This is a roundup of the support available to smaller businesses affected by COVID-19. The landscape is rapidly changing but as at 7pm this evening (20th March 2020) this is the information that we have – where it is known from an official source such as HMRC you’ll find it in Bold or standard type. For anything that is opinion or hearsay I’ve added italics and you should treat it accordingly.
As ever, if you are worried or uncertain on how to get through all of this, there are lots of us out here willing to help. Reach out to me or my fellow accountants and bookkeepers here in the BBB group, and remember that we’re all in this together.
1. Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
Any employer is eligible for a grant of 80% of the salary of retained workers who are not able to work due to coronavirus, up to £2,500 per month. This is backdated to wages from 1st March 2020. There is no limit on the funding available. If employees have already been laid off then they can still claim the grant if they are brought back onto the payroll and granted a leave of absence instead.
2. 12 month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses
If you are eligible there is nothing you need to do – local authorities will re-issue bills for rates for 2020/21 if you’ve already received a demand. Eligible business would include shops, pubs, restaurants, cafes, hotels and self-catering accommodation.
3. Small business grant funding of £10,00 for all businesses in receipt of Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) or Rural Rate Relief
To be administered by your local authority.
Local authorities are a bit blind-sided by this – they don’t usually pay out to rate-payers so they’re having to set up a system to cope with the grants. Expecting this to be live during April but there’s no further information available just yet. We advise to check your last rate bill to ensure that you are eligible for SBRR or SBRRR and therefore for this grant.
4. Grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000
As above, and eligibility criteria as for the 12 month business rates holiday.
5. Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme offering loans of up to £5m for SMEs through the British Business Bank
Businesses can access the first 6 months of this finance interest free as the government will be covering those interest payments.
The scheme is being launched during the week commencing 23rd March, but you can talk to lenders now about accessing it so that when the funds are available they will be able to act quickly on your behalf. We expect you will need a cash flow forecast and business plan to be able to access this lending, and the quickest way may be through your current bank as they already have done due diligence on you and your business.
If you currently have lending that you are paying for on a monthly basis you should contact your lender and ask for a payment holiday. We’ve heard many cases of lenders being very open to these discussions and giving 6 months of holiday straight away. Don’t put off calling and asking for this help.
6. HMRC Time to Pay Scheme with 2000 employees dedicated to helping people who call them on 0800 0159 599
The lines are open from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, and Saturday 8am to 4pm
Lines are very busy – we’ve heard of people being on hold for up to 3 hours – but it is worth persevering as we have heard of businesses being allowed to make no payments for the next two months and then spread their overdue tax payments over the next 12 months. Try calling first thing or at the very end of the day when lines can be quieter. Don’t panic if you can’t get through. You may choose not to pay the tax now and call over the next week instead as HMRC have said that they will explore cancelling penalties and interest where you have administrative difficulties contacting or paying HMRC immediately, when you do get to speak to them.
7. SSP rebate for up to 14 days when an employee is off work because of COVID-19
The mechanism for how to do this hasn’t been released yet. Employers won’t be expected to provide evidence such as a sick note, but do need to maintain a record of staff absences and payments of SSP. I expect they’ll ask employers to use the same mechanism as we currently have for funding SMP – firstly you deduct the SSP rebate from the rest of the PAYE and NICs you usually pay, and if there is not enough to cover it you can ask for a cash payment to fund the amount you need to pay the staff member. We expect more detail on this by early April.
The confirmation on 17th March that the advice to avoid pubs, theatres and so on is sufficient to trigger a claim under pandemic and government-ordered closures, where you hold cover for those events, assuming other T&Cs are meet.
We advise you call your insurer or broker if you believe your business is covered by such a policy – pubs, restaurants, cafes and theatres should all see if this is something that they hold.
Daily announcements from the Prime Minister are broadcast between 4-6pm on the BBC and give the most up to date picture of additional aid being offered.