In a departure from our usual ecommerce-specific blogs, we have compiled a guide for all UK businesses in these challenging times. In the following article, we list details of help that is available, special measures that have been put in place, and guidance on topics such as Employment Law, COVID-19 Business Interruption Loans, cash grants and rate relief. We've also included links to many useful resources and guidance documents.
Statutory Sick Pay Relief for Employers
Legislation has been announced to allow small and medium sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19. SSP will be available for eligible individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 or those unable to work due to self-isolating after following government advice even if they do not show any symptoms.
Here are details of the eligibility criteria for the scheme:
- 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
- eligible period for the scheme will commence the day after the regulations on the extension of Statutory Sick Pay 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
Business Rates Relief
The chancellor has announced additional relief for businesses that pay Business Rates - a business rates retail holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year.
Businesses that received the retail discount in the 2019 to 2020 tax year will be rebilled by their local authority as soon as possible.
Cash Grants for Businesses
- This will provide a one-off grant of £10,000 to businesses currently eligible for Small Business Rates Relief or rural rate relief, to help meet their ongoing business costs.
- 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.
If your business is eligible for SBRR or rural rate relief, you will be contacted by your local authority – you do not need to apply.
Funding for the scheme will be provided to local authorities by government in early April. Guidance for local authorities on the scheme will be provided shortly.
Any enquiries on eligibility for, or provision of, the reliefs should be directed to the relevant local authority. Guidance for local authorities on the business rates holiday will be published by 20 March.
HMRC ‘Time to Pay’ Scheme
All businesses and self-employed individuals 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.
HMRC have launched a dedicated Coronavirus COVID-19 helpline to support the businesses. The helpline number is 0800 0159 559. Opening hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, and Saturday 8am to 4pm.
For those who are unable to pay due to coronavirus, HMRC will discuss your specific circumstances to explore:
- agreeing an installment arrangement
- suspending debt collection proceedings
- cancelling penalties and interest where you have administrative difficulties contacting or paying HMRC immediately
Before you contact HMRC, you’ll need to know:
- your Reference number (for example, your 10-digit Unique Taxpayer Reference or VAT Registration Number)
- the amount of the tax bill you’re finding it difficult to pay and the reasons why
- what you’ve done to try to get the money to pay the bill
- how much you can pay immediately and how long you may need to pay the rest
- your bank account details
HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will ask you about:
- your income and expenditure
- your assets, like savings and investments
- what you’re doing to get your tax payments back in order
- More information is available here, if you are having difficulties paying.
COVID-19 Business Interruption Loan
A new temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank, will launch next week to support businesses to access bank lending and overdrafts. The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to a per-lender cap on claims) to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to SMEs. The government will not charge businesses or banks for this guarantee, and the Scheme will support loans of up to £5 million in value. Businesses can access the first 6 months of that finance interest free, as government will cover the first 6 months of interest payments.
An accredited lender can use CBILS to help a borrower access from, £1,000 to £1.2 million. Finance terms are from three months up to ten years for term loans and asset finance and up to three years for revolving facilities and invoice finance. To apply for an CBILS-backed facility, businesses will need to consider approaching one or more participating lenders to discuss their borrowing needs
Be UK based, with turnover of no more than £41 million per annum Operate within an eligible industrial sector (a small number of industrial sectors are not eligible for support – please refer to the attached) Almost all business sectors are eligible, however there are a small number of excluded/restricted sectors arising primarily from EU de minimis-State aid. Have a sound borrowing proposal, but insufficient security to meet a lender’s normal requirements. Be able to confirm that they have not received de minimis State aid beyond €200,000 equivalent over the current and previous two fiscal year. A limited number of further eligibility restrictions do apply. The first point of contact will be with your current bank the business banks with for guidance and details of what they require to consider this further.
Difficulties around paying employees
These are unprecedented times and extremely difficult for some businesses. You may have concerns regarding your position with employees in these difficult times – for example, you may be considering their/your rights if they are to work from home or reducing employee hours. Please consider discussion of all these options with your employees including changing work patterns, shorter weeks etc. The government is clearly keen for employers to remain bouyant and is putting together measures to help them retain staff through this period.
Employment Law Guidance
CIPD: How employers should respond to Coronavirus
ACAS Employment Law Helpline
ACAS is the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, and they work with millions of employers and employees every year to improve workplace relationships. They are an independent public body that receives funding from the Government and provide general Employment Law support. They are available on 0300 123 1100 - Monday to Friday between the hours of 8am and 6pm.
Further Useful Resources
UK government: Overview of COVID-19
UK government: COVID-19: guidance for employers and businesses
ACAS: Coronavirus: advice for employers and employees
CIPD: How employers should respond to Coronavirus
While difficult for everyone, the ecommerce industry should be protected from the pandemic in some ways, as people turn to shopping online for essentials or spend more time at home with disposable income that otherwise would have been used on social events like eating out, theatre or cinema trips. Many businesses will be focusing their attention on their online offering at this time - and if you need any help, you know where to find us.
(All information correct at the time of publication - guidance may change, but we will keep this article up to date as the situation develops.)