Sourced guidance for businesses and the Self-employed regarding COVID-19

We are experiencing a high number of calls and e-mails surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak and what to do next. With this in mind we have put together this document of sourced reference material and guidance from the government, local authority and other agencies.

Our aim is to give an overview of the current advice as well as sign post you to where more information on a particular topic can be found.

These are certainly challenging times for all business owners alike, who as well as dealing with the pressure and strain of day to day business issues, have had a global pandemic thrown into the mixer. The most important message that we are stressing to our clients is stay positive. Self-employed people are some of the most diverse, highly skilled and resourceful people that you’ll ever meet. This is a time focus on your business and plan for the future.

Just click the link of the topic you wish to read more about.

Employees / Employers

Sick Pay

Will my employer be obliged to pay me while I stay at home?

Statutory Sick Pay will be paid from day 1 instead of day 4 for those affected by coronavirus.

If you’re an employer

If you employ people, you are urged to use your discretion about what evidence, if any, you ask for when making decisions about sick pay.

If you have fewer than 250 employees, you will be able to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay for employees unable to work because of coronavirus. This refund will be for up to 2 weeks per employee.

Reference: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-guidance-for-employees

Working from home

Where work can be done at home, the employer could:

  • ask staff who have work laptops or mobile phones to take them home so they can carry on working 
  • arrange paperwork tasks that can be done at home for staff who do not work on computers

If an employer and employee agree to working from home, the employer should:

  • pay the employee as usual
  • keep in regular contact
  • check on the employee’s health and wellbeing

Reference: https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

If an employee does not want to go to work

Some people might feel they do not want to go to work if they’re afraid of catching coronavirus. This could particularly be the case for those who are at higher risk.

An employer should listen to any concerns staff may have and should take steps to protect everyone.

For example, they could offer extra car parking where possible so that people can avoid using public transport.

If an employee still does not want to go in, they may be able to arrange with their employer to take the time off as holiday or unpaid leave. The employer does not have to agree to this.

If an employee refuses to attend work without a valid reason, it could result in disciplinary action.

Reference: https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

Lay-offs and short-time working

You can lay off an employee (ask them to stay at home or take unpaid leave) when you temporarily cannot give them paid work – as long as the employment contract allows this.

Short-time working is when an employee works reduced hours or is paid less than half a week’s pay.

Laying off staff or short-time working can help avoid redundancies – but you have to agree this with staff first.

This could be in:

  • their employment contract
  • a national agreement for the industry
  • collective agreement between you and a recognised trade union

National and collective agreements can only be enforced if they’re in the employee’s employment contract.

You may also be able to lay off an employee or put them on short-time working:

  • where you have clear evidence showing it’s been widely accepted in your organisation over a long period of time
  • if you agree with the employee to change their employment contract to allow them to be laid off or put on short-time working (this will not automatically give you the power to do this without their consent in the future)

reference: https://www.gov.uk/staff-redundant/layoffs-and-shorttime-working

Statutory guarantee payments

Employees are entitled to these if you do not provide them with a full day’s work during the time they’d normally be required to work.

The maximum payment is £25 a day for 5 days in any 3 months (ie £125). If employees usually earn less than £25 a day, they’ll get their usual daily rate. For part-time workers, the rate is worked out proportionally.

Employees can claim a redundancy payment from you if the lay-off or short-time working runs for:

  • 4 or more weeks in a row
  • 6 or more weeks in a 13 week period, where no more than 3 are in a row

They must give you written notice in advance that they want to make a claim.  You do not have to pay if they’ll return to normal working hours within 4 weeks.

Reference: https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

Can I just take holiday instead?

You can ask to take holiday during your notice period, but it’s up to your employer to decide if you can take it then. You’ll be paid for any holiday you have left over when you leave.

If you do go on holiday in your notice period you’re entitled to your usual wage. 

If you get contractual holiday, you’ll need to check what your contract says about holiday.

https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/leaving-a-job/redundancy/redundancy-notice-period/

Universal credit

If you cannot work due to coronavirus and are eligible for Statutory Sick Pay you will get it from day one, rather than from the fourth day of your illness. DWP intends to legislate so this measure applies retrospectively from 13 March 2020.

Statutory Sick Pay will be payable if you are staying at home on Government advice, not just if you are infected by coronavirus. This will apply from 13 March 2020.

