COVID-19: Support for individuals and businesses

19th March

On 17 March, the Chancellor announced an unprecedented package of government-backed and guaranteed loans to support businesses, making available an initial £330bn of guarantees – equivalent to 15% of GDP.

This was on top of a series of measures announced at Budget 2020, the government announced £30 billion of additional support for public services, individuals and businesses experiencing financial difficulties because of COVID-19, including a new £5 billion COVID-19 Response Fund, to provide any extra resources needed by the NHS and other public services to tackle the virus.

The government will take new legal powers in the COVID-19 Bill, enabling it to offer whatever further financial support it thinks necessary to support businesses.

This document sets out further information on how you or your business can access if you are experiencing financial difficulties because of COVID-19.

If you want the latest information on the government’s COVID-19 Action Plan you can go here: gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-action-plan

If you want more information about the situation in the UK, along with guidance for what to do if you think you’re at risk:

 

 

INFORMATION FOR INDIVIDUALS

If you think you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), please read the following information:
You can get £94.25 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you’re too ill to work. It’s paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks.

 

If you are self-isolating because of COVID-19: From 13 March, you can now claim SSP. This includes individuals who are caring for people self-isolating in the same household and therefore have been advised to do a household quarantine. To check your sick pay entitlement, you should talk to your employer, and visit https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay for more information.

 

  • When does SSP apply? The government is legislating for SSP to be paid from day 1, rather than day 4, of your absence from workif you are absent from work due to sickness or need to self-isolate caused by COVID-19. Once the legislation has been passed, this will apply retrospectively from 13 March. You should talk to your employer if you are eligible for SSP and need to claim.
     
  • Do I need a sick note? From Friday 20 March onwards, those who have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate will be able to obtain an “isolation note” by visiting NHS 111 online and completing an online form, rather than visiting a doctor. For COVID-19 cases this replaces the usual need to provide a “fit note” after seven days of sickness absence. Isolation notes will also be accepted by Jobcentre Plus as evidence of your inability to attend.
     
  • What if I am self-employed or not eligible for SSP? If you are not eligible for SSP – for example if you are self-employed or earning below the Lower Earnings Limit of £118 per week – and you have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate, you can now more easily make a claim for Universal Credit (UC) or new style Employment and Support Allowance. For more information on how to claim, please visit https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit and https://www.gov.uk/guidance/new-style-employment-and-support-allowance.
     
  • What if I am self-employed and receiving Universal Credit? If you are self-employed and receiving Universal Credit and you have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate, the requirements of the Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed. This change took effect on 13 March and will last for the duration of the outbreak, to ensure that self-employed UC claimants will receive support.

 

If you need to claim Universal Credit but have COVID-19 or are self-isolating, you will now be able to claim and to access advance payments upfront without needing to attend a Jobcentre Plus. Please visit https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit for more information.

If you are eligible for new style Employment and Support Allowance, it will now be payable from day 1 of sickness, rather than day 8, if you have COVID-19 or are advised to self-isolate.

 

If you think you may need financial support from your Local Authority in England, you may be entitled to support from the £500 million Hardship Fund:

  • Most of this funding will be used to provide more Council Tax relief, either through existing Local Council Tax Support schemes, or through similar measures.
  • The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) will set out more detail on this funding, including allocations, shortly.
  • If you have any questions, please contact your Local Authority.

 

If you are experiencing financial difficulties meeting your mortgage repayments because of COVID-19, you may be entitled to a mortgage or rental holiday for 3 months. This includes if you are a landlord whose tenants are experiencing financial difficulties because of COVID-19.

 

If you are a tenant experiencing financial difficulties because of COVID-19, the government will ensure you do not face the threat of eviction for at least 3 months:

  • The government has agreed with mortgage lenders that they will offer repayment holidays of 3 months to households in financial difficulty due to COVID-19.
  • This will also apply to landlords whose tenants are experiencing financial difficulties because of COVID-19.
  • The offer of a payment holiday can be made available to customers who are up to date with payments and not already in arrears.
  • Customers who are concerned about their current financial situation should contact their lender at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss if this is a suitable option for them.
  • Emergency legislation will be taken forward so that landlords will not be able to start proceedings to evict tenants for at least a 3 month period. This applies to private and social renters.
  • At the end of this period, landlords and tenants will be expected to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan, taking into account tenants’ individual circumstances.

