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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Advice and guidance for small businesses and the self-employed

LAST UPDATED 03.04.20 15:55 | Advice and guidance on reducing the risks from the Coronavirus (COVID-19) virus to you and your business.

With the rapidly changing nature of the COVID-19 outbreak, information and advice from Government can change quickly. For all the latest Government information on COVID-19 and the measures the Government, and Devolved Governments, are taking, please visit the UK Government website, the Scottish Government website, the Welsh Government website or the Northern Irish Government website.
The information below is kept under continuous review and is updated often, please be sure to check the COVID-19: guidance for employers and businesses from the Government for the latest updates.

Latest News

Chancellor announces additional measures to help businesses and the self-employed impacted by COVID-19

The Chancellor announced a major package of support for the self-employed:

  • HMG will pay the self-employed a taxable grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits over the last three years up to £2500 per month
  • This will be available for three months. Will be extended if necessary
  • People can claim these grants and continue to do business
  • Covers self-employed same as those furloughed

To ensure the funds reaches the people most in need:

  • Open to anyone of trading profits of up to £50,000
  • Available to people who i) make the majority of their income being self-employed, ii) Have a self-employed tax return for 2019

How to access

  • HMRC will contact you directly and you’ll have to fill out a form
  • HMRC will pay the grant directly to bank accounts.
  • Aim is to pay at the beginning of June (3 months backdated). Hoping to be quicker than that but recognition HMRC are now having to design two new systems
  • Anyone who missed the Jan filing deadline has an extra 4 weeks from today to submit their tax return

Further Details can be found at - https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chancellor-gives-support-to-millions-of-self-employed-individuals


Watch our free webinar on demand for information on the aid and help available from local councils.

 

What help for the self-employed will there be, and who can I talk to about it?

On the evening of Friday 20 March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced the first set of additional measures to help smaller businesses and the self-employed affected by COVID-19. The UK government has told us there will be more help as the situation intensifies. Within draft emergency legislation now being published, the government is taking new legal powers to enable it to offer whatever further financial support is necessary to back business.

FSB is pressing for further help for the self-employed and for those outside of the leisure, hospitality and retail sectors. As the virus accelerates we want to look at larger, more radical measures such as 3-6 month holidays on National Insurance Contributions, VAT, PAYE; changes to insolvency; and the suspension of paying rent, tax and utilities for the same time.


Cash Flow Issues 

What is the self-employment Income Support Scheme and how do I apply?

This scheme will support self-employed individuals (including members of partnerships) who have lost income due to coronavirus (COVID-19). The scheme will allow those eligible to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum value of £2,500 each month for the next three months. This scheme will be reviewed and extended if required. 

Who is eligible? 

You must be a self-employed individual or a member of a partnership and meet the following criteria: 

  • have submitted your Income Tax Self Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-19
  • traded in the tax year 2019-20
  • are trading when you apply, or would be except for COVID-19
  • intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020-21
  • have lost trading/partnership trading profits due to COVID-19

In addition to this, your trading profits must be less than £50,000 and more than half your income must come from self-employment. This is defined as: 

  • having trading profits/partnership trading profits in 2018-19 of less than £50,000 and these profits constitute more than half of your total taxable income
  • having average trading profits in 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19 of less than £50,000 and these profits constitute more than half of your average taxable income in the same period

This scheme uses information from your Income Tax Self-Assessment tax return, if you have not submitted one for the tax year 2018-19 you must do this by 23 April 2020. If you started trading between 2016-19, HMRC will only use those years for which you filed a Self-Assessment tax return. 

How much will I get? 

The grant will be calculated by using a figures 80% of your average profits from the tax years covering 2016-2019. This means that the three years will be added together and divided by three, your grant will be 80% of this figure with a maximum value of £2,500 a month. This will be paid directly into your bank account. 

How to I claim this? 

You need to take no action. HMRC will contact you if you are eligible for this scheme and invite you to apply. Please be award that only HMRC are providing this scheme, if you receive a text, calls or email claiming to be from HMRC, informing you that you can claim financial help or are owed a tax refund asking you to click on a link or to give information such as your name, credit card or bank details, it is a scam.

In Wales

The Welsh Government has announced a new fund for the self-employed and businesses to help deal with the impact of the Coronavirus. FSB has encouraged the Welsh Government to use this money to help those that have not been covered by the recent announcement of the Self-employment Income Scheme, and for the money to be available before the HMRC’s June go live date. Find out more here:

How do I apply for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme for SMEs?

A new temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank (BBB), launched 23 March 2020 to support primarily small and medium-sized businesses to access bank lending and overdrafts.

The scheme was significantly expanded on 2 April 2020:

  • No personal guarantees for facilities under £250k: Personal guarantees of any form cannot be taken under the scheme for any facilities below £250k.
  • Personal guarantees for facilities above £250k: Personal guarantees may still be required, at a lender’s discretion, but recoveries under these are capped at a maximum of 20% of the outstanding balance of the CBILS facility after the proceeds of business assets have been applied. A Principal Private Residence (PPR) cannot be taken as security to support a personal guarantee or as security for a CBIL backed facility.
  • Security: For all facilities, including those over £250,000, CBILS can now support lending to smaller businesses even where a lender considers there to be sufficient security, making more smaller businesses eligible to receive the business interruption payment

New eligibility criteria:

Smaller businesses from all sectors can apply for the full amount of the facility. To be eligible for a facility under CBILS, a smaller business must:

  • Be UK based in its business activity, with turnover of no more than £45m per year.
  • Have a borrowing proposal which, were it not for the current pandemic, would be considered viable by the lender.
  • Self-certify that it has been adversely impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

The full rules of the Scheme and the list of accredited lenders is available on the British Business Bank website. There are a number of accredited providers in all with more being added. Businesses wishing to apply for this scheme should approach the lenders directly. 

The BBB have communicated that these changes should be retrospectively applied by lenders for any CBILS facilities offered since 23 March 2020.  For any commercial (non-CBILS) facilities offered since the same date, providing the borrower meets the CBILS eligibility criteria, lenders have been asked to bring these facilities onto CBILS wherever possible (e.g. where the lender is accredited to offer the same facility through CBILS) and changes retrospectively applied as necessary.

The Development Bank of Wales is currently offering all business customers a 3 month capital loan repayment holiday. More information can be found here: https://developmentbank.wales/coronavirus-support-welsh-businesses

What is the support for larger firms through the COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility?

Under the new Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility, the Bank of England will buy short term debt from larger companies to support your business if it has been affected by a short-term funding squeeze and allow you to finance your short-term liabilities. It will also support corporate finance markets overall and ease the supply of credit to all firms, all UK based buisnesses are eligible for this scheme. 

Full details and how to apply can be found on the Bank of England website 

Do you contract your services to large or medium-sized organisations outside of the public sector?

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.

Universal Credit and the Self-Employed

On 20 March 2020 the Chancellor announced the suspension of the minimum income floor for the self-employed and that the standard allowance was to rise over the next 12 months by £1,000. This means that self-employed people can now access, in full, Universal Credit at a rate equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay for employees. 

