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A concept image of business that is closed due to COVID-19

An update on COVID-19 support available to small businesses

A concept image of business that is closed due to COVID-19

As the daily number of people tested positive for COVID-19 continues to rise across England, many businesses and self-employed individuals are bracing for tighter restrictions.

(Updated on 7 November 2020)

On Friday (30 October), as the Furlough Scheme was coming to an end, we wrote this blog to talk about the Job Support Scheme (JSS) and other measures. But a day later, Prime Minister Johnson announced the second lockdown in an attempt to slow down the spread of Coronavirus. Accordingly, we have updated this post to reflect the latest support available to small business owners.

The Furlough Scheme is extended

Introduced in March, the Furlough Scheme (also known as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or CJRS) was supposed to end on 31 October 2020, but as the second lockdown is set to begin on 5 November 2020, the scheme will be extended until March 2021. Essentially, it allows you to furlough your staff full-time, or ask them to work on a part-time basis and furlough them for the rest of their usual working hours. You will have to cover their wages for the hours worked, as well as National Insurance and employer pension contributions. You will be able to claim either shortly before, during or after running your payroll.

Employees who are being furloughed will receive 80% of the current salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. All of the 80% is fully funded by the government – this is in contrast to how the scheme was administered previously. Before November, the scheme required affected employers to pay 20% and the government paid 60% to make up 80% of the salary.

Employee eligibility: You can claim for employees who were on your PAYE payroll on 30 October 2020. You must have made a PAYE Real Time Information (RTI) submission to HMRC between 20 March 2020 and 30 October 2020, notifying a payment of earnings for that employee. If employees were on your payroll on 23 September 2020 (i.e. notified to HMRC on an RTI submission on or before 23 September) and were made redundant or stopped working for you afterwards, they can also qualify for the scheme if you re-employ them. Neither you nor your employee needs to have previously used the Furlough Scheme.

For employers, the first task is to check if your employees are eligible for the scheme, based on the information above. Then talk to your employees so they know if they are being furloughed fully or part-time, and agree working hours if applicable. Keep the records that support the amount of the furlough grant you claim, in case HMRC needs to check it. You can view, print or download copies of your previously submitted claims by logging onto your CJRS service on GOV.UK.

Other forms of support

Before the announcement of the second lockdown, local councils have different levels of support to help businesses based on the COVID alert level of the area. But as the second lockdown is affecting the whole of England, the government has announced the followings:

  • If your premises is forced to closed, you will get £1,334 per month (for properties with a rateable value of £15k or under), £2,000 per month (for properties with a rateable value of £15k to £51k), and £3,000 per month (for properties with a rateable value of more than £51k).
  • £1,000 for every furloughed employee kept on until at least the end of January.
  • £1,500 for every out-of-work 16-24 year-old given a ”high quality” six-month work placement.
  • £2,000 for every under-25 apprentice taken on until the end of January, or £1,500 for over-25s.

Job Support Scheme (JSS)

The Job Support Scheme (JSS) aims to help employers retain their employees if they are struggling or when they are required to close. The JSS, which was scheduled to come in on 1 November, has now been postponed.

Professional services grant

In July 2020, the government announced £20 million in new grants to help small and medium-sized businesses recover from the effects of this pandemic. The scheme will offer grants between £1,000 to £5,000 to these businesses, helping them purchase new technology and equipment, as well as paying for professional services (legal, financial, HR and other qualified services).

The schemed is administered through the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and each LEP has a minimum of £250,000 to get the program going.

For businesses in London, you can access the businesshub.London page for more information.

Deferral of VAT

Back in March, the government announced that VAT-registered companies could opt-in to defer their VAT payments (between 20 March 2020 to 30 June 2020) and pay them by 31 March 2021. This scheme is now closed, but those who have opted-in have the option in pay in smaller payments until 31 March 2022 instead, a much longer period than previously announced.

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS)

Introduced in March 2020, the SEISS allows self-employed individuals whose businesses had been adversely affected by the pandemic to claim a taxable grant. To be eligible, you must have:

  • Traded in the tax year 2018 to 2019 and submitted your Self Assessment tax return on or before 23 April 2020 for that year
  • Traded in the tax year 2019 to 2020
  • The intention to continue to trade in the tax year 2020 to 2021
  • Trading profits less than £50,000 and at least equal to your non-trading income (if you are not eligible based on the 2018 to 2019 Self Assessment tax return, HMRC will look at the previous tax years)

The first SEISS grant ended on 13 July 2020 and the second grant ended on 19 October 2020. On 5 November 2020, the chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed that a third grant – and a more generous one – will be made available to help self-employed individuals. The third grant will cover 80% of profits for November, December and January, up to a total limit of £7,500. Applications will be open from 30 November 2020.

Details for the fourth grant, covering three months from February 2021 to April 2021, will be announced later.

Deferral of second payment on account

Self-employed individuals are aware of the two payments on account taking place each year, with the first one due on 31 January during the tax year and the second one on 31 July following the end of the tax year.

The second payment on account for the 2019/20 tax year was supposedly due by 31 July 2020, but taxpayers with up to £30,000 of Self Assessment liabilities could defer the second payment (due July 2020) to 31 January 2021. In September 2020, the government further announced that you could pay instalments (by entering into a Time to Pay arrangement) if you couldn’t pay in full by 31 January 2021 – this means you could stretch the final payment to January 2022.

Other things to be aware of

Before the announcement of the second lockdown, the government had already encouraged companies to allow employees to work from home if they can carry out their normal duties without going to the office.

Now people are told to stay at home, except for education, work (if cannot be done at home), exercise, medical reasons, shopping for food and essential items, or to care for others.

If an employee must self-isolate (either they have tested positive or been in contact with someone who has tested positive), the business owner must not knowingly allow the employee to come into the office or attend meetings elsewhere. Violating this provision is an offence with fines starting at £1,000 for the first offence, rising to £10,000 for the fourth and subsequent offences.

Be careful of COVID-19 scams

The pandemic has already affected millions of people across the UK, yet scammers are still actively targeting small business owners, their employees, as well as self-employed individuals. Apart from criminals pretending to be government agencies ‘phishing’ for information, some of us have also received emails from supposedly company server informing us of unread messages – but taking us to a phishing site instead.

Members of the public have also seen texts informing them of tax rebate from ‘HMRC’ and encountered fraudulent products, anything from hand sanitisers to COVID-19 swabbing kits.

Remain vigilant is key, and report the scams to Action Fraud (0300 123 2040 or online).

Disclaimer

The information contained in this newsletter is of a general nature and no assurance of accuracy can be given. It is not a substitute for specific professional advice in your own circumstances. No action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore, no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a consequence of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.