The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that began in China and spread rapidly around the globe has caused major disruption to businesses and economies worldwide. The UK government has responded to COVID-19 with measures aimed at delaying its spread and mitigating damage to the economy with a substantial stimulus package.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has set out a package of temporary, targeted measures to support public services, people and businesses through the period of disruption caused by COVID-19. This is a fast-moving area and the government will publish the details of further measures on: https://bit.ly/33vU1cD.
Here we consider the measures announced to support businesses including the significant package of measures announced on 17 March 2020:
- grant funding of £10,000 for small firms in receipt of Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) and Rural Rates Relief
- grant funding of £25,000 for certain businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors
- a 12-month business rates holiday for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors
- a temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme to support businesses in accessing bank lending and overdrafts
- extended access to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), with reliefs available to SMEs
- expanded access to HMRC’s Time to Pay scheme.
Increases and extensions to business rates reliefs
The government had previously announced business rates discounts of 50% for retailers, cinemas and music venues with a rateable value below £51,000, and a £5,000 discount for pubs. On 17 March the Chancellor announced that the business rates discount will be increased to 100% and expanded further to include all hospitality, retail and leisure businesses, no matter what their rateable value, for the 2020/21 tax year.
Many small businesses pay little or no business rates because of SBRR. The government will supply funding for local authorities in England, which will provide one-off £10,000 grants to businesses currently eligible for SBRR or Rural Rate Relief. In addition, one-off grants of £25,000 will be available to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses operating from premises with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000.
Business rates have been devolved to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, so the UK government has announced measures that affect business rates in England. We have not considered other parts of the UK in this summary.
The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme
In the Budget the Chancellor announced the implementation of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, which will support the continued provision of finance to UK businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak. Delivered by the British Business Bank, the scheme will temporarily replace the Bank’s Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme, with an additional £1 billion made available on top of existing support supplied via the programme.
The government will increase the scope of the Business Interruption Loan Scheme announced in the Budget from £1.2 million to £5 million, with no interest due for the first six months.
Extended access to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)
As part of a package to widen the scope of SSP and make it more accessible, SSP entitlement will begin from the first day of sickness absence, rather than the fourth, for those who have COVID-19,or self-isolate in accordance with government guidance.
SSP relief for SMEs
Small and medium-sized businesses will be allowed to reclaim SSP paid for absence due to COVID-19. The refund will cover up to two weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19. Employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible, with the size of an employer being 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 as a result of COVID-19. Employers should maintain records of staff absences, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note.
The eligible period for the scheme commenced the day after the regulations on the extension of SSP to self-isolators came into force on 13 March 2020. The government intends to work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible. It stated that existing systems are not designed to facilitate employer refunds for SSP.
Expanded access to Time to Pay
The government will ensure that businesses and self-employed individuals in financial distress and with outstanding tax liabilities receive support with their tax affairs.
HMRC has set up a dedicated COVID-19 helpline, on 0800 0159 559, for those in need, and they may be able to agree a bespoke Time to Pay arrangement. Time to Pay gives businesses a time-limited deferral period on HMRC liabilities owed and a pre-agreed time period to pay these back.
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