You can find out more about Universal Credit and apply on line at - https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit

Cash grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses

The Retail and Hospitality Grant Scheme provides businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a cash grant of up to £25,000 per property.

  • For businesses in these sectors with a rateable value of under £15,000, they will receive a grant of £10,000.
  • For businesses in these sectors with a rateable value of between £15,001 and £51,000, they will receive a grant of £25,000.

Businesses based in England, in the retail, hospitality and/or leisure sector are eligible. This includes properties being used primarily as shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas, live music venues, for assembly and leisure and as hotels, guest and boarding premises and self-catering accommodation

You do not need to take any action, if you are eligible for the grant you will be contacted by your local authority. If you are unsure who your local authority is, you can check via the Governments Find your local council tool. 

In Scotland, retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with a rateable value between £18,000 and up to and including £51,000 are able to apply for a one-off grant of £25,000. A one-off grant of £10,000 is available to small businesses who get the Small Business Bonus Scheme, with some exemptions. You apply for these grants through your local authority – more information.

In Northern Ireland, The NI Executive is providing a one-off grant of £25,000 to ratepayers in the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors who pay rates on a property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000. Further details about how to access this grant will be announced soon.

The Small Business Grant Fund (SBGF)

Additional Small Business Grant Scheme funding for local authorities to support small businesses that already pay little or no business rates because of small business rate relief (SBBR), rural rate relief (RRR) and tapered relief has been made available. This will provide a one-off grant of £10,000 to eligible businesses to help meet their ongoing business costs. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have now released their guidance for local councils which sets out in full which businesses are eligible and the funding breakdown, you can read this in full at the gov.uk website

Eligible businesses are those based in England already receiving SBBR and/or RRR occupying property. 

You do not need to do anything to claim this grant, your local authority will contact you if you are eligible for this grant. Any queries should be addressed to your local authority. If you are unsure who your local authority is, you can find out via the Governments Find your local council tool. 

What about directors?

If you’re a director of your own company and paid through PAYE you may be able to get support using the Job Retention Scheme.

You can find more details of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme on the gov.uk website

Welsh Government Economic Resilience Fund

The Welsh Government has announced an Economic Resilience Fund. The £500 million fund is made up of two main elements:

  • a new £100 million Development Bank of Wales fund will be available for companies experiencing cash flow problems as a result of the pandemic and will provide loans of between £5,000 and £250,000 at favourable interest rates
  • businesses will also be able to benefit from a £400 million emergency pot providing:
  1. Grants of £10,000 for micro-businesses employing up to nine people. This includes sole traders employing staff. Qualifying businesses will be able to apply by mid-April.
  2. Grants of up to £100,000 for small and medium sized firms with between 10 and 249 employees. Qualifying businesses will be able to apply from next week.
  3. Support for larger Welsh companies, which are of critical social or economic importance to Wales. This element will be open to qualifying businesses within the next two weeks.

The £500 million Economic Resilience Fund will support businesses forced to temporarily cease trading – to go into “hibernation” – or which need cash-flow support to adapt to a remote way of working.

Your Business Premises and Trading

Which businesses are classed as "non-essential" and required to close?

On 23 March the Government implemented measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus and save lives. All non-essential premises should now be closed. Takeaway and delivery services may remain open and operational in line with guidance on Friday 20 March. Online retail is still open and encouraged and postal and delivery service will run as normal. The Government as asking for these businesses to remian closed for a minimum of three weeks from 23 March 2020 when the restrictions will be reviewed.

The following businesses must remain closed: 
  • Restaurants - food delivery and takeaway can remain operational
  • Cafes and canteens - food delivery and takeaway can remain operational as can cafes or canteens at hospitals, care homes, schools, prison and military canteens and services providing food or drink to the homeless. Workplace canteens can remain open if there is no alternative option - read more about this on the gov.uk website
  • Public Houses, bars and nightclubs - this includes premises located within hotels or members clubs 
  • Hair, beauty and nail salons - this includes piercing and tattoo parlours, barbers, massage parlours and spas
  • All retail stores - Exceptions to this are supermarkets and other food shops, medical services, pharmacies (both dispensing and non dispensing) petrol stations, bicycle shops, hardware and equipment hire stores, launderettes and dry cleaners, car garages and repair shops, car rental services, car parks Post Offices, vets and pet shops, corner shops, off-licences, and newsagents, banks, building scoeities and credit unions.
  • Outdoor and indoor markets - unless they offer groceries or food
  • Hotels, hostels, B&Bs, campsites as well as Boarding Houses and Caravan parks/sites for commercial use. There are exceptions for those who live in these establishments as interim or permanent residences, these can be seen in full at the gov.uk website
  • Libraries
  • Community centres, youth centers and similar - these may remain open for hosting essential services such as food banks or homeless services
  • Places of Worship - these can remain open for funerals (with appropriate social distancing) and solitary prayer
  • Cinemas, theatres and concert halls (there are some exceptions to this on the gov.uk website)
  • Museums and galleries
  • Auction Houses
  • Bingo halls, casinos and betting shops
  • Skating rinks, fitness studios, gyms, swimming pools or other indoor leisure centres (Leisure centres may stay open for blood donation sessions)
  • Funfairs, arcades, bowling alleys, soft play centres and similar businesses
  • Enclosed spaces in parks such as sports courts, pitches, outdoor gyms or similar

Which businesses are required to close in Scotland?

The UK and Scottish Governments have stepped up measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus and save lives. All non-essential premises must now close. Takeaway and delivery services may remain open and operational in line with guidance. Online retail is still open and postal and delivery service will run as normal.

The Scottish Government is asking all individuals and businesses that are not being specifically required to close to consider a key set of questions:

  • Is what you do essential or material to the effort against the virus or to the wellbeing of society?
  • if so, can your staff work from home?
  • if not can you practise safe social distancing and comply with ALL other standard health and safety requirements.

If the answer to none of the above questions is yes, the Scottish Government’s advice is to close.

You can read the Scottish Government’s full guidance here.

Businesses are being asked to remain closed for a minimum of three weeks from 23 March 2020 when the restrictions will be reviewed.

I can supply ventilators, goods and/or services, who do I contact?

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is looking for organisations who can support in the supply of ventilators and ventilator components across the United Kingdom as part of the Government's response to COVID-19.

If you can help with this, you can register via the gov.uk website

Help is also required with the following goods and services

  • Food
  • Hotel rooms for any use
  • Hotel rooms for lodging
  • Manufacturing equipment
  • Medical Equipment - PPE, testing equipment and other uses
  • Office space for any use
  • Warehouse/industrial space
  • Other goods

If you can help with any of the above please register via this link

What about takeaways?

The guidance from the Government is that takeaways should remain open and operational where possible 

This means people can continue to enter premises to access takeaway services (including delivery drivers). Businesses are encouraged to take orders online or by telephone, and businesses should not provide seating areas, indoors and outdoors, for customers to consume food and drink on. Ordering in advance is strongly encouraged to avoid waiting in, as per Public Health England guidelines.

