Blog

Additional grant aid for local lockdown businesses

Last month the Treasury announced further support for businesses adversely affected by lockdown in local areas to control local outbreaks.

Local Authorities will be funded to pay the grants now offered.

Businesses in England required to close

Businesses in England required to close due to local lockdowns or targeted restrictions will now be able to receive grants worth up to £1,500 every three weeks, To be eligible for the grant, a business must have been required to close due to local COVID-19 restrictions. Grants will be paid out every three weeks businesses are required to close. During each three week period:

  • Largest businesses will receive £1,500
  • Smaller businesses will receive £1,000.

H M Treasury also released the following notes:

  • any businesses still closed at a national level (e.g. nightclubs), will not be eligible
  • if a business occupies premises with a rateable value less than £51,000 or occupies a property or part of a property subject to an annual rent or mortgage payment of less than £51,000, it will receive £1000
  • if a business occupies premises with a rateable value of exactly £51,000 or above or occupies a property or part of a property subject to an annual rent or mortgage payment of exactly £51,000 or above, it will receive £1500
  • Local authorities will also receive an additional 5% top up amount of business support funding to enable them to help other businesses affected by closures which may not be on the business rates list. Payments made to businesses from this discretionary fund can be any amount up to £1500 and may be less than £1000 in some cases.
  • Local authorities will be responsible for distributing the grants to businesses in circumstances where they are closed due to local interventions
  • further eligibility criteria may be determined by Local authorities
  • as with other COVID-19 business grants, local grants to closed businesses will be treated as taxable income

Making a claim

Contact your Local authority to see if you are eligible. And please note, the eligibility of businesses not on the business rates list will likely be discretionary so an early call to clarify your position may be beneficial.

Annual Christmas bash?

Trying to double guess the social distancing rules is rather like placing bets on a throw of the dice. The current exhortation from the Prime Minister – to observe the rule of six – is yet a further change in the endless attempts at controlling coronavirus by manipulating social distancing regulation.

But we all need respite; we need to be able to look forward to a cheery Christmas. Unfortunately, based on current progress to control COVID-19, this is looking an increasingly remote possibility.

However, if an annual Christmas bash is on the cards we have outlined below the rules to observe from a tax point of view to ensure that the cost of your annual staff party will not create unintended tax issues for you or your staff.

  1. The event must be open to all employees at a specific location.
  2. An annual Christmas party or other annual event offered to staff generally is not taxable on those attending provided that the average cost per head of the functions does not exceed £150 p.a. (including VAT). The guests of staff attending are included in the head count when computing the cost per head attending.
  3. All costs must be considered, including the costs of transport to and from the event, accommodation provided, and VAT. The total cost of the event is divided by the number attending to find the average cost. If the limit is exceeded then individual members of staff will be taxable on their average cost, plus the cost for any guests they were permitted to bring.
  4. VAT input tax can be recovered on staff entertaining expenditure. If the guests of staff are also invited to the event the input tax should be apportioned, as the VAT applicable to non-staff is not recoverable. However, if non-staff attendees pay a reasonable contribution to the event, all the VAT can be reclaimed and of course output tax should be accounted for on the amount of the contribution.

Perhaps you could book a local restaurant and break up your party into tables of six?

The new Job Support Scheme

After much head scratching at the Treasury, the son of the furlough scheme has been unveiled. Aptly called a Job Support Scheme JSS). When the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme finishes 31 October 2020, employers will need to register for the JSS which is being made available for six months from 1 November 2020.

The JSS aims to support viable jobs. The inference here is that if current jobs are no longer viable they will disappear.

It is difficult see how unemployment can be suppressed as a result of this change in tack; numbers are going to rise. Businesses that may have previously “moth-balled” staff, keeping them at home on furlough, will now face difficult decisions: who to keep on and who to let go.

At best, businesses that have a part-time role for existing staff will be obliged to cover the time actually worked and one-third of time not worked. Employers will also have to meet NIC and pension costs. Employees transferred to the JSS, working a third of their normal hours, will actually receive 77% of their full-time pay.

The JSS does shift the cost of non-worked hours from the Exchequer to the employer.

The other contentious issue that was not addressed by the JSS announcement concerns sectoral differences. Why are vulnerable sectors, the hospitality sector for example, supported to a larger degree than sectors who are less vulnerable to COVID disruption? What about our theatres and live music venues?

