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Coronavirus/COVID-19 Business Support Measures

This article provides an overview of government support for businesses across the UK.  Information in relation to GWA’s contingency plans to provide ongoing assistance for clients can be found here. 

Over recent days both the Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes have announced a package of support for businesses as they combat the Coronavirus/ COVID-19 pandemic.

This is a fast-moving area and we have been told to expect more announcements that will help support the economy, public services, people and businesses. Here are the key points that we are currently aware of, identifying UK wide as well as England specific or Scotland specific measures. We will continue to keep you updated as and when further information is available.

UK wide measure – Are you struggling to pay your tax liabilities?

HMRC has a set up a phone helpline to support businesses and self-employed people concerned about not being able to pay their tax due to COVID-19.

The helpline allows any business or self-employed individual who is concerned about paying their tax due to COVID-19 to get practical help and advice. Up to 2,000 experienced call handlers are available to support businesses and individuals when needed.

If you run a business or are self-employed and are concerned about paying your tax due to COVID-19, you can call HMRC’s helpline for help and advice.

For those who are unable to pay due to COVID-19, HMRC will discuss your specific circumstances to explore:

  • agreeing an instalment arrangement
  • suspending debt collection proceedings
  • cancelling penalties and interest where you have administrative difficulties contacting or paying HMRC immediately

The helpline number is 0800 0159 559 and is an addition to other HMRC phone contact numbers. Opening hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, and Saturday 8am to 4pm. The helpline will not be available on Bank Holidays.

The Scottish business helpline specific to COVID-19 is open Monday to Friday, between 8:30am and 5:30pm.

Based at the existing Scottish Enterprise call centre in Clydebank, advisers across Scotland will answer questions from small businesses related to COVID-19. The helpline will also help the Scottish government identify the current challenges facing business over COVID-19.

The business helpline number is 0300 303 0660. The helpline will be open Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5.30pm. Callers should select option one to speak to the COVID-19 team.

Information on healthcare advice for employers and support for businesses can be found on the UK GOV website.

 

UK wide measure – COVID-19 government statutory sick pay and how to apply for it

The government will meet the cost of COVID-19 statutory sick pay (SSP) for small businesses with up to 250 employees for 14 days, providing over £2 billion for up to two million businesses.

SSP will now be available for eligible individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 or those who are unable to work because they are self-isolating in line with government advice.

The weekly allowance for SSP will increase from £94.25 to £95.85 on 6 April.

This is in addition to the change announced by prime minister Boris Johnson that SSP will be payable from day one instead of day four for affected individuals.

People who are advised to self-isolate for COVID-19 will soon be able to obtain an alternative to the fit note to cover this by contacting NHS 111, rather than visiting a doctor. This can be used by employees where their employers require evidence.

COVID-19 statutory sick pay is expected to be in the form of a refund. The Treasury says that it is “working with employers over the coming months to set up a repayment mechanism as soon as possible for employers reclaiming statutory sick pay”.

For the self-employed not eligible for SSP, contributory Employment and Support Allowance will be payable, at a rate of £73.10 a week if you are over 25, for eligible people affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating in line with advice from day one of sickness, rather than day eight.

More information can be found on the UK GOV website.

 

UK Wide measure – Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) announced at last week’s budget has been extended. Delivered by the British Business Bank, this will launch next week to support SMEs to access bank lending and overdrafts, with interest rates similar to current bank lending.

The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan – subject to a per-lender cap on the number of bad loans it can claim for.

The scheme will now support loans of up to £5m per business. These loans will be guaranteed by the government and will require no interest payments for the first 6 months as government will cover the first 6 months of interest payments.

Like the EFG, the idea is to give lenders more confidence in approving credit decisions for small businesses that have insufficient security to meet the lender’s normal requirements.

It should be noted that the business borrower will always remain 100-per-cent liable for the debt.

More details can be found on the British Business Bank website. However as of 18 March 2020 details have still to be agreed with a disclaimer stating “We are in the process of defining and agreeing the scheme’s details, specifications and eligibility and therefore information is subject to change.”

 

UK Wide other measures

Mortgage lenders have agreed they will support customers that are experiencing issues with their finances as a result of COVID-19, including through payment holidays of up to 3 months. This will give people the necessary time to recover and ensure they do not have to pay towards their mortgage in the interim.

Confirmation has been provided that government advice to avoid pubs, clubs and theatres etc. is sufficient for businesses to claim on their insurance where they have appropriate business interruption cover for pandemics in place.

To support the food industry and help provide meals for people who need to self-isolate, the government will relax planning regulations to allow pubs and restaurants to start providing takeaways without a planning application.

No big measures have been announced to support the self-employed, gig economy or employees on zero-hour contracts. Although, we do expect further announcements and action to be taken in due course.

 

England Specific Measures

New measures to limit the impact of COVID-19 on the business community in England have been announced. The following steps will be put in place to support businesses during the 2020-21 financial year:

  • a 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England
  • grants of up to £10,000 to all businesses eligible for small business rate relief or rural rate relief
  • grants of up to £25,000 for all retail, hospitality and leisure business in England operating from premises with a rateable value over £15,000 and below £51,000
  • a £500m “hardship fund” to be given to local authorities in England to help vulnerable people in their areas.

 

Scotland Specific Measures

New measures to limit the impact of COVID-19 on the business community in Scotland have been announced. The following steps will be put in place to support businesses during the 2020-21 financial year:

  • a 75% rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a rateable value of less than £69,000 from 1 April 2020
  • an £80 million fund to provide grants of at least £3000 to small businesses in sectors facing the worst economic impact of COVID-19
  • 1.6% rates relief for all properties across Scotland, effectively reversing the planned below inflation uplift in the poundage from 1 April 2020
  • a fixed rates relief of up to £5000 for all pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000 from 1 April 2020

A further £1.2bn has been committed by the UK government to support Scotland, with a further announcement from the Finance Secretary Kate Forbes expected as to how this will impact the initial proposal above. The Finance Secretary will also write to all local authorities urging them to respond positively to requests from rate payers for payment deferrals for a fixed period.

Should you have any concerns in relation to this information or would like to speak to one of our partners for further guidance, please do get in touch.

Information correct as of 18 March 2020

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