People must not consume food or drinks on site at restaurants, cafés or pubs whilst waiting for takeaway food and those venues offering takeaway or delivery services must not include alcoholic beverages in this list if their license does not already permit.

The Government has ordered all pubs, restaurants and cafes to close, can I still trade?

If you own a pub that serves food or a restaurant in England or Scotland, 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.

Planning regulation has been changed to enable restaurants, cafés and pubs which do not currently offer delivery and hot food takeaway to do so. The legislation can be accessed online.

What happens if I have to close my place of business?

Firstly, you need to check your policy wording, or contact your broker to find out if you have Business Interruption cover in your commercial insurance policy.

Standard Business Interruption is provided for consequential loss of income or the additional cost of working following (mainly) physical damage to buildings and contents. Some policies extend that cover, often in a very limited way, to provide for certain events which might impact use of the premises

Once you have confirmed that you have Business Interruption cover, you will need to check whether you have an extension for “notifiable diseases” (can also be referred to as “Infectious Diseases”). This extension is not common. If the policy wording lists specified diseases covered, then you will need to ask whether COVID-19 is included. As this worldwide pandemic is now touching every business and household in the UK in some way, if you are not currently covered, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to get your policy extended to include it at this time.

Standard policies are highly unlikely to include any protection if your business suffers due to an outbreak of disease, regardless of circumstance but, it’s worth checking.

Proactive insurance considerations

As tens of thousands of workers make the change to work from home, some with new equipment, it’s important to make sure that their home insurance providers are made aware. You can reassure your workers that this will likely not impact their premiums as most home-workers will be doing clerical work.

If you normally work from premises and are now relying on deliveries/working away, you will also need to let your insurer/broker know.

If your business is sending employees home, temporarily closing or working from a reduced number of sites, you will have premises which are unexpectedly empty. Empty premises are vulnerable to a few, perhaps unexpected risks.

Your policy will likely have a clause in it to protect against your premises being empty for short periods, but since you may have to vacate the property for longer, you will need to let your Insurer/Broker know and this may involve making a mid-term adjustment on your policy.

For tips on preventing damage to unoccupied property, you can read our blog here. [https://www.fsb-insurance-service.com/fsb-insurance-service-blog/practical-advice-to-protect-unoccupied-property/]

FSB Insurance Service is a member of BIBA (British Insurance Brokers Association) who are lobbying for insurers to take an understanding view on the changes in situation for many business owners, to ensure that cover is available and changes in premium are minimal.

Is there protection from eviction for commercial tenants?

We hope that landlords will take a generous approach to their small business tenants, many of whom have already seen trading and footfall dip. This is particularly important in areas of high rent, such as high streets or urban centres (including London). FSB is talking to major landlords to ask them to commit to rent breaks and discounts.

The Treasury have announced that they have introduced emergency legislation through the Covid Bill in Parliament to ban evictions for commercial tenants for at least three months. All commercial tenants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be eligible and this will extend a previously-announced measure in the Covid-19 emergency legislation to ban evictions for social and private renters for three months. We are awaiting further information regarding the administartion of this scheme. 

Full guidance for landlords and tenants in the private and scoial rented sectors can be found on the gov.uk website.

How can I keep my business premises is secure while it is closed?

The Metropolitan Police have issues guidance to businesses to help protect them from crime and anti-social behaviour at the current time. You can read the full guidance here. 

If your premises is closed, the following actions are recommended: 

  • Test your alarm, ensure it is monitored and fully operational
  • Identify any vulnerable areas. Rectify these. Ensure security gates, bollards and fire exit doors have been secured prior to closure of the premises.
  • Ensure service doors are closed and locked when not in use.
  • Make sure you have list of key holders who can be contacted in times of emergency.
  • Ensure your contact details for staff are up to date.
  • Consider moving high value items into secured stockrooms and out of view.
  • Ensure keys to the premises or other venues are not left inside and are instead with dedicated key holders.
  • Consider timer switches or ensure sufficient lighting is left on at the premises/surrounding area.
  • Ensure there are no combustible materials left in the proximity of the building such as packaging - consider the risk of arson.
  • Review your CCTV to confirm it is operational, provides good quality images and is positioned to cover as much of the stores public and private areas. You may wish to consider a mobile phone app that allows connectivity and a vocal capacity to engage with any intruder.
  • Ensure that no cash is retained on the premises overnight (leave a note on the door) stating that no cash or valuables are kept overnight) or store then in a security accredited safe bolted to the floor.

If you want to brush up on your business securtiy basics, our blog from FSB Insurance Services, Practical advice to improve the security of your business premises is a great place to start as well as their Practical Advice to Protect Unoccupied Property

What happens if I don't comply?

New regulations extending the restrictions are now enforceable by law in England, Wales and Scotland due to the threat to public health. 

Businesses who continue to operate in contravention of the regulations will be commiting a criminal offence. The Environmental Health and Trading Standards agencies will be monitoring compliance along with police support provided by police if appropriate. Businesses and premises that breach them will be subject to prohibition notices, and potentially unlimited fines.

What about insolvency regulation?

The Government has temporarily suspended wrongful trading provisions retrospectively from 1 March 2020 for three months for company directors so they can keep their businesses going without the threat of personal liability.

This will enable companies to continue buying much-needed supplies, such as energy, raw materials or broadband, while attempting a rescue, and temporarily suspending wrongful trading provisions retrospectively from 1 March 2020 for three months for company directors so they can keep their businesses going without the threat of personal liability.

You can read the official release on the gov.uk website.

Business Rates

Business Rates and Cash Grants an overview

In England

  • Expanding the 100% business rates holiday for the next 12 months to cover all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England - not just those up to £51k Rateable Value.
  • Providing a £25,000 cash grant to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in smaller premises, with a Rateable Value below £51k.
  • Increasing the proposed £3,000 cash grant to 700,000 small businesses (those eligible for Small Business Rate Relief) to a £10,000 cash grant. We think this will also apply for those eligible for rural rates relief.
  • Estate agents, lettings agencies and bingo halls that have closed as a result of Covid-19 measures to restrict the spread of the virus will be now be exempted from business rates in 2020-21

In Scotland

  • 12 months 100% relief rates holiday for businesses in hospitality, leisure and retail. Grants will also available for Scottish companies in this sector
  • Providing a £25,000 grant for businesses in hospitality, leisure and retail with a rateable value between £18,000 and £51,000.
  • Small firms receiving the small business bonus or rural relief will be eligible for a £10,000 grant. Businesses will be also be able to request to defer all payment.
  • All non-domestic properties will get 1.6% relief, reversing the poundage change.
  • You can find additional detail on the Scottish Government’s package of reliefs and grants at https://www.mygov.scot/non-domestic-rates-coronavirus/

In Northern Ireland

  • 3 month rates holiday for all businesses, which effectively means a further 25% discount off your bill
  • The issuing of rates bills will be deferred from April until June
  • Small firms who are eligible for the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme will receive a £10,000 grant
  • Providing a £25,000 grant to companies in the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors with a rateable value from £15,000 to £51,000.