The JSS is a one-sized fits all shoe. Unfortunately, we all have different sized feet.

And then there are red-tape considerations. Employers reading this blog who have adjusted to furlough system requirements will need to accommodate changes to manage JSS payments. Your payroll team will need to take on any changes in compliance to join and administer JSS.

There are rumours that JSS payments to employers will be in arrears; more on this topic will follow as details of the JSS are released. Accordingly, there may be cash flow aspects that firms will need to consider.

Patently the JSS does offer support to employers, albeit at a reduced level, but many employers, especially those in vulnerable business sectors, will now face making staff redundant. Until we are able to resume sociable activity much of our economy will slip into hibernation. It may well be that the prince to wake these sleeping beauties will be a working vaccine. Only time will tell.

100 towns to share 80 million pounds

Over 100 towns in England will be given up to £1 million to kick start regeneration projects and give areas a boost.

This funding, which ranges from £500,000 up to £1 million per town, will be used to support projects that will make a difference to the area, such as new green spaces, the creation of pop-up businesses spaces, pedestrianizing streets to encourage walking or cycling and creating of new community hubs to support those living alone.

Projects such as Burton on Trent’s High Street regeneration, for which the town has been awarded £750,000, will see improvements to make the high street a more pleasant place to visit with new bus access and cycle lanes so the public can more easily visit.

In Newcastle-under-Lyme, the £1 million funding will boost the town’s regeneration plans, helping to demolish unloved buildings to make way for a new chapter in the town’s history.

This investment will give areas in all corners of England the opportunity to drive economic growth and improve prospects for their communities, which will be vital as the country continues to respond to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. These funds are part of the overall £3.6 billion Towns Fund money allocated – with this initial pot shared out now to get some projects off the ground and give local areas the boost they need.

All 101 towns selected to work towards a Town Deal were given a funding allocation with proposals submitted to the MCHLG in August, before being reviewed by officials and a final decision made by ministers.

Town Deals build directly on the government’s commitment to decentralising funding and decisions away from Whitehall and investing in the growth of local economies and devolving powers through ambitious City and Growth Deals, providing more than £9 billion of funding to Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and introducing 8 metro mayors in England.

A list of the towns who will benefit from this funding can be accessed here. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5d722667e5274a09881c0c58/list-of-100-places.pdf

The new Winter Economy Plan

Job Support Scheme

  • A new 6-month scheme starting from 1 November 2020.
  • This scheme has been designed to support viable jobs and employees must work at least one-third of their hours, paid as normal, in order to qualify for the scheme. The government and employer will then each cover one-third of any remaining hours the employee is not working.
  • Employees will therefore forego one-third of their pay for the hours that they have not been working. This means that employees working the minimum one-third of their hours will still receive at least 77% of their pay.
  • The level of the grant will be calculated based on an employee’s usual salary but subject to a cap.
  • The Chancellor said that the scheme will be open to all small and medium-sized businesses, but larger businesses will only qualify when their turnover has fallen as a result of the pandemic.
  • You can still use this scheme even if you have not previously participated in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
  • The previously announced Job Retention Bonus, allowing qualifying businesses to claim a £1,000 for each CJRS participating employee, will remain. Employers can claim both the Job Retention Bonus and funding through the Job Support Scheme.

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme extension

  • The Chancellor announced additional help for the self-employed based on similar terms and conditions as the new Jobs Support Scheme.
  • The extended scheme will apply for 6 months from 1 November 2020 with an initial taxable grant made available to those who continue to trade and are currently eligible for SEISS.
  • The initial lump sum will cover three months of profits from 1 November 2020 calculated as 20% of average monthly profits, up to a total of £1,875.
  • An additional second grant will be available from 1 February 2021 to 30 April 2021, but the level of this second grant amount is subject to review.

 

 

Loan deadlines extended

  • Businesses that have taken out a Bounce Back Loan will be able to benefit from a new Pay As You Grow flexible repayment system.
  • This will include an extension in the loan term from six to ten years. There will also be new options for interest-only repayments for up to six months as well as payment holidays.
  • The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans will also have their Government guarantee extended to ten years.
  • The deadline for applying for all the Government’s coronavirus loan schemes will be standardised and pushed back until 30 November 2020.
  • A new successor loan guarantee programme is also expected to be introduced early next year.

