The Coronavirus outbreak is developing rapidly and we are very much in uncharted territory. The Government has promised to do whatever it takes to beat the virus but the impact on businesses could be significant. In an effort to provide support through the crisis, the Chancellor announced a raft of measures in his budget last week. But how do businesses access this support and what impact will it have? We’ve summarised these five key measures with guidance to help you.
* Update – The Chancellor announced additional aid on 17 March 2020 and increased some of the measures below. See £330bn pledge from the Chancellor for an update.
Statutory sick pay (SSP) relief
With the bulk of employees expected to be off sick or self-isolating at some point throughout the outbreak, businesses with fewer than 250 employees will be able to reclaim the cost of 14 days SSP – around £200 per employee. How helpful this will be in the short term is questionable, however, as the relief won’t be immediate. The Government doesn’t yet have the mechanism in place to process this refund, so companies could be waiting months to be reimbursed. We are hoping that the Government acts swiftly to put this in place and we will be keeping a close eye on any announcements so that we can make our clients aware of how to claim.
HMRCs “Time to pay” arrangement
For many years HMRC has made “time to pay” agreements giving struggling taxpayers longer to pay their tax bill. This has helped many through the 2008 financial crisis and major flooding events. The Government has promised 2000 experienced call handlers to help businesses and the self-employed who are concerned about being able to pay their tax because of the effects of the Coronavirus. It will also waive the 3.5% interest usually charged on deferred payments. Our advice would be to contact the helpline as soon as you can, to ensure that you get an agreement in place before your payment deadline. The helpline is open Monday – Friday 8am – 8pm and Saturday 8am -4pm. Call 0800 0159 559 or visit their website for more information https://www.gov.uk/government/news/tax-helpline-to-support-businesses-affected-by-coronavirus-covid-19. If you need help, please contact your team at Hillier Hopkins who can advise you.
Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS)
Businesses with an annual turnover of up to £41m that are affected by Coronavirus, can apply for a loan of up to £1.2m from CBILS. The loan comes with a Government backed 80% guarantee and will be available from a number of participating lenders. The details are yet to be finalised but we are expecting more announcements on this in the coming days. A list of participating lenders and more information about the loans can be found on the British Business Bank website https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/supporting-business-loans-enterprise-finance-guarantee/. Lenders will need up to date financial statements and forecasts in order to process any loan applications, therefore if you wish to apply, please speak to us as soon as possible so that we can help prepare or review these in good time and try to speed up the process for you.
Small enterprise grant
Businesses currently eligible for Small Business Rate Relief or Rural Rate Relief will be able to apply for a £3,000 grant to alleviate the impact of Coronavirus. There is no information as yet on how to access this grant but we are keeping a close eye on this. Grant funding is frequently criticised for poor take up, often because of the lengthy and bureaucratic application process. We are hoping Government provides an accessible grant which gives valuable help quickly, whilst not causing a drain on already stretched company resources.
Business rate relief
Shops, hotels, restaurants and coffee shops with a rateable value of less than £51,000 will not have to pay any business rates in 2020-21. Plus, in recognition of the already fragile state of the pub sector, the Government is also giving a £5,000 business rates discount to pubs with a rateable value below £100,000 in England. The discount should be applied automatically by the local authority that collects your rates, however, you should contact them if you think that you haven’t been given the correct discount. Local authorities also operate hardship relief for businesses struggling to pay their rates. As always, our advice is to speak to them as soon as possible, so an arrangement can be agreed before payments become overdue. It is worth noting that you can challenge the rateable value of your premises if you think it is wrong. External factors such as long term roadworks causing disruption to your property may affect it’s rateable value, a consideration for those with a rateable value just above the £51,000 threshold. For more information on how to check and challenge your valuation, visit the Valuation Office Agency https://www.gov.uk/guidance/how-to-check-your-rateable-value-is-correct
Discuss your concerns
We are, as always, here to help, so if you are worried or already feeling the financial strain from Coronavirus, then please give us a call. We can help identify solutions and evaluate different options to improve your financial outlook. Our experts are in contact with HMRC, Government officials and other professional advisers and are seeking clarification on a number of areas. We will keep you informed as soon as we have new information and will publish help and guidance on our website and in emails to clients. Please feel free to share this with your colleagues or friends and family also in business.
Never before, in most of our memories, has it been so important to think ahead, but not to panic. It is important to make the most of the help that is available and to speak to HMRC, banks and even landlords in advance. Remember that nearly every business will be affected and it is important to try to keep the cash flowing – communicating with suppliers and keeping payments to them going will avoid disruption and help them to plan as well.
Wishing everyone safe and well.
For help and advice, please speak to your usual Hillier Hopkins adviser or contact us on 0330 024 3200.
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