In Wales

  • 12 month rates relief for businesses in retail, leisure and hospitality
  • £25,000 grant for retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value of between £12,001 and £51,000
  • Shops leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value of £51,000 or less will receive 100% business rates relief, administered through their local authority
  • Pubs with a rateable value of between £51,000 and £100,000 will receive a £5,000 reduction on their bill, administered through their local authority
  • Small firms eligible for Small Business Rates relief with a rateable value of £12,000 or less will receive a £10,000 grant.
  • You can find additional details on the Business Wales website - https://businesswales.gov.wales/coronavirus-advice

In response to the coronavirus, in the Budget on 11 March, the Government announced that it would increase the discount to 100% and extend it to include the leisure and hospitality sectors. This relief will apply to occupied retail, leisure and hospitality properties in the year 2020/21. There will be no rateable value limit on the relief.

This document provides guidance to authorities about the operation and delivery of the policy: Expanded Retail Discount 2020/21: Coronavirus Response – Local Authority Guidance

There will be a business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses

A business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England has been itroduced for the 2020 to 2021 tax year. Businesses that received the retail discount in the 2019 to 2020 tax year will be rebilled by their local authority as soon as possible.

You are eligible for the business rates holiday if your business is based in England and your business is in the retail, hospitality and/or leisure sector. Properties that will benefit from the relief will be occupied hereditaments that are wholly or mainly being used as: 

This will apply to your next council tax bill in April 2020 and you do not need to take any action. However, local authorities may have to reissue your bill automatically to exclude the business rate charge. They will do this as soon as possible.

Further Guidance on the business rates holiday can be found in the expanded retail discount guidance.

There is support for nursery businesses that pay business rates (England)

Nurseries will receive a business rates holiday for the 2020 to 2021 tax year. Businesses must be based in England and Properties that will benefit from the relief will be those occupied by providers on Ofsted’s Early Years Register used primarily for the provision of the Early Years Foundation Stage.

You need to take no action. This will apply to your next council tax bill in April 2020. However, local authorities may have to reissue your bill to exclude the business rate charge. They will do this as soon as possible.

Further information on the discounts can be found in the Nursery Discount Guidance

There is support for businesses that pay little or no business rates (England)

Additional Small Business Grant Scheme funding for local authorities to support small businesses that already pay little or no business rates because of small business rate relief (SBBR), rural rate relief (RRR) and tapered relief has been made available. This will provide a one-off grant of £10,000 to eligible businesses to help meet their ongoing business costs. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have now released their guidance for local councils which sets out in full which businesses are eligible and the funding breakdown, you can read this in full at the gov.uk website

Eligible businesses are those based in England already receiving SBBR and/or RRR occupying property. 

You do not need to do anything to claim this grant, your local authority will contact you if you are eligible for this grant. Any queries should be addressed to your local authority. If you ar eunsure who your local authority is, you can find out via the Governments Find your local council tool. 

Help with non-domestic rates and grants in Scotland during coronavirus

All non-domestic properties in Scotland will get a 1.6% rates relief, you do not need to apply for this relief and it will be applied to your bill by your local council.

Retail, hospitality and leisure businesses will get 100% rates relief. To get this relief, a property has to be occupied. The Scottish Government are working with Scotland's 32 Councils to make sure this relief is administered in the most effective way. 

The Scottish Government opened applications for £1 billion of grant funding for Scottish businesses. These will be administered through your local council.  

Two types of grant are now available:

  • a one-off £10,000 grant to small business ratepayers -(who receive the Small Business Bonus scheme or rural rates relief);
  • a one-off grant of £25,000 available to retail, hospitality and leisure business ratepayers with a rateable value between £18,001 and £50,999.

To apply for these grants find your local council website here.

Further information about the businesses and proprties able to claim this assistance can be found via Help with non-domestic rates in Scotland during coronavirus (COVID-19)

Paying Tax 

You may be eligible for support through Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) Time to Pay service.

HMRC have scaled up their Time to Pay offer to all firms and individuals who are in temporary financial distress as a result of COVID-19 and have outstanding tax liabilities. If you think you or your business is eligible for support through Time to Pay, you can call the following helpline number to get practical help and advice on 0800 0159 559.

Arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities. For more information, please check the HMRC site here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/tax-helpline-to-support-businesses-affected-by-coronavirus-covid-19.

Payment of VAT has been deferred

VAT has been deferred for the next quarter (these payments can now be paid at the end of the financial year) 

This is an automatic offer with no applications required. Businesses will not need to make a VAT payment during this period. Taxpayers will be given until the end of the 2020 to 2021 tax year to pay any liabilities that have accumulated during the deferral period. VAT refunds and reclaims will be paid by the government as normal.

Customers who normally pay by direct debit should cancel their direct debit with their bank if they are unable to pay. Please do so in sufficient time so that HMRC do not attempt to automatically collect on receipt of your VAT return.

For Income Tax Self-Assessment, payments due on the 31 July 2020 have been deferred

If you are self-employed you are eligible and this is an automatic offer with no applications required.

No penalties or interest for late payment will be charged in the deferral period.

Statutory Sick Pay and Employment Allowance 

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 information is taken from the publication "How to access government financial support if you or your business has been affected by COVID-19" click here to read the full document

UK based Small-and medium-sized businesses (who employ less than 250 people as of 28 February 2020) are able to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19. The eligibility criteria for the scheme will be as follows:

  • This refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of 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 and payments of SSP, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note. If evidence is required by an employer, those with symptoms of coronavirus can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online and those who live with someone that has symptoms can get a note from the NHS website
  • Eligible period for the scheme will commence the day after the regulations on the extension of SSP to those staying at home comes into force
  • The government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible

This scheme is being currently being devloped and we will update once the details have been confirmed. 

Employment Allowance help from HMRC

Small employers with a National Insurance bill of £100,000 or less will continue to qualify for the Employment Allowance.

This will be expanded from April to £4,000 per small business, enough, for example, to fund the National Insurance employer contributions in total for four employees on the National Living Wage.

In your payroll software, to claim this make sure put ‘Yes’ in the ‘Employment Allowance indicator’ field next time you send an Employment Payment Summary (EPS) to HMRC. For those without software that use HMRC’s Basic PAYE Tools, on the home page make sure you amend your employer details to include ‘Yes’ in the ‘Employment Allowance indicator’ field.

Further Actions To Take 

Talk to your bank about finance options

Talk to your bank about financial help if needed, to tide you over if your business gets into difficulty. FSB is asking banks to have a presumptive ‘yes’ when an otherwise viable small business goes to them in distress.

The UK Government and Bank of England have made billions of pounds available for domestic banks across the UK to help small businesses in this position through the The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme for SMEs.

In addition to considering new overdraft facilities, banks and finance providers should also be lenient on things like loan repayments. We hope also that they will agree to mortgage holidays for commercial as well as residential premises. You’ll have seen the Bank of England cut interest rates from 0.75% to 0.25%.

The Development Bank of Wales is currently offering all business customers a 3 month capital loan repayment holiday. More information can be found here: https://developmentbank.wales/coronavirus-support-welsh-businesses

Talk to your customers about payment

We have asked large businesses to pay any invoices owed to small businesses, immediately upon receipt of the invoice. And if they hold an invoice now, the finance team should be asked to pay it, immediately. Morrisons supermarket have led the way, paying 3,000 suppliers instantly, regardless of payment period.