If you are a gig worker and/or on a zero hours contract, you may be entitled to sick pay. Check your eligibility for Statutory Sick Pay

If you need to provide evidence to your employer that you need to stay at home due to coronavirus, you will soon be able to get it from NHS 111 Online instead of having to get a Fit Note from your doctor. This is currently under development and will be available soon.

If you are not eligible to receive sick pay you can apply for Universal Credit and/or apply for New Style Employment and Support Allowance

You can also apply for these if you are prevented from working because of a risk to public health.

If you’re an employer

If you employ people, you are urged to use your discretion about what evidence, if any, you ask for when making decisions about sick pay.

If you have fewer than 250 employees, you will be able to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay for employees unable to work because of coronavirus. This refund will be for up to 2 weeks per employee.

What to tell employees

Don’t delay making a benefit claim, even if you think you may be affected by coronavirus.

If you need to claim Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because of coronavirus, you will not be required to produce a Fit Note.

If you are affected by coronavirus you will be able to apply for Universal Credit and can receive up to a month’s advance upfront without physically attending a jobcentre.

If you are suffering from coronavirus or are required to stay at home and want to apply for ESA, the usual 7 waiting days for new claimants will not apply. ESA will be payable from day one.

For more information about any aspect of Universal Credit, including how to make a claim, visit the homepage or use the links at the top of this page.

If you have been working within the last 2 to 3 years and have paid and/or been credited with enough National Insurance contributions, you may be able to claim New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)

New Style JSA can be claimed on its own or at the same time as Universal Credit. Your savings and capital (or your partner’s savings, capital and income) are not taken into account when claiming New Style JSA.

Reference: https://www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk/coronavirus/

Claim universal credit online

Apply for universal credit – click me

Before you start:

You will need the following information to hand:

• your postcode

• an email address;

• details of the bank or building society you want Universal Credit paid into

• details of your housing costs (rent)

• if applicable, your landlord’s details

• details of your savings or other capital

• details of any income that’s not from work, for example, from an insurance plan

• details of any other benefits you’re getting

• details of people who live in your home, for example, your partners and children

Extra financial support

Discretionary Support is quick, short-term financial support. It is paid either as an interest-free loan or grant into your bank account.

If you are awarded a loan, you must be able to pay it back within a specified time. You do not have to repay a grant.

Eligibility

To be eligible, the following conditions apply:

  • you must have an extreme, exceptional or crisis situation which places you or your immediate family’s health, safety or wellbeing at significant risk
  • you must live in Northern Ireland
  • help can only be provided within Northern Ireland, so you can’t receive Discretionary Support for a crisis which occurs anywhere else
  • you must be over 18 years old or at least 16 years old if you do not have any parental support
  • you can receive Discretionary Support if you are working or receiving benefits but your annual income, including the income of your partner, must not be above the national living wage
  • if you receive a Discretionary Support award for an item such as a washing machine or mattress, you cannot receive another award for the same item in the same 12 month period, except in the case of a disaster
  • you cannot be awarded more than three loans and one grant in a 12 month period, except in the case of a disaster
  • if together your Social Fund, Discretionary Support and Short-term Benefit Advance debt, including the debt of your partner, is £1,000 or more, you will not be able to get a Discretionary Support loan

Reference: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/extra-financial-support

Mortgage Holidays

Navigate Mortgage & Independent financial advisors have offered up the following advice for people who are looking to apply for a mortgage holiday.

“Our advice is to hold off calling for a couple of days as most lenders are still to decide on their processes, criteria etc.

Obviously if you are due to make a payment in the next 5-7 days, give them a call now but you will likely be on hold for a long time.”

DO NOT CANCEL YOUR DIRECT DEBIT AS THIS WILL AFFECT YOUR CREDIT FILE.

For Halifax customers you can apply online at https://www.halifax.co.uk/…/payment-holi…/request-a-holiday/


All other numbers are below:

Bank

Telephone number

AIB/First Trust

02890 821 682

Accord

0345 1200 872

Bank of Ireland/Post Office

0800 169 9722

Barclays

0800 022 4022

Birmingham Midshires

0345 602 2828

Danske Bank

0800 633 5783

Halifax

0808 145 0437

HSBC

0345 766 2255

Leeds Building Society

0113 225 7972

Nationwide

0800 464 3030

NatWest

0800 161 5909

Progressive Building Society

02890 160 949

Santander

0800 085 0951 (Option 1)

Ulster Bank

0345 301 6910

Virgin Mortgage

0345 602 8301

For further info, or to contact them for additional advice please see their website https://www.navigateifa.com/

Business support issues

Business Support schemes

Each Government has set up business support helplines, some dedicated to coronavirus.

