COVID-19: support for UK businesses

We are all having to deal with challenges and difficulties due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and government advice and support is changing on an almost daily basis.

At Focus we encourage you to check the very latest government advice by going to the relevant links that we're presenting below (please click on the green buttons).

 

However, for personal and tailored advice specific to your situation, please contact us directly and we will do our best to help. *

* It may take longer than usual to get back to you and we thank you in advance for your patience and understanding. If it is very urgent, please call us and leave a message if required. We will get back to you as soon as possible.

Alternatively, you can call the HMRC tax helpline for businesses and self-employed people who are concerned about paying their tax due to COVID-19.

 

The helpline number is:

This guidance assists employers, businesses and their staff in addressing coronavirus (COVID-19).

It’s good practice for employers to:

  • keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace

  • ensure employees who are in a vulnerable group are strongly advised to follow social distancing guidance

  • make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date

  • make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) and are clear on any relevant processes, for example, sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace is potentially infected and needs to take the appropriate action

  • make sure there are places to wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, and encourage everyone to do so regularly

  • provide hand sanitiser and tissues for staff, and encourage them to use them

The Chancellor has set out a package of temporary, timely and targeted measures to support public services, people and businesses through this period of disruption caused by COVID-19. This includes a package of measures to support businesses including:

  • a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

  • deferring VAT and Self-Assessment payments

  • a Self-employment Income Support Scheme

  • a Statutory Sick Pay relief package for small and medium sized businesses (SMEs)

  • a 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality, leisure and nursery businesses in England

  • small business grant funding of £10,000 for all business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief

  • grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000

  • the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme offering loans of up to £5 million for SMEs through the British Business Bank

  • Government-backed Bounce Back Loans for small businesses

  • a new lending facility from the Bank of England to help support liquidity among larger firms, helping them bridge coronavirus disruption to their cash flows through loans

  • the HMRC Time To Pay Scheme

The Job Retention Scheme allows employers to claim for 80% of furloughed employees’ (employees on a leave of absence) usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that wage. 

The Furlough scheme has been extended until September 2021.

Employees can be furloughed flexibly and employers will only be required to pay NCIS and pensions for the hours not worked. The Government will maintain contributions at 80% (up to the cap) for the hours not worked until June, but from July 2021 employers will need to contribute to the scheme, as per the below table:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Job Retention Scheme Portal can be accessed here.

If you need to put employees on furlough you need to put and agreement in writing. For that, you can use the templates from the ACAS website below. You can also use the handy Payroll Furlough Calculator to work out how much you can claim for each furloughed employee. 

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The Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will support self-employed individuals (including members of partnerships) who have lost income due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

This scheme has been extended again, to offer a fourth and fifth grant.

 

The fourth grant, covering February to April 2021, is claimable from late April at 80% of three months' average profits, capped at £7,500 in total. You must have filled in a 2019/2020 tax return to be eligible for this grant.

 

A fifth grant, covering the period from May to September 2021, can be claimed from late July. This will be targeted at those who need it most as the economy reopens. Those whose turnover has fallen by 30% or more will be eligible for the full grant, which will be 80% of three months’ average profits capped at £7,500. The fact that the grant covers a five-month period appears to allow for the likelihood that the business will be reopening in that time. Those whose turnover has fallen by less than 30% will receive a 30% grant, capped at £2,850. Further details will be published in due course.

HMRC expects you to make an honest assessment about whether you reasonably believe your business will have a significant reduction in profits. To make a claim for any grant your business must have had a new or continuing impact from coronavirus, which you reasonably believe will have a significant reduction in your profits.

Claim a grant through the Self-employment Income Support Scheme.

Here is a video from HMRC to explain the process.

The grant does not need to be repaid if you’re eligible, but will be subject to Income Tax and self-employed National Insurance and must be reported on your 2020 to 2021 Self Assessment tax return. Grants under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme are not counted as ‘access to public funds’, and you can claim the grant on all categories of work visa.

Any payments you receive from HMRC through either the Job Retention Scheme or the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will need to be booked correctly in your accounts system as this is classed as a source of income and is therefore subject to the normal tax. If you are using FreeAgent you will be able to select the category 'Grant Income' under 'Other Money In'. Alternatively, you can create your own category.