Small businesses or the self-employed with invoices issued should use this moment to chase for instant payment. You should also immediately issue invoices for work done, so they can be processed while finance teams in large businesses are operating. This isn’t just for large customers; everyone should be encouraged to pay an invoice, immediately.

You can find more information and resources to help with late paymenrs in our Get Paid on Time hub.

Talk to your Government about business support

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 email [email protected].
  • The Scottish Government has set up a dedicated coronavirus helpline for business through Scottish Enterprise. The number is 0300 303 0660. Lines are opne 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 NI Business Info phone number is 0800 181 4422. Lines are open Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5pm.

Talk to your local authority about grants and hardship funds

£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, and your local FSB, who may already know.

Talk to your landlord about your rent

We hope that landlords will take a generous approach to their small business tenants, many of whom have already seen trading and footfall dip. This is particularly important in areas of high rent, such as high streets or urban centres (including London). FSB is talking to major landlords to ask them to commit to rent breaks and discounts.

The Treasury have announced that they have introduced emergency legislation through the Covid Bill in Parliament to ban evictions for commercial tenants for at least three months. All commercial tenants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be eligible and this will extend a previously-announced measure in the Covid-19 emergency legislation to ban evictions for social and private renters for three months. We are awaiting further information regarding the administartion of this scheme. 

Talk to FSB, our providers and other members about resources and support

You can use your membership of your business group or trade union (if you’re self-employed) to see what benefits they provide that could help. At FSB, our website help on coronavirus is open for all small businesses and the self-employed, and includes a lot of detailed advice and guidance that is constantly updated – head to www.fsb.org.uk

FSB members also have access to provider services that could be crucial for your business at this critical time, such as:

  • A 24/7 legal advice helpline staffed by UK-based lawyers, on 03450 727 727 (please have your membership number to hand)
  • Our FSB Care service providing practical advice and emotional support from a dedicated nurse for chronic physical or mental health conditions, disability or bereavement. If your concerns relate to any of these areas then please call 0808 20 20 888, Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm. However, if you feel that you need urgent medical attention telephone your GP or 111.
  • An insurance advice helpline, a business continuity planning toolkit, and other help – such as how to check your current insurance policies for a ‘notifiable disease’, on 020 3883 7976 Monday to Friday, 9am-5.30pm
  • Unsecured Cash Advance for instant help, and a Funding Platform to access finance - read more here 
  • For help, FSB’s Customer Services Team is available on 0808 20 20 888, Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

As a small business owner or self-employed, it is very important for you to keep in touch at a time of crisis with others in your sector, in your locality, and in your local FSB. This is useful as you share experiences on your plans to protect your business.

This is a fast-moving issue, with more detail emerging by the day, and sometimes faster. So please follow FSB’s social media channels and especially on Twitter - our UK accounts are @fsb_policy, and @fsb_voice; our national accounts are @fsb_scotland, @fsb_wales and @fsb_NI, and every FSB England Region also has an account to follow for any region-specific guidance. This way you will stay connected, get the latest and can share your plans, ideas and support.

It may be worth bookmarking on your computer the official page of guidance from the UK Government, for businesses.

Guidance for employers

Current government advice is that the risk to the public in the UK is high. Employees must work from home wherever possible. 

On 20 March 2020, the government ordered the closure of cafes, pubs and restaurants by that evening, except for take-away food. It further ordered that nightclubs, cinema, theatres, gyms and leisure centres should close “as soon as they reasonably can”.  A business operating in contravention of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closures) Regulations 2020 will be committing an offence.  On 23 March 2020, the government announced that all “non-essential” shops and community spaces are to be closed with immediate effect for at least 3 weeks and until further advised and the Regulations will be extended to apply to those businesses too. A full list of the non-essential businesses which are to close are available here

Takeaway and delivery services may remain open and operational. This means people can continue to enter premises to access takeaway services, including delivery drivers. Online retail is still open and encouraged and postal and delivery services continue to run as normal.

How will I pay my staff?

On 20 March 20 the Chancellor announced the launch of a coronavirus job retention scheme, allowing any employer the opportunity to apply to HMRC to have up to 80% of a member of staff’s salary paid – capped at £2,500 a month – backdated to 1 March, running for three months (a time-scale which will be kept under review) with no limit on funding for the initiative.

All UK businesses are eligible for the scheme, employers 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.

Do I still have to pay pension contributions for my staff?

As an employer, you can’t legally withdraw your employees from any pension scheme. You must follow the opt out rule. Employees themselves must confirm in writing if they wish to take a break from paying into their pension, whether short-term or indefinitely.  The employee will then be marked as having left the scheme. You are not allowed to encourage or force employees to opt out of the scheme.

Read our full article on workplace pensions and the impact Coronavirus will have. 

What about apprentices?

If your business is no longer able to operate, you can furlough the apprentice(s) who have been on your PAYE payroll scheme on 28 February 2020 and claim the wages under the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. To be eligible for the scheme, the apprentice(s) cannot undertake work for or on behalf of the organisation.  Apprentices hired after 28 February 2020 cannot be furloughed or claimed for in accordance with this scheme. The scheme will be open to employers for at least three months starting from 1 March 2020. You will be able to claim for 80% of furloughed apprentices’ usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, through a HMRC online portal. The portal is expected to be available at the end of April 2020.  

What happens to apprentice who has been made redundant?

If an apprentice has been made redundant, they can continue their apprenticeship and proceed to their end-point assessment where possible. Training providers may be able to find alternative employment for them to continue their apprenticeship. If you are an FSB member and considering dismissing an apprentice by way of redundancy please contact FSB’s employment helpline for advice.

What happens to apprentices’ training?

Apprentices and training providers are encouraged to make use of online training and distance learning tools. If you have furloughed or placed the apprentice on unpaid leave, you should consider a break in learning together with the apprentice(s) and training provider. If there has been a disruption in learning for less than four weeks, you do not need to report the interruption and there is no change to the funding payment for training. If the break is for more than four weeks, you and/or training provider must report a formal break in learning. Once the apprentice is back at work, they can resume their apprenticeship.

During the break in learning, it is not necessary for apprentices to comply with the minimum of 20% off-the-job training requirement.

If you are using the digital apprenticeship service, then you can ‘pause’ the apprenticeship on the service at the point when the break in learning starts. This will suspend the payment of funding to the training provider for the duration of the break. You must not ‘stop’ the apprenticeship through the apprenticeship service as this will not permit to resume the apprenticeship subsequently.  You must only use this function when you are certain that training will not resume at any point. 

What happens to apprentices’ assessment?

Apprentices who are ready for assessment but cannot be assessed because of the coronavirus crisis, will be able to have their end-point assessment rescheduled.

Department for Education has a coronavirus helpline if you have any further questions: 0800 046 8687. Lines are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm and weekends 10am to 4pm.

What are my duties as an employer?