  • The UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has launched a dedicated business support helpline, where small business owners in England can get advice on how to minimise/cope with the impacts of coronavirus. The number is 0300 456 3565. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm. You can also e- mail enquiries@businesssupporthelpline.org.
  • The Scottish Government has set up a dedicated coronavirus helpline for business through Scottish Enterprise. The number is 0300 303 0660. Lines are open from Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5.30pm.
  • In Wales, the Business Wales Helpline is 0300 060 3000. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5:30pm.
  • In Northern Ireland, the Invest Northern Ireland phone number is 0800 181 4422. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5pm.

£500m has been allocated for local authorities to help vulnerable people, we hope to make sure this includes help for the self-employed in distress, as well as small firms.

This is likely to be the focus of help for local businesses, so FSB is actively pressing for any details on this. No details are yet available. We expect this shortly, perhaps as part of the emergency legislation announcement planned later this week.

It is worth approaching your local authority to check on what they are planning,

Reference : https://www.fsb.org.uk/resources-page/what-help-for-coronavirus-covid-19-will-there-be-and-where-can-i-go-for-it.html

Support for businesses through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.  All UK businesses are eligible.

How to access the scheme

You will need to:

  • designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers,’ and notify your employees of this change – changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation
  • submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal (HMRC will set out further details on the information required)

HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. HMRC are working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers.

If your business needs short term cash flow support, you may be eligible for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan.

Business rates relief

An emergency £100m rates package to assist NI businesses impacted by COVID-19.

Delay in rate bills:

Rate bills for 2020-21 were due to be issued in April 2020.  To avoid placing financial pressure on ratepayers affected by COVID-19, rate bills will not be issued until June 2020.  When rate bill issue in June 2020, ratepayers can still choose to pay their bill in monthly instalments between June 2020 and March 2021.  Monthly direct debit payment plans will be updated to collect payments between June 2020 and March 2020.

Rates holidays for businesses:

There will be a three months rates holiday for all business ratepayers, excluding public sector and utilities.  The effect of this is that no rates will be charged for April, May and June 2020.  This will be shown as a 25% discount on the annual rate fill for business ratepayers.

Small Business Rate Relief

The Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) scheme will be continued 2020-21.  The rates of relief and thresholds for eligibility have not changed.

The Finance Minister has announced an emergency £100 million rates package to assist Northern Ireland businesses impacted by COVID-19.

There is a helpline for hardship rates relief: 0300 200 7801

Also to register contact applicationbased.ratesrelief@finance-ni.gov.uk

Reference: https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/node/23006

https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/small-business-rate-relief

Business interruption

At Budget 2020 on Wednesday 11 March, the Chancellor announced a ‘Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme’, and that it would become available ‘over the coming weeks’.

This has been brought forward, and we now expect the new scheme to become available in week commencing 23 March 2020.

As well as loans, there are many other types of finance supported by the programme, depending on the provider. You can find out what type of finance they provide on our partner page.

It will be provided by the British Business Bank through participating providers, and will offer more attractive terms for both businesses applying for new facilities and lenders, with the aim of supporting the continued provision of finance to UK businesses during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The scheme provides the lender with a government-backed guarantee against the outstanding facility balance, potentially enabling a ‘no’ credit decision from a lender to become a ‘yes’. NB – the borrower always remains 100% liable for the debt.

The Government will also cover the first 6 months of interest payments, so businesses will benefit from lower initial repayments. The business remains liable for repayments of the capital. The maximum value of a facility provided under the scheme will be £5 million pounds (the original announcement suggested a maximum value of £1.2 million.)

Reference: https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme-cbils/

Support for businesses through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme

The new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme supports SMEs with access to working capital (including loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance) of up to £5 million in value and for up to 6 years.

The government will pay to cover the first 12 months of interest payments and any lender-levied fees, so smaller businesses will not face any upfront costs and will benefit from lower initial repayments.

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.

This scheme is being delivered through commercial lenders, backed by the British Business Bank.