 

If you are experiencing difficulties paying back personal loans or credit card bills as a result of COVID-19, you should read the following information:

  • The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) called on lenders to use flexibility built into their rules to support consumers, taking into account customers’ individual circumstances. Many major lenders have already made statements to this effect.
  • If you are experiencing difficulties paying back loans or credit card bills because of COVID-19, you should talk to your lender.
  • If you agree a payment holiday with your lender, they should record these in such a way that will not impact on your credit score.

 

 

INFORMATION FOR BUSINESSES

 

If you are a small- or medium-sized business, you may be entitled to reclaim the costs of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for sickness absence due to COVID-19:

  • This refund will cover up to two weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who are either ill or been told to self-isolate because of COVID-19. This is in line with the recommended isolation period. Guidance on self-isolation can be found here: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-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, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note.
  • The eligible period for the scheme began on 13 March.
  • The government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible. Existing systems are not designed to facilitate employer refunds for SSP.

 

Some businesses, including nurseries, in England will be eligible for a Business Rates holiday for 1 year from 1 April 2020:

  • If you are currently receiving the retail discount for your Business Rates bill, you will receive a revised bill with 100% relief shortly.
  • If your business occupies a property in the retail sector with a rateable value of £51,000 or more, or if your business occupies a property in the leisure or hospitality sectors you may also be eligible for the 100% discount on your business rates bill.
  • You will shortly hear from your Local Authority. If you have any questions, you should contact your Local Authority.
  • If you are a nursery, you will be entitled to the 100% relief for the next year. You should contact your Local Authority for more information.
  • Guidance for Local Authorities will be published by MHCLG by 20 March.

If your business is eligible for small business rate relief or rural rate relief in England, you are entitled to a one-off cash grant of £10,000:

  • If your business is in the retail, hospitality or leisure sector in England, then you may also be entitled to a cash grant. If you have a property with a rateable value of less than £15,000 then you will be entitled to a grant of £10,000, whether or not you are entitled to small business rate relief or rural rate relief. If you have a property with a rateable value of between £14,999 and £51,000 then you will be entitled to a cash grant of £25,000.
  • The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will provide guidance for Local Authorities on how to administer these grants shortly.
  • If you are an eligible business, your Local Authority will then be in touch in the coming weeks to provide details of how to claim this money.

 

If your small-or medium-sized business in England is facing cash flow issues as a result of COIVD-19, please read the following information:

  • A new temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank, will launch at the start of next week to support businesses to access bank lending and overdrafts.
  • The government will provide lenders with a partial guarantee of 80% on each loan 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. The first 6 months of these loans will be interest-free, as the Government will cover these payments.
  • Businesses will be able to get finance under the scheme from a large number of providers, including the main high street banks, as of next week.
  • Businesses will remain responsible for repaying any facility they take out.
  • For further information, please visit: https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme-cbils/.

 

If you are a large business facing cash flow issues as a result of COIVD-19, you may want to read the following information:

  • Companies commonly sell short term debt (‘commercial paper’) to the market. This is a quick and cost effective to raise working capital.
  • The new COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility means that the Bank of England will buy short term debt from companies.
  • This will support companies which are fundamentally strong, but have been affected by a short-term funding squeeze, enabling them to continue financing their short-term liabilities. It will also support corporate finance markets overall and ease the supply of credit to all firms.
  • Further details can be found here in the exchange of letters between the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor, found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/launch-of-covid-19-corporate-financing-facility-ccff.

 

If you are self-employed or own a business and you are concerned about not being able to pay your tax bills because of COVID-19, you may be eligible for support through Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) Time to Pay service:

 

If you own a pub that serves food or a restaurant in England, you will be able to operate a hot food takeaway to serve people staying at home, without going through the usual planning process:

  • The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) will shortly legislate to bring forward a temporary Permitted Development Right to allow for change of use from A3 (Restaurant) and A4 (Pub) to A5 (Hot Food Takeaway).
  • The intention is that once the legislation has come into force a pub or restaurant will be able to notify their Local Authority that they are now operating as a takeaway without any prior approval.