New VAT Payment Scheme

  • Businesses had the option to defer the payment of any VAT liabilities due between 20 March 2020 and 30 June 2020.
  • The deferred payment was due to be paid in full to HMRC by 31 March 2021.
  • The Chancellor has now confirmed that businesses will instead be able to make 11 smaller interest-free payments during the 2021-22 financial year.

Self-Assessment payment deadlines

  • Taxpayers that were due to make their second payment on account for the 2019-20 tax year had the option to have the payment due date deferred until 31 January 2021.
  • It will now be possible to benefit from a separate additional 12-month extension from HMRC on the “Time to Pay” self-service facility for this payment and also for payments due in January 2021 extending the deadline until January 2022.

VAT reduction for hospitality and tourism sector

  • The VAT reduction that was announced as part of the Summer Economic update was scheduled to end on 12th January 2021.
  • The end date for the VAT cut has now been extended until 31 March 2021 to give the affected sectors more time to adjust to the difficult trading conditions. This means that VAT charged on food, accommodation and attractions (such as eat-in or takeaway food in restaurants, cafes and pubs, cinemas, theme parks and zoos) will see VAT reduced from 20% to 5% until the end of March 2021.

 

The new incentives announced today should be welcomed as the government continues to try and cope with this unprecedented pandemic. Managing the economic ramifications are causing great difficulties for many people and businesses across the country. These steps, at least, give affected businesses and individuals a degree of certainty as to the level of government assistance available to them throughout the coming months.

As more details emerge on the various schemes announced today we will update you further.

Contact details or else…

Hospitality trades are now mandated to collect the contact details of customers. Which logically assumes that if a customer refuses to provide this information they must be turned away?

The contact details required include:

  • name
  • contact number
  • date of visit
  • arrival time
  • departure time, if possible

All collected data must comply with GDPR and will not be kept for longer than necessary.

Data collection should be as straightforward as possible for organisations. Each organisation will have the freedom to collect the data in a way that best suits them, either using an existing system or finding a new solution. This method will vary from sector to sector, and we will continue to engage with organisations to consider what additional support or guidance may be needed.

[See our further post today Are you ready for the COVID-19 app?]

Contact details will only be shared with NHS Test and Trace if it is requested. This will usually be because the venue has been identified as the location of a potential local outbreak of COVID-19. If this is the case, the NHS Test and Trace service will work closely with any affected establishments to take appropriate action.

Businesses should continue to follow the government’s comprehensive workplace guidance with practical steps employers should take to make workplaces COVID-secure and ensure employees feel safe in their place of work.

Venues must also keep a record of all staff working on the premises on a given day and their contact details.

These will be stored for 21 days and shared with NHS Test and Trace, if requested.

Are you ready for NHS COVID-19 app?

Pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, cinemas and other venues across England and Wales are being urged to download QR codes to prepare for public rollout of new app.

  • The NHS COVID-19 app is currently being trialled and will launch on Thursday 24 September in England and Wales, including QR check-in at venues
  • QR codes will be an important way for NHS Test and Trace in England and NHS Test, Trace, Protect in Wales to contact multiple people if coronavirus outbreaks are identified in venues

 

Businesses across England and Wales like pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and cinemas are being urged to ensure they have NHS QR code posters visible on entry so customers who have downloaded the new NHS COVID-19 app can use their smartphones to easily check-in.

The move comes ahead of a national launch of the NHS COVID-19 app across England and Wales on Thursday 24 September.

The government will be supporting businesses and venues to display the QR codes, which can be downloaded via a website to display as posters in premises.

Following the launch of the new COVID-19 app, customers and visitors in England will be able to check-in on entry with their phone instead of filling out a check-in book or tool specific to a business. This will allow NHS Test and Trace to contact customers with public health advice should there be a COVID-19 outbreak.

In England, using QR codes will help businesses meet the new legal requirement to record the contact details of customers, visitors and staff on their premises.

With coronavirus cases rising in the UK in the last few weeks it is essential businesses capitalise on the benefits QR codes can bring to protect themselves and their customers.

Travel corridors

It is almost impossible to keep up with changes to overseas territories that require us to self-isolate when returning to the UK from a holiday or business trip.

The government have coined the phrase “travel corridor” to provide a focus for countries that are considered COVID hot spots – and therefore exempt or removed from the safe travel corridor list.

Up-to-date information on these shifts in guidance can be accessed in detail from the GOV.UK website at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-travel-corridors.

Well worth book-marking this URL if you are travelling abroad and returning to England.