Employers have a duty under health and safety legislation to take steps to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all their employees, so far as reasonably practicable, including those who are particularly at risk for any reason. Employees also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of people they work with. They must cooperate with their employer to enable it to comply with its duties under health and safety legislation. Employees who refuse to cooperate, or who recklessly risk their own health or that of others in the workplace, could be disciplined where this is appropriate.  Where, for example, employees attend work but the employer reasonably believes the employee has symptoms that would require them to self-isolate in accordance with current public health advice (i.e. where they have a new persistent cough and/or high temperature), it is likely that the employer has a duty of care towards other staff to require the employee displaying those symptoms to stay at home and self-isolate for a period of 7 days or 14 days where applicable.  Employees will be entitled to SSP in this scenario under new temporary SSP Regulations (see below).  Alternatively, where employees are fit enough to carry out some work whilst self-isolating and it is practicable for them to do so, employees would be paid their normal wages for the period they are carrying out work. 

Currently, the government’s advice is that where employees with symptoms of the coronavirus have attended work, employers do not need to take any special measures such as sending other staff home, closing the workplace or deep cleaning the workplace. This guidance is subject to change.   

In respect of employees who have attended the workplace and who test positive for coronavirus, the employer will be contacted by the relevant local Health Protection Team to identify those who have been in contact with the employee and to discuss any special measures for the employer to take.

Are employers required to carry out a specific risk assessment for coronavirus?

The virus should be approached like every other disease. Some employers (particularly in higher risk industries, such as healthcare) may already have in place disease control risk assessments. For individuals that have been in contact with suspected cases, no restrictions or special control measures are required while laboratory test results for Covid-19 are awaited. For those that have been in contact with confirmed cases of Covid-19, the advice on undergoing a period of 14 days of self-isolation applies. Where employees have been in contact with confirmed cases of Covid-19 or it is reasonably suspected that they have been, they will be entitled to receive statutory sick pay (SSP) during their absence from work, subject to meeting the eligibility criteria for SSP.  

Are employees entitled to pay where employers require them to stay away from work?

Employers may choose to go further than the advice from the Public Health bodies and, as a precautionary measure, ask require employees to stay away from work when they are not sick or are not self-isolating in accordance with current Public Health advice.  In those cases, employers will need to pay employees their normal salary for this absence. This is because the absence is at the employer’s request and is not sickness absence.  Alternatively, employers may choose to ask employees to work from home if this is an option in which case, of course, they would receive their usual pay.

What is the Government and Public Health Advice on Self-isolation?

The latest Government advice on self-isolation can be read at the gov.uk website

Previous government advice was that individuals returning from category 1 areas/countries should self-isolate for a period of 14 days from their return even where symptomless, with those returning from a category 2 area being required to self-isolate for 14 days only where they develop symptoms of the coronavirus. This advice has been replaced by the current advice on self-isolation:

  • Anyone who develops a high temperature (37.8 degrees and above) and/or a new, continuous cough must self-isolate for 7 days, but if you live with others, you must self-isolate for 14 days. They must stay at home and avoid all but essential contact with others for 7 days, or 14 days in a family or shared home, from the point of displaying those symptoms, to slow the spread of infection.
  • Individuals do not need to call NHS 111 to go into self-isolation. Where their symptoms worsen during home isolation or are no better after 7 days, they should contact NHS 111 online at 111.nhs.uk. For individuals without internet access, they should call NHS 111. For a medical emergency they should dial 999.
  • In Scotland, individuals should phone their GP or NHS 24 on 111 out of hours. Individuals in Northern Ireland should call 0300 200 7885.

Additionally, the government has advised schools to cancel trips abroad and for people over 70 with pre-existing health conditions not to go on cruises.

In the coming weeks, the government will be introducing further social distancing measures for older and vulnerable people, asking them to self-isolate regardless of symptoms. This factsheet will be updated once further measures are announced.

Do I have to pay Statutory Sick Pay if employees are required to self-isolate?

Employees who develop symptoms of the coronavirus or symptoms which require self-isolation will of course be unfit for work.  They will be entitled to SSP subject to meeting the qualifying criteria.

Temporary Reform of the SSP Rules

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, new Regulations known as The Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2000 came into force on 13 March 2020.  These will remain in force for a period of 8 months. These Regulations amend the Statutory Sick Pay (General) Regulations 1982 and provide that:

  • Individuals who self-isolate to prevent infection or contamination with coronavirus disease in accordance with guidance published by Public Health England, NHS National Services Scotland or Public Health Wales (i.e. advice from the public health bodies in Great Britain) and are unable to work for that reason will be entitled to SSP.

quivalent legislation has been passed in Northern Ireland with effect from 12 March 2020 where employees are self-isolating in accordance with guidance published by the Regional Agency for Public Health and Social Well-being (i.e. the public health body in Northern Ireland).

In other words, this extends the current entitlement to SSP to those employees who are self-isolating for 7 days in accordance with Public Health advice due to having a fever and/or new persistent cough. This is subject to employees meeting the qualifying criteria for SSP.

For SSP purposes, the employer cannot require a medical certificate for the first seven calendar days of sickness absence.  If employees need to provide evidence to their employer that they need to stay at home due to coronavirus, they will be able to get it from the NHS 111 Online instead of having to get a fit note from their doctor.

These Regulations have been passed in order to encourage self-isolation and to minimise the risks to public health arising from coronavirus disease.

It was announced in the Budget on 11 March 2020 that further reforms to the SSP rules will be introduced as follows. These reforms are set out in the Coronavirus Bill which is set to come into force at the end of March 2020 and applies across the UK (including Northern Ireland). These new measures (once enacted) are as follows:

  • People who cannot work due to coronavirus and are eligible for SSP will get it from day one, rather than from the fourth day of their illness (i.e. the 3 waiting days for SSP will be removed). The Coronavirus Bill provides that this will apply retrospectively from 13 March 2020 i.e. from the introduction of the new requirements around self-isolation for fever and cough symptoms and the further public health advice requiring self-isolation for 14 days for those who live with someone who has developed symptoms.
  • The Government will reimburse small and medium employers (i.e. those employing fewer than 250 employees, as determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020) any statutory sick pay they pay to employees for the first 14 days of sickness as a result of coronavirus.
  • Under the new rules, employers should maintain records of staff absences, but should not require employees to provide a GP fit note.  
  • As the Percentage Threshold Scheme which previously permitted small businesses to reclaim SSP from the Government was abolished in 2014, the government will set up a new repayment mechanism for employers for reclaiming SSP in due course.

For individuals who are not entitled to SSP, such as the self-employed and those that fall below the Lower Earnings Limit, a ‘new style’ Employment and Support Allowance through the welfare system will be payable for people directly affected by coronavirus or who are self-isolating according to government advice, from the first day of sickness or self-isolation.  Those individuals may also be entitled to Universal Credit.