 

If you contract your services to large- or medium-sized organisations outside of the public sector you should read the following information:

  • The government announced on 17 March that the reform to the off-payroll working rules (commonly known as IR35) - that would have applied for people contracting their services to large or medium-sized organisations outside the public sector - will be delayed for one year from 6 April 2020 until 6 April 2021.
  • Business and individuals do not need to take any action.

 

If the only barrier to your business making an insurance claim was a lack of clarity on whether the government advising people to stay away from businesses, rather than ordering businesses to shut down, was sufficient to make a claim on business interruption insurance:

  • The government’s medical advice of 16 March is sufficient to enable those businesses which have an insurance policy that covers both pandemics and government ordered closure to make a claim - provided all other terms and conditions in their policy are met. Businesses should check the terms and conditions of their specific policy and contact their providers if in doubt.
  • However, most businesses have not purchased insurance that covers pandemic related losses. As such, any affected businesses should note the government’s full package of support, including the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and business rates holiday.

 

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Friday 20th March announcements

The Chancellor's speech can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-chancellor-rishi-sunak-provides-an-updated-statement-on-coronavirus

His main announcements: 

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

  • The Government will help pay people’s wages – offering grants to employers who promise to retain their staff, covering most of the cost of paying people’s wages. 
  • Government grants will cover 80 per cent of the salary of retained workers up to a total of £2,500 a month – above the median income. The cost of wages will be backdated to 1st March and will be open initially for at least three months – and we will extend the scheme for longer if necessary.
  • Any employer in the country – large, small, charitable or for profit – who promises to retain their staff, can apply for a grant to cover most of the wages of people who are not working but are furloughed and kept on payroll, rather than being laid off.
  • HMRC are working night and day to get the scheme up and running and we expect the first grants to be paid within weeks.

Deferring tax payments through VAT and Income Tax Self-Assessment

  • The Government will defer the next three months of VAT until the end of the financial year – an injection of over £30 billion of cash to businesses to help businesses pay people and keep them in work. The Government is standing behind employers – and we are asking that they do their bit and stand behind workers.
  • No business will pay any VAT from now until the end of June; and they will have until the end of the financial year to repay those bills.

Universal Credit (UC) Standard Allowance and Working Tax Credit (WTC) Basic Element

  • To support individuals affected by COVID-19, today the Chancellor announced extra support for WTC and UC claimants. From 6 April 2020, we are increasing both the UC standard allowance and the WTC basic element for the next 12 months, by £1,000 a year.
  • The UC standard allowance will increase by £86.67 per month (equivalent to £20 per week), on top of the planned annual uprating. The WTC basic element will also increase by £20 per week, on top of the planned uprating. All existing WTC recipients will benefit and all UC claimants, both new and existing, will benefit from these measures. These new rates will be automatically reflected in claimants’ awards.
  • We estimate that 2.5 million households will immediately benefit from the UC measure, as well as those who become unemployed or whose earnings decrease because of the impact of COVID-19. A further 1.6 million households will benefit from the WTC measure, including those whose work hours decrease because of the impact of COVID-19. For more information claimants can visit GOV.UK.

UC Minimum Income Floor (MIF)

  • At Budget, we announced a temporary relaxation of the MIF in UC for claimants who are sick or self-isolating. Today the Chancellor announced that we are going further. From 6 April 2020, we are temporarily relaxing the MIF for all self-employed UC claimants affected by the economic impacts of coronavirus, for the duration of the outbreak.
  • This means that if self-employed claimants’ work, and therefore earnings, have significantly reduced due to the impact of Public Health England COVID-19 guidance on self-isolation and social distancing, and the wider economic impacts of the outbreak, their UC award will increase to reflect their lower earnings.
  • For example, a single, self-employed cleaner whose work reduces from 37 to 10 hours a week at the National Living Wage will see the full impact of that 27-hour reduction – and lost earnings – reflected in their next month’s UC award. If the MIF were to continue to apply, their award would assume only two hours’ worth of lost earnings (as the MIF assumes 35 hours at National Living Wage).
  • Overall, from 6 April, this measure will benefit many of the c.150,000 self-employed people who currently claim UC and who experience a significant loss of earnings as a result of COVID-19. Of the c.5m self-employed people in the UK, around 55% are likely to be eligible for UC support if they find themselves unable to work.