Eligibility

You are eligible for the scheme if:

  • your business is UK based, with turnover of no more than £45 million per year
  • your business meets the other British Business Bank eligibility criteria

How to access the scheme

The scheme is now open for applications. To apply, you should talk to your bank or one of the 40 accredited finance providers (not the British Business Bank) as soon as possible, to discuss your business plan. You can find out the latest on the best ways to contact them via their websites.

All major banks are offering this scheme. If you have an existing loan with monthly repayments you may want to ask for a repayment holiday to help with cash flow.

The full rules of the scheme and the list of accredited lenders are available on the British Business Bank website.

Reference: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses#support-for-businesses-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

Business interruption – Insurance issues

Notifiable Diseases

This extension is often headed Murder, Suicide and Disease. The majority refer to cover for “interruption of or interference to the business during the period of insurance following…” . They set out a list of specific notifiable diseases that are covered. Covid-19 is not normally among these, which is not surprising as it was unknown until recently. Therefore, there would be no cover under such wordings.

However, some covers are written on a non-specified basis, typically covering “loss resulting from interruption of or interference with the business during the indemnity period following…. any human infectious or contagious disease which is notifiable to the local authority manifested by any person whilst on the Premises…”. Under this form of wording, as Covid-19 (Coronavirus) is now a notifiable disease BI loss arising as a direct result of the disease affecting the business would be covered.

Denial of Access

If we approach a worst-case scenario, it is probable that areas will be quarantined with travel being either severely restricted or cut off completely. This would have a significant impact on most businesses. Many policies contain a Denial of Access extension to the Business Interruption section. The majority typically require the denial of access to be as a result of “insured damage in the vicinity of the insured premises which prevents or hinders access to the insured premises”. As there would be no physical damage, there would be no cover under such an extension.

Some policies will contain a non-damage Denial of Access clause which typically covers losses arising from “an incident during the period of insurance which results in a denial of access or hinderance in access to the insured premises imposed by any civil or statutory authority or by order of the government or any public authority”. There is usually a geographical limit such as the incident having to be within 1 mile of the insured premises, plus often a time trigger such as the denial must be for more than 24 hours.

Under such a non-damage Denial of Access extension, then losses arising to the business as a direct result of such denial of access due to Covid-19 (Coronavirus) would be covered by the policy.

In summary, each policy will need to be reviewed to establish if they contain a non-specific Notifiable Disease extension and/or a non-damage Denial of Access extension.

Source – Angus Tucker – Lorega Solutions

Reference: https://dpi-insurance.co.uk/does-my-business-insurance-cover-coronavirus/

Cash flow and External finance options

About £370m is being provided to support the “most vulnerable businesses” in NI during the coronavirus pandemic.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the measures would assist more than 30,000 firms.

Small businesses with a net asset value up to £15,000 will receive a grant of £10,000.

A grant of £25,000 will go to larger, medium-sized firms in the retail, tourism and hospitality sectors.

Qualifying businesses for the £25,000 grant must have a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000.

Reference: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-51954327

While it is not clear how this is applied for yet, we will update this section as and when it becomes available.

Other Support – from other Northern Ireland businesses

Dev Business finance are established expert in assessing the liquidity of business and identifying best way forward.   They are willing to speak to local businesses about cash flow requirements and working capital to assist with meeting business day to day needs.  – Contact Declan Devlin – 07795182257

HMRC – Tax issues time to pay

HMRC – Not being able to pay a tax bill due to Coronavirus

HMRC has a set up a phone helpline to support businesses and self-employed people concerned about not being able to pay their tax due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

The helpline allows any business or self-employed individual who is concerned about paying their tax due to coronavirus to get practical help and advice. Up to 2,000 experienced call handlers are available to support businesses and individuals when needed.

If you run a business or are self-employed and are concerned about paying your tax due to coronavirus, you can call HMRC’s helpline for help and advice: 0800 0159 559.

For those who are unable to pay due to coronavirus, HMRC will discuss your specific circumstances to explore:

  • agreeing an instalment arrangement
  • suspending debt collection proceedings
  • cancelling penalties and interest where you have administrative difficulties contacting or paying HMRC immediately

The helpline number is 0800 0159 559 – and is an addition to other HMRC phone contact numbers.

Opening hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, and Saturday 8am to 4pm. The helpline will not be available on Bank Holidays.

Reference: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/tax-helpline-to-support-businesses-affected-by-coronavirus-covid-19