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COVID-19 – Latest Economic Updates

Here is a detailed look at some of the measures the Government announced to ease the burden on businesses that may suffer as a result of the measures in place to control the COVID-19 outbreak.

This is a rapidly changing environment and full details are not yet available on all measures – notably business interruption loans and SSP. We will continue to review this and provide updates as the situation unfolds and as ever, please do get in touch with the team here if you have any immediate questions.

 

COVID-19 – Assistance and Financing

There are various options available to businesses and individuals currently facing or expecting to face difficulties as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Not all of these are suitable for all of our clients and each should be considered carefully to ensure that the most appropriate path is taken.

It is also important to note that some measures will be more short term than others and specifically that the £330bn Government Guarantee extension announced yesterday is available for a period of 12 months or less.

HMRC Guidance – Time-To-Pay Agreements

Today, HMRC have published guidance in relation to the COVID-19 virus outbreak and assistance being offered by the government and HMRC.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

This guidance includes details of a new freephone number 0800 0159 559 – for businesses and self-employed struggling to pay their taxes (VAT, CIS, Corporation Tax, Income Tax, etc.).  Taxpayers can enter into time to pay agreements which will see any taxes due paid over several months instead of a lump sum.  This is a very useful facility which can help clients who have a cashflow problem due to reduced sales or in a sector particularly affected by the shutdown (i.e. bars, cafes, retail, etc.).  The existing time to pay number 0300 200 3835 is still available to call.

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme announced in the Budget, which temporarily replaces the Enterprise Finance Guarantee, has been increased to allow businesses to borrow up to £5m interest free for the first 6 months, the Government will cover the first 6 months of interest payments.

The scheme is aimed to support long-term viable businesses who may need to respond to cash-flow pressures by seeking additional finance.

Details on how to access these funds have not yet been finalised. We will provide more information on this as soon as we receive it, but in the meantime you can keep checking on the link below for further updates:

https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/supporting-business-loans-enterprise-finance-guarantee/

Leisure/Hospitality/Entertainment

There are several measures announced specifically for business in these sectors:

  • 12-month business rates holiday for all shops, pubs, theatres, music venues and restaurants
  • A cash grant of up to £25,000 for those businesses operating from smaller premises with a rateable value of less than £51,000 in the hospitality sector
  • The Chancellor has also confirmed 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 (insurance policies differ significantly, so businesses are encouraged to check the terms and conditions of their specific policy and contact their providers. Most businesses are unlikely to be covered, as standard business interruption insurance policies are dependent on damage to property and will exclude pandemics)
  • Support for the food industry and help to provide meals for people who need to self-isolate by relaxing planning regulations to allow pubs and restaurants to start providing takeaways without a planning application

SMEs

Measures to support small business include:

  • A statutory sick pay relief package for SMEs (see below)
  • Small business grant funding of £10,000 (previously £3,000) for all businesses in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief (this will be automatic and such businesses will be contacted by their local authority – with funding provided to the local authorities by early April)
  • The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (see above)
  • The HMRC Time To Pay Scheme (see above)

IR35 reforms – delayed for a year

The controversial tax reforms to IR35, which largely affect contractors, have been put on hold for a year, in consideration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Note that this is a deferral and not a cancellation.

SSP

Statutory Sick Pay (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. This is in addition to the change announced by the Prime Minister that SSP will be payable from day 1 instead of day 4 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.

Employers should keep records distinguishing between COVID-19 related and other absences. Further details will be confirmed shortly.

Claiming SSP for an SME self-employed director/self-employed individual

Those who are not eligible for SSP, for example the self-employed or people earning below the Lower Earnings Limit of £118 per week, can now more easily make a claim for Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance:

  • For the duration of the outbreak, the requirements of the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed for those who have COVID-19 or are self-isolating according to government advice, ensuring self-employed claimants will receive support.
  • People will be able to claim Universal Credit and access advance payments upfront without the current requirement to attend a jobcentre if they are advised to self-isolate.
  • 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 1 of sickness, rather than Day 8.

 

Mortgage Payment Holidays

Mortgage lenders have agreed they will support customers that are experiencing issues with their finances as a result of COVID-19, including payment holidays of up to 3 months.

This will give people the necessary time to recover and ensure they do not have to pay a penny towards their mortgage in the interim.

 

Useful Links

Please note that the following links are to third party websites and do not constitute advice from Rayner Essex LLP. However, you may find some of the information useful.

 

Get help and support for your business:

https://www.gov.uk/business-support-helpline

Employer guidance:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19

Harvard Business Review on Home Working:

https://hbr.org/2020/03/coronavirus-could-force-teams-to-work-remotely

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development on employment law:

https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/emp-law/health-safety/coronavirus-factsheet

Gov action plan:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-action-plan/coronavirus-action-plan-a-guide-to-what-you-can-expect-across-the-uk

ACAS employment law summary:

https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

International travel update:

https://www.iatatravelcentre.com/international-travel-document-news/1580226297.htm

Rights on short term layoffs:

https://www.gov.uk/lay-offs-short-timeworking