Housing support for private renters - Local Housing Allowance (LHA)

The Government know this is a particularly stressful time for private renters. We have already taken steps to protect tenants, and the Secretary of State for Housing announced on 17 March that no renter in private or social accommodation needs to be concerned about the threat of eviction for at least the next three months.

Today, the Chancellor announced that, from this April, all new and existing private renters claiming Universal Credit and Housing Benefit will benefit from additional housing support. All Local Housing Allowance rates will be uplifted to the 30th percentile of market rents. This is worth an extra £14 a week on average for the 1.2 million existing claimants and any additional Universal Credit claimants who rent in the private sector. This will benefit renters in every part of our country, protecting against rent arrears during a difficult time for many renters.

New Universal Credit claimants can receive an advance of their first month’s award on day 1 of their claim if needed. And we have removed the requirement for claimants to attend a jobcentre to receive their advance. This will ensure there is no barrier to people being able to claim housing support while in self-isolation.

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

Today, the Chancellor announced that the interest free period of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme has been increased from 6 to 12 months. This will help to ensure that all businesses facing cash-flow difficulties during this difficult time will have access to the finance they need. The scheme will be up and running by the start of next week.

The Government have also made clear that further measures will be announced next week to ensure that larger and medium sized companies can access the credit they need.

Further information

BEIS have also developed guidance specifically for employers and businesses, which is available at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses….

If constituents require further information, the government’s COVID-19 Action Plan and further guidance can be found at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirusaction-plan and www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public.

The multi-billion-pound commitments the Chancellor made at the Budget and on 17 March represented bold, comprehensive action. Now he has gone even further, keeping his promise that he will do whatever it takes to get our country through the impacts of COVID-19.

 

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Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS)

What is it?

The Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will support self-employed individuals (including members of partnerships) whose income has been negatively impacted by COVID-19. The scheme will provide a grant to self-employed individuals or partnerships, worth 80% of their profits up to a cap of £2,500 per month.

HMRC will use the average profits from tax returns in 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 to calculate the size of the grant. The scheme will be open to those where the majority of their income comes from self-employment and who have profits of less than £50,000. The scheme will be open for an initial three months with people able to make their first claim by the beginning of June.

Am I eligible?

To be eligible for the scheme you must meet all the criteria below:

  • Be self-employed or a member of partnership;
  • Have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-19;
  • File a tax return for 2018-19 as self-employed or a member of a trading partnership. Those who have not yet filed for 2018-19 will have an additional 4 weeks from this announcement to do so;
  • Have traded in 2019-20; be currently trading at the point of application (or would be except for COVID 19) and intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020 to 2021
  • Have trading profits of less than £50,000 and more than half of your total income come from self-employment. This can be with reference to at least one of the following conditions:
    • Your trading profits and total income in 2018/19
    • Your average trading profits and total income across up to the three years between 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19.

How do I access it?

Individuals should not contact HMRC now. HMRC will use existing information to check potential eligibility and invite applications once the scheme is operational. HMRC will then pay the grant directly to eligible claimants’ bank account. HMRC is urgently working to deliver the scheme; grants are expected to start to be paid out by beginning of June 2020. For eligible individuals who have not submitted their returns for 2018-19, they will have 4 weeks’ notice from the date of the announcement to file their returns and therefore become eligible for this scheme.

HMRC are publishing guidance on the scheme, available here. This guidance will continue to be updated.

When can I access it?

HMRC is urgently working to deliver the scheme; grants are expected to start to be paid by the beginning of June 2020. This time is necessary to ensure that the scheme is both deliverable and fair. In the interim the self-employed will still able eligible for other government support including more generous universal credit and business continuity loans.

Further information on how to access these schemes can be found here.