Emergency Voluntary Leave

Recently retired health care and social care professionals (i.e. those whose registration to practice has ceased within the last 3 years), including retired doctors, nurses and midwifes, will be contacted by the National Medical Council and The Nursing and Midwifery Council to re-register with them on a voluntary basis in order to practice.  Under the new legislation to be introduced under the Bill, employees will have the statutory right to take Emergency Voluntary Leave in blocks of 2,3 or 4 weeks’ statutory unpaid leave. Those who take the leave will be entitled to a payment from the government to compensate for loss of earnings and expenses to be paid at a flat rate for those who volunteer through an appropriate authority. Employees who take the leave will be protected by employment legislation from dismissal or any other detriment as a result of taking the leave. They will remain employed for the duration of their leave (and will continue to accrue statutory rights, such as annual leave whilst on leave). They will have no right to remuneration from their employers during the period of leave. They will have the statutory right to return to their roles at the end of their leave.  Employers that employ those categories of retired professionals will need to permit employees to take this leave any accommodate any subsequent staff shortages. 

Contractual Sick Pay

Employers that offer enhanced contractual sick pay over and above SSP rates, should consider whether or not they will revise their contractual sick pay eligibility criteria for contractual sick pay or exercise discretion to include employees who are self-isolating as a result of coronavirus but not unwell, or whether to pay SSP only in this circumstance. Employers considering amending their enhanced sick pay schemes as a financial measure (including on a temporary basis) in view of the likely increase in staff sickness levels due to coronavirus and the new Government guidance on self-isolation (particularly in relation to self-isolation now being for up to 14 days) should bear in mind the following points: 

  • Employers with discretionary sick pay schemes whereby the employer operates the SSP scheme but may exercise their discretion to pay more than SSP in any particular case must exercise their discretion fairly and reasonably and not arbitrarily or capriciously. In particular, to maintain mutual trust and confidence, the employer should ensure consistency in their decision making and must not discriminate against a particular employee because of their disability.
  • Employers with contractual (enhanced) sick pay schemes can only lawfully change the criteria for payment (including on a temporary basis during the coronavirus outbreak) with employees’ agreement, or in accordance with any contractual flexibility clause.  This means that a failure to make a payment in accordance with the rules of the scheme would amount to a breach of contract and, depending on whether the breach is sufficiently serious or not, it may entitle the employee to claim constructive dismissal (in the latter case, subject to the employee having at least 2 years’ service, or 1 years’ service in Northern Ireland

What about employees who are unable to attend work due to school closures or due to dependents self-isolating?

The government has now moved to the “delay” phase of its action plan with closure of schools across the UK having been put in place (to remain in place possibly until September), with the exception of the continued provision of schooling for “key workers” and vulnerable children. School closures will inevitably impact on childcare arrangements and employees’ ability to attend work, unless those employees fall within the limited category of parents for whom schools remain open.  In this scenario, it is also likely to be more difficult for employees to find replacement childcare cover.  Elder care arrangements may also be adversely affected.

Section 57A of the Employment Rights Act 1996 gives employees the right to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work because (amongst other reasons) of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant. This statutory provision may apply where employees have children they need to arrange childcare for because their child’s school is closed, or to arrange care for their child or another dependant if they’re sick, or need to go into isolation.  An employee may complain to an Employment Tribunal where their employer has failed to permit them to take time off under this provision. Employees also have the right not to be subjected to any detriment for reasons relating to time off for dependants and any dismissal on these grounds is automatically unfair, regardless of the length of the employee’s employment.  

As the statutory regime does not apply to planned time off to care for dependants, it is unlikely to apply where school closures are known about in advance (for example, it may only apply to the first couple of days of a school closure, whilst longer-term childcare arrangements are put in place). Also, the statutory right is to a “reasonable” amount of time off only, so it may not extend to a 14-day self-isolation period, or longer period of school closure. 

However, the Government announced at the Budget on 11 March 2020 that SSP will be extended to those caring for others who self-isolate as a result of coronavirus (presumably for up to 14 days), such that employers would treat this as sick leave.  Details of this have not yet been published and the temporary reform to the SSP rules in this regard has not yet been enacted.    

Employers with predominantly female staff, who tend to be the primary carers of dependants are most affected, so employers will need to consider how they will provide for this. Where this is practicable, employers should be flexible by permitting affected employers to work from home, or to alter their working hours on a temporary basis due to the school closures or where there is a temporary breakdown in existing childcare arrangements or arrangements for care of elderly dependants.  Alternatively, the employer may consider agreeing with the employee agree a period of unpaid leave or paid annual leave to cover the time off work. 

Should employees be encouraged to wear face masks to protect themselves from infection?

Employees are not recommended to wear facemasks (also known as surgical masks or respirators) to protect against the virus. Facemasks are only recommended to be worn by symptomatic individuals (advised by a healthcare worker) to reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to other people.

Public Health bodies recommend that the best way to reduce any risk of infection is good hygiene and avoiding direct or close contact (closer than 2 metres) with any potentially infected person.

Any member of staff who deals with members of the public from behind a full screen will be protected from airborne particles.

Face masks play a very important role in clinical settings, such as hospitals but there’s very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of these clinical settings. Facemasks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly and disposed of safely in order to be effective.

The advice form the World Health Organisation states that if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with a coronavirus infection.

How should employers respond where employees refuse to work?

To varying degrees, employees are likely to be anxious about the risks of being exposed to the virus, including when attending the workplace. The government has advised that homeworking should be put in place where possible. 

The government has advised against non-essential use of public transport for everyone and for commuters to vary travel times to avoid rush hour, where this is possible.  Where practicable, it may be possible to agree with employees a temporary variation of their working hours to avoid them travelling during rush hour, or to work from home where practicable. Due to their anxieties around the coronavirus, employees may refuse to attend work in cases where it is not possible for employees to work from home, or where, for example a period of annual leave cannot be agreed. Whilst their absence in this circumstance is likely to be unauthorized, it will be impossible in most cases to form a view that those anxieties are not genuinely held (particularly in view of the fact that Public Health advice is now to avoid all non-essential social contact), the best approach would be to attempt assuage employees’ anxieties by reassuring staff regarding the additional hygiene measures the employer has put in place to protect their health, safety and well-being, so far as practicable. It is unlikely to be reasonable to treat absences from work in those cases as unauthorized or as a disciplinary matter.

Where employees return to work from a period of self-isolation in accordance with public health advice, employers can require them to self-certify their absence. It is likely that the Government will introduce new legislation extending the period for self-certification for SSP purposes to 14 days due to self-isolation. Employers can still investigate the matter with their employee should they suspect the employee is not required to self-isolate in accordance with public health advice and can, for example, ask employees in England to provide a self-isolation note from NHS online 

Can I use Lay Offs and Short Time Working?

Most businesses have been severely affected by a downturn in work or custom. This has been caused initially as a result of public anxiety around contracting the virus through social mixing and latterly as a result of public health guidance to avoid non-essential social contact where practicable.  On 20 March 2020, the government ordered the closure of cafes, pubs and restaurants by that evening, except for take-away food. It further ordered that nightclubs, cinema, theatres, gyms and leisure centres should close “as soon as they reasonably can”.  A business operating in contravention of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closures) Regulations 2020 will be committing an offence.  On 23 March 2020, the government announced that all “non-essential” shops and community spaces are to be closed with immediate effect for at least 3 weeks and until further advised and the Regulations will be extended to apply to those businesses too (a full list of the non-essential businesses which are to close are available here.