This page only applies to overseas adventurers returning to England, other regions of the UK may have different restrictions in place.

These restrictions apply even if you only made a transit stop in an affected area. A transit stop is defined as:

A stop where passengers can get on or off. It can apply to coaches, ferries, trains or flights. Your ticket should show if a stop is a transit stop.

If your journey involves a transit stop in a country, territory or region not on the travel corridor list, you will need to self-isolate when you arrive in England if:

  • new passengers get on
  • you or other passengers get off the transport you are on and mix with other people, then get on again

You don’t need to self-isolate beyond normal timescales if, during your transit stop in a non-exempt country, territory or region:

  • no new passengers get on
  • no-one on-board gets off and mixes with people outside
  • passengers get off but do not get back on

Travelling abroad in your own car?

One further consideration. You don’t need to self-isolate if you travel through a non-exempt country, territory or region and you don’t stop there. If you do make a stop, you don’t need to self-isolate if:

  • no new people get into the vehicle
  • no-one in the vehicle gets out, mixes with other people, and gets in again

You do need to self-isolate if you make a stop and:

  • new people get into the vehicle, or
  • someone gets out of the vehicle, mixes with other people and gets in again

Obviously, these restrictions rely heavily on the integrity of travellers to be effective…

HMRC put their case

HMRC has been at the forefront of the government’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the extraordinary challenges being faced by millions of individuals and businesses.

According to HMRC:

The department successfully developed and implemented schemes at unprecedented speed to deliver financial support to more than 12 million employed and self-employed workers via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. In addition, it has implemented more than 60 provisional policy changes or easements to help respond to the impact of coronavirus.

The operational priority has been to deliver the government support that aims to protect people’s livelihoods and help businesses get through this difficult time financially. Now the department is seeking to build on what it has learned during the pandemic about large scale delivery and the citizens and businesses it serves as the country emerges from the pandemic. The IT which underpinned the coronavirus support schemes was designed, built and delivered from kitchen tables and spare bedrooms; busy customer service staff answered queries remotely from their own homes for the first time; and 90% of HMRC’s 60,000 workforce were able to immediately work remotely to help stop the spread of the virus when the country went into lockdown.

Now that the initial government support response to coronavirus is coming to an end – for example, the closing down of the furlough and self-employed support schemes – it will be interesting to see what other support schemes HMRC may be required to create.

Much will depend – not only on the ability of HMRC to deliver – but the Treasury’s willingness to endorse the required government funding for such schemes.

In their closing remarks HMRC concluded:

HMRC’s primary purpose is to collect the money that pays for the UK’s vital public services and pay out the correct financial support to those who are entitled to it, and as we emerge from the pandemic, the department will carry out this vital work in a way that is sensitive to customers’ altered needs and the challenges they face.

Hopefully, this can be interpreted as a tread-lightly approach; much of the UK business sector is already walking on eggshells.

Employer obligations to employees working at home

It may surprise many smaller employers with staff working from home that they still have health and safety responsibilities. The following notes published by ACAS should be considered:

Employers should:

  • talk to their employees and workers about how they might improve working from home arrangements
  • continue to consider which roles and tasks can be done from home – this might involve doing things differently and not assuming a role cannot be based at home
  • support employees to adjust to remote working
  • consider individual employees' needs, for example anyone with childcare responsibilities, a long-term health condition or a disability
  • write down the arrangements that have been agreed so everyone's clear

Health and Safety concerns

By law, employers are responsible for the health and safety of all employees, including those working from home.

Employer responsibilities:

During the coronavirus pandemic, it's very unlikely that employers can carry out usual health and safety risk assessments at an employee's home. However, an employer should still check that:

  • each employee feels the work they're being asked to do at home can be done safely
  • employees have the right equipment to work safely
  • managers keep in regular contact with their employees, including making sure they do not feel isolated
  • reasonable adjustments are made for an employee who has a disability

If changes are needed, employers are responsible for making sure they happen.

Employee responsibilities:

Employees also have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety.

Anyone working from home should keep in regular contact with their manager. They should also tell their manager about:

  • any health and safety risks
  • any homeworking arrangements that need to change

Clearly, there is more to consider than simply agreeing that an employee can work from home. The concerns discussed in this article are focused on health and safety issues. Employers and employees will also need to consider tax, internet security and other resourcing issues. We may well consider these additional matters in further posts to this blog.