by the government to Local Authorities. It is intended to help businesses with ongoing fixed property related costs and Local Authorities are being asked to prioritise businesses in shared spaces, regular market traders, small charity properties that would meet the criteria for Small Business Rates Relief, and Bed and Breakfasts that pay council tax rather than business rates. Local Authorities may choose to make payments to other businesses based on local economic need at their discretion. See our blog post for more details. Update 29 May. The government has now published guidance on how to apply for the coronavirus Local Authority Discretionary Grant Fund.
Support for nurseries
Nurseries in England will not have to pay business rates for the 2020-21 tax year. More details.
Help for residents and businesses in Derby
As a Derby based business, we wanted to make you aware of the specific support being offered by Derby City Council. While the business measures have been well publicised, the specific support for Derby residents is perhaps less well known. Read the City Council’s press release Financial support for residents and businesses in Derby for more details.
Help to pay the wage bill of retained workers – Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
The Government will pay 80% of wages for employees who are not working (designated as furloughed employees), up to £2,500 per month. In addition employers can claim the associated Employer National Insurance Contributions (NICs) and minimum auto-enrolment employer pension contributions on that wage. Employers are to apply for grants from HMRC. The scheme opened to claims from employers on 20 April. If we are authorised to act for you for PAYE online services we can submit your claims for you. Read our latest blog for more details and talk to us about your options.
Directors of owner-managed companies, including sole directors can be furloughed as employees on the PAYE element of their remuneration.
Further details of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme here together with Government information on the scheme and government guidance on how to claim for your employee’s wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Update 12 May 2020. Rishi Sunak announces Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be extended until end October. CJRS remains unchanged until end July. From Aug to Oct, scheme continues but with greater flexibility. Employers currently using the scheme will be able to bring furloughed employees back part time and the government will ask employers to start sharing with the government, the cost of salaries. Employees will continue to receive the same level of support throughout, i.e. 80% of salary up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. More details will be provided before the end of May.
Support through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS)
The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), announced during the budget and subsequently enhanced is available. Government backed loans of up to £5m will be provided by the British Business Bank via high street banks. No interest will be due for the first 12 months. Businesses remain responsible for repaying any facility they take out. Details available to date are from the British Business Bank and it has produced a list of FAQs for SME’s.
To be eligible for support via CBILS, the small business must:
- Be UK-based in its business activity, with annual turnover of no more than £45m
- Have a borrowing proposal which, were it not for the current pandemic, would be considered viable by the lender, and for which the lender believes the provision of finance will enable the business to trade out of any short-to-medium term difficulty.
- Check eligibility here.
Support for larger businesses is available through the Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility (CFF)
Update 1 April 2020 – Business Secretary acknowledges that there have been difficulties with the CBILS scheme. He said ” “It would be completely unacceptable if any big banks were refusing help to those in financial difficulty. Just as the taxpayer stepped in to help the banks back in 2008, we will work with the banks to do everything they can to repay that favour.” He went on to say that the Chancellor would say more on this subject in the coming days.
Update 3 April 2020 – Chancellor announces changes to CBILS – loan scheme extended so that all viable businesses and not just those unable to secure regular commercial financing, will be eligible; lenders banned from requesting personal guarantees on loans under £250,000 and a new scheme – Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) – announced. Read more in our blog.
Support for SMEs – Bounce Back Loans
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has today – April 27 – announced a new micro loan scheme, providing a simple, quick, easy solution for businesses in need of smaller loans. Termed Bounce Back Loans, businesses will be able to apply for 25% of their turnover, up to a maximum of £50,000 with the government paying the interest for the first 12 months.
On the evening of Friday 1 May, the Chancellor wrote to the banks setting out the 2.5% interest rate that Bounce Back loans will be offered at and the regulatory changes being made to support the scheme. The letter also clarifies that under the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) businesses can borrow up to £50,000, capped at 25% of turnover. To avoid confusion the CBILS minimum loan size will rise to £50,001. Any customer witha CBILS loan or overdraft of £50,000 or less will be able to switch that facility to a BBLS loan should they choose to do so over the next few months.
As of 9.00am Monday 4 May, the loans are available from accredited lenders. There are no forward-looking tests of business viability; no complex eligibility criteria; just a simple standard online form with only seven questions to complete. Loans should arrive within 24 hours of approval and will be supported by 100% government guarantee.
Support for innovation
At the Downing Street press conference on 20 April, the Chancellor announced £1.25 billion of government support for innovative SMEs. The two initiatives mentioned were the £500m Future Fund and £750m of grants and loans delivered via Innovate UK. The Future Fund will be launched in May and Innovate UK’s enhanced payments are expected in mid May. More information on the support can be found here.
If you are unable to pay your Taxes – Corporation Tax, VAT, PAYE, Self-assessment
All businesses and self-employed people in financial distress, and with outstanding tax liabilities, may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time To Pay service.
For those concerned about missing a tax payment due to Covid-19, HMRC has set up a dedicated phone helpline. The helpline number is now 0800 024 1222 replacing the original 0800 0159 559.
The Government has announced that the next quarter of VAT payments will be deferred until June 2020. More details on VAT deferral.
It has also announced that self-assessment tax payments due in July, will be deferred until January 2021. More details on Income Tax deferral for self employed.
If you need to reclaim statutory sick pay (SSP) – update 26 May 2020 – HMRC’s online reclaim service is now open.