Takeaway and delivery services may remain open and operational. This means people can continue to enter premises to access takeaway services, including delivery drivers.

Online retail is still open and encouraged and postal and delivery services continue to run as normal.

Employees working in those businesses which have closed or experienced a downturn in custom due to social distancing will be particularly impacted by lay-offs, short time working and potentially, redundancies.

However, the Chancellor has since announced the proposed introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.  Once this comes into force, all UK employers (i.e. employers in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales) will be able to access funding from HMRC to continue paying 80% of their employees’ employment costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month, for those employees who are not provided with work and that would otherwise have been laid off (or made redundant) during this crisis.  Please see our factsheet entitled Furlough Leave for guidance on the Scheme, although the precise details of the Scheme have not yet been formulated.  In view of this, it is advisable that employees be retained where possible or kept on lay off or short-time working where this is already in place. This is particularly those employees have accrued unfair dismissal rights, who may otherwise assert that a redundancy dismissal prior to the Scheme coming into place is unfair in the circumstances) until the new Scheme is in place  Please refer to our template Letter to Staff about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (Furlough).   

Where this may avoid redundancies, or whilst employers await the introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, lay-offs and short time working can be put in place to address temporary work shortages or business closures, without having to resort to redundancy. However, employers can only lawfully take this action to avoid potential unlawful deductions from wages claims or breach of contract claims where employees agree to being laid off or kept on short-time working, or it is provided for in the contract (e.g. the contract contains a “lay-off” and/or “short-time working” clause).  Please refer to our factsheet on Lay-offs, Short Time Working and Guarantee Payments for further guidance.

What about Variations of Contract?

Businesses affected by a downturn are considering other temporary measures to avoid the need for redundancies and whilst awaiting the introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, such as introducing a temporary reduction in pay, working hours, or removing/reducing certain contractual benefits.  Employers will need to consult with staff to obtain their agreement to these measures in the absence of any relevant contractual flexibility clauses or short-time working clauses. Please refer, for example, to our template Letter Seeking Agreement To Vary Terms of Contract of Employment. 

On the other hand, there will be a significant increase in workload for staff that are able to continue working during the coronavirus outbreak, particularly in certain sectors such as healthcare and social care. Employers need to consider what measures they can put in place to support those staff in helping them to manage increased workloads.  In the absence of existing contractual overtime provisions, employers will need to seek staff agreement to working overtime.  Employers may, for example, seek to agree a short period of lay off in the first instance which is kept under regularly review, with consent for a further period of lay off sought where necessary.  Agreement to any period of lay off should be confirmed in writing in the absence of existing contractual lay off provisions.   

What general measures can I take in the Workplace?

Employers should continue to monitor the latest travel advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office as this advice is rapidly changing.  At present the government has advised against all but essential travel.  Many international borders have however now closed making international travel impossible in most cases.

Whilst employees are now working from home where practicable and some businesses have been told by the government to temporarily close for at least 3 weeks and until further advised (please see above section on Lay offs and Short Time Working for details of these types of businesses), for those that are still attending their workplace, please refer to our factsheet, Employment Law Issues During a Pandemic Virus for guidance on workplace health and safety measures. In addition to informing staff of the new government requirements around self-isolation and social distancing, staff should be reminded (such as through written notices displayed in the workplace) to strictly adhere to the following hygiene practices:

  • Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and to use an alcohol-based sanitiser gel where this is not available; as well as carrying tissues and using them to catch coughs and sneezes, and disposing of used tissues in the bin straight away. 

Employers should ensure that soap and running water is readily available in the workplace. It is also good practice to make available supplies of alcohol-based sanitisers, particularly for mobile workers who may not always have access to soap and water.  Employers should ensure that all potentially high-contact work areas, such as toilets, door handles and shared office equipment are regularly cleaned using household type detergents. The government has produced guidance on cleaning in non-health care settings, which can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings    

Where homeworking is not practicable and employees are still attending their workplace, it is also good practice for employers to:

  • keep everyone updated on actions being taken to reduce risks of exposure in the workplace
  • ensure employees who are in a vulnerable group are strongly advised to follow social distancing guidance (as set out above)
  • make sure everyone’s contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date
  • make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, for example sickness reporting and sick pay, and procedures in case someone in the workplace is potentially infected and needs to take the appropriate action

Employers should also remind employees of any existing risk assessments for reducing the risk of infection in the workplace and should ensure that these are still relevant and sufficient.    

The NHS has produced some posters around hygiene measures that can be displayed in public areas: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/866065/Handwashing_techniques.pdf

Government guidance applicable since 23 March 2020, which is to remain in place for at least 3 weeks and until further notice, states that retail and public premises which remain open to the public must:

  • Ensure a distance of two meters between customers and shop assistants; and
  • Let people enter the shop only in small groups, to ensure that spaces are not crowded.
  • Queue control is required outside of shops and other essential premises that remain open.

Financial Support for Employers, Employees and Businesses

At the Budget on 11 March 2020, the Government announced other measures it will introduce to support businesses that experience increased costs or disruptions to their cashflow as a result of coronavirus, including a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and a dedicated HMRC helpline for those who need a deferral period on their tax liabilities.  Lending banks have also put in place their own measures to assist businesses during this period. The Government has since announced a wider range of financial support during the coronavirus epidemic, which includes the proposed introduction of the Coronavirus Retention Scheme. A summary of the government support can be found in the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19.

We would expect to see an amendment to the Coronavirus Bill providing for Regulations to be made for government financial support for the self-employed who are not in scope for financial assistance under the proposed Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme soon, although no legislation has yet been passed by Parliament in this regard. Currently, self-employed individuals would need to apply for government benefits such as Universal Credit in the absence of any alternative financial support.

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Looking after your mental health

COVID-19 will be causing stress and worry for small businesses and the self-employed, and it is more important than ever to make sure you are taking steps to support your own mental health as well as that of any employees you may have.

Support and resources that can help:

  • FSB’s Wellbeing in Small Business hub
  • FSB Care is a long-term service providing practical advice and emotional support from a dedicated nurse for chronic physical or mental health conditions, disability or bereavement. If your concerns relate to any of these areas then please call 0808 20 20 888, Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm. However, if you feel that you need urgent medical attention telephone your GP or 111.
  • Mind has issued tailored support for mental health in the wake of COVID-19, which includes tips for taking care of your mental health if you have been asked to stay and work at home.
  • The Government also has online advice to help support people with specific mental health needs on the gov.uk website 
  • Heads Together Workplace Wellbeing hub
  • NHS
  • Samaritans. Whatever you’re going through, you can call the Samaritans for free at any time, from any phone on 116 123. They are available to offer support 24/7. 
    If you need a response immediately, it’s best to call on the phone, otherwise you can email them, visit a local branch or write to them. Click here for more contact information.

Coronavirus: Looking After your Mental Health & Wellbeing

With twenty four hour news feeds and social media talking about Coronavirus and the steps we need to take to protect ourselves and others it can be easy to forget that your mental health is just as important as your physical. We have seven tips to help you check in with yourself in our blog. 


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