The government will provide additional Small Business Grant Scheme funding for local authorities to support small businesses that already pay little or no business rates because of small business rate relief (SBRR), rural rate relief (RRR) and tapered relief. This will provide a one-off grant of £10,000 to eligible businesses to help meet their ongoing business costs.

Small businesses could benefit from a fast-track finance scheme, providing loans with a 100% government-backed guarantee for lenders. The Bounce Back Loans scheme, which provided loans of up to £50,000, helped bolster the existing package of support available to the smallest businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. It is now closed for new applications.

  • businesses were able to borrow between £2,000 and £50,000 and access the cash within days

  • loans were interest-free for the first 12 months, and businesses can apply online through a short and simple form

  • The scheme was open to applications until 31 March 2021

  • If you already had a Bounce Back Loan but borrowed less than you were entitled to, you could top up your existing loan to your maximum amount. You must have requested the top-up by 31 March 2021.

  • You also have the option to delay all repayments for a further six months. This means businesses can choose to make no payments on their loans until 18 months after they originally took them out.

  • You can extend the length of their loans from six to ten years, which reduces monthly repayments by almost half.

  • You can also make interest-only payments for six months to tailor your repayment schedule to suit your individual circumstances.

The Recovery Loan Scheme supports access to finance for UK businesses as they grow and recover from the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The Recovery Loan Scheme is to help businesses of any size access loans and other kinds of finance so they can recover after the pandemic and transition period.

  • Up to £10 million is available per business. The actual amount offered and the terms are at the discretion of participating lenders.

  • The government guarantees 80% of the finance to the lender. As the borrower, you are always 100% liable for the debt.

  • The scheme is open until 31 December 2021, subject to review.

  • Loans are available through a network of accredited lenders, listed on the British Business Bank’s website.

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.

These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities.

If you have missed a tax payment or you might miss your next payment due to COVID-19, please call HMRC’s dedicated helpline: 0800 024 1222.

The Government will bring forward legislation to allow small and medium-sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19. The eligibility criteria for the scheme will be as follows:

  • this refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19

  • employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible - the size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020

  • employers will be able to reclaim expenditure for any employee who has claimed SSP (according to the new eligibility criteria) as a result of COVID-19

  • employers should 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

  • eligible period for the scheme will commence the day after the regulations on the extension of SSP to those staying at home comes into force

  • the government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible

From 28 May 2020 the NHS Test and Trace system has been put into place. The service

  • provides testing for anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus to find out if they have the virus

  • gets in touch with anyone who has had a positive test result to help them share information about any close recent contacts they have had

  • alerts those contacts, where necessary, and notifies them they need to self-isolate to help stop the spread of the virus

The NHS test and trace service will help to manage the risk of the virus re-emerging as restrictions on everyday life are eased, as far as it is deemed safe to do so.

It is vital that employers play their part by:

  • making their workplaces as safe as possible

  • encouraging workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate and supporting them when in isolation

 

Although this may seem disruptive for businesses, it is less disruptive than an outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace will be, and far less disruptive than periods in lockdown.

  • Employers should support workers who are told to self-isolate and must not ask them to attend work. See the guidance on the NHS test and trace service for employers, businesses and workers. If you are in employment, speak to your employer to discuss if you can work from home or other options are available during your period of isolation.

  • Workers in self-isolation are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for every day they are in isolation, as long as they meet the eligibility conditions. Guidance has been produced for employees that are unable to work because they are self-isolating.

  • The NHS test and trace service will provide a notification that can be used as evidence that someone has been told to self-isolate. This notification can be shared with an employer or education provider, for example.

So a person who has been notified that they have had contact with a person with coronavirus, and who is therefore required to self-isolate for 14 days will be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) if they cannot work from home and isolate.  You will be able to reclaim the SSP for those 14 days.

 

For your consideration:

Start to consider the implications in terms of business disruption if an employee or group of employees who are back (or always were) in the work premises are required to isolate for 14 days and it is not possible for them to work from home.  Particularly concerning will be if one employee with symptoms has come into extended contact with other employees - your infection control and distancing rules at work have never been more important!