Employers with fewer than 250 employees will be able to reclaim up to two weeks’ SSP paid for sickness absence due to Covid-19.
You need to maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note. If evidence is required by an employer, those with symptoms of coronavirus can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online and those who live with someone that has symptoms can get a note from the NHS website. The Government will provide details of the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible. More details on Statutory Sick Pay Rebate.
Guidance for the charity sector
The government has produced specific guidance for the charity sector. This includes implications of Covid-19 control measures and charity financial reporting. Read our summary here.
Help for the self employed – Self Employed Income Support Scheme SEISS
The Chancellor has announced a support package for the self-employed. Eligible self-employed individuals will receive a cash grant worth 80% of their average monthly trading profit over the last three years, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month, through the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. The scheme is open to those with a trading profit of less than £50,000 in 2018-19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 over the past three tax years and more than half of your income must come from self employment. Government guidance on claiming a grant through Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) updated 14 April 2020.
We have provided more details on our SEISS webpage.
Help with your mortgage repayments
Mortgage lenders will offer a three month payment holiday for those that are experiencing issues with their finances due to Coronavirus. Lenders have agreed to simplify the process to apply for the relief and asking customers to contact them directly. Mortgage lenders have also announced further support for homeowners and landlords.
Help if you rent
The Government has announced a package of measures to protect renters and landlords. No renter in either social or private accommodation will be forced out of their home during the outbreak. Legislation will prevent landlords from beginning eviction proceedings for at least three months. Landlords will also be protected as the three month mortgage payment holiday has been extended to Buy to Let mortgages.
For help with utility bills and council tax it is advised that you contact providers/councils direct to agree a way forward.
Universal credit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
To help with living costs you can apply for Universal Credit. It is paid monthly into your bank. To make it easier for people to apply for this benefit, the Government has simplified the process to ensure those staying at home in line with Government advice will receive support.
Universal Credit payments will be paid upfront without the requirement to attend a job centre. Further announcements are expected on support for the self-employed. The latest position on Universal Credit and ESA is found here.
Support with energy bills for vulnerable people
Customers with pre-payment meters who may not be able to add credit can speak to their supplier about options to keep them supplied. Other customers in financial distress will also be supported by their supplier.
2. Talk to your lenders as soon as possible
Regular contact with your bank during these difficult times will keep them up to date on your trading situation and your ability to meet covenants.
The measures the Government has taken are designed to help your business through this difficult time. You can prepare your financial information for discussions with your bank about the Government backed support available.
3. Explore finance options to tide you over
Speak with finance providers and suppliers to explore available options in the short term.
4. Optimise your cash flow
Cashflow management is a crucial area. We have provided a summary here.
Supporting your team and employment rights
Guidance for employers and businesses makes it clear that:
- Employees should work from home wherever possible
- If someone becomes unwell with a new continuous cough or high temperature they should be sent home and advised to stay at home
- Wash their hands frequently and for 20 seconds, and catch coughs and sneezes in tissues
- Frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces touched regularly using standard cleaning products
- Those staying at home will be eligible for statutory sick pay from their first day of absence
- Use your discretion when asking for medical evidence for certification for employees who are unwell. This will allow GPs to focus on patients
- If you do require evidence, those with symptoms can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online or if they live with someone who has symptoms NHS website
- Employees from defined vulnerable groups should be strongly advised and supported to stay at home and work from there if possible
As an employer you should:
- Keep everyone updated on actions to reduce risks of exposure in workplace
- Strongly advise employees in vulnerable group to follow social distancing guidelines
- Make sure you have everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
- Make sure managers know symptoms and are clear on sickness reporting and sick pay arrangements and what to do if someone presents with the virus
- Make sure there are plenty of places to wash hands with soap and water and encourage employees to do this regularly
- Provide hand sanitisers for staff and encourage them to use them
How to certify staff sickness
Your employee should let you know as soon as possible if they are unable to work.
Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) should be paid from day one to all employees that have to self isolate because they or a member of their household has coronavirus, is showing symptoms or has been instructed by a doctor or NHS 111.
An individual can self certify for seven days. After this you can use your discretion re the need for medical evidence. If you decide you do need it, your employee can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online. You will not need it to reclaim SSP, but you will need to record absences and SSP payments.
Absences not covered by statutory sick pay
For those not entitled to SSP, the self employed and very low earners, support will be available through Universal Credit (UC) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
If you instruct your employees not to come in because, for example they have travelled recently, you will need to pay them normally.
If your employee is caring for dependents, they have aright to time off, but not a statutory right to pay. Be flexible and apply discretion, depending on your employees circumstances.
If your employee refuses to attend work, be flexible. Perhaps allow them to work from home, take holiday or unpaid leave.
Planning for absences
It is certainly worth thinking about how your business can continue to supply your products/services if your or your employees cannot work. What contingency plans can you put in place? Can you facilitate remote working, retrain team members, amend business hours?
Support working from home
In line with Government guidance, where it is possible employees should be encouraged to work from home. There are a number of software solutions that allow workers to communicate and collaborate with each other and with you. Popular software includes Microsoft Teams, Slack and Zoom. For those new to working from home, we have recapped the tax reliefs that may be available here.
Take care of yourself
The Mental Health Foundation is part of the national mental health response providing support to address the mental health and psychosocial aspects of the Coronavirus outbreak, alongside Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care. They provide tips to protect our wellbeing. Mind offer similar advice.