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Government assistance and advice on the coronavirus outbreak

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The government has issued a general guide for employers which can be found at www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19

The UK government is putting in place a number of methods to assist individuals and businesses with the financial effect of the coronavirus, some details are provided below.

Outstanding tax liabilities – Time to Pay

The government has reallocated 2,000 staff to assist with a new coronavirus specific helpline as part of HMRC’s time to pay service. Arrangements are made on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities. HMRC has stated that where you are unable to pay due to coronavirus it will discuss your specific circumstances to explore:

  • Agreeing an instalment arrangement
  • Suspending debt collection proceedings
  • Cancelling penalties and interest where you have administrative difficulties contacting or paying HMRC immediately

If you are considering requesting such an arrangement, you should contact HMRC on 0800 015 9559 (Lines are open; Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm, Saturday, 8am to 4pm).

When contacting HMRC’s Time to Pay service, you will need to know:

  • Your reference number (for example, your 10-digit Unique Taxpayer Reference or VAT reference number)
  • The amount of the tax bill you are finding it difficult to pay and the reasons why
  • What you have done to try to get the money to pay the bill
  • How much you can pay immediately and how long you may need to pay the rest
  • Your bank account details

Additional information can be found on the gov.uk website: www.gov.uk/difficulties-paying-hmrc

Please note, HMRC will charge interest on late payments even under the Time to Pay procedure.  The interest rates for late payments, currently charged at the rate of 3.25% per annum, are expected to be revised following the Bank of England interest rate decrease.


Statutory Sick Pay

To make sure people in work can take the necessary time off to stay at home if they are suffering from coronavirus or to prevent its spread, changes have been made to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

These include:

  • 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 – this measure should apply retrospectively from 13 March 2020
  • SSP will be payable to people who are staying at home on government advice, not just those who are infected, from 13 March 2020 – employers are urged to use their discretion about what evidence, if any, they ask for
  • 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 (currently under development)

Whilst employers are currently required to bear the cost of SSP, for businesses with fewer than 250 employees as at 28 Feb 2020, the government has pledged to refund the cost of providing SSP for the first 14 days.

Currently, no repayment mechanism is in place. However, businesses should keep records of all such staff absences since 13 March 2020 in preparation for this.

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

A new temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank, is expected to launch in a matter of weeks to support businesses to access bank lending and overdrafts. The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to a per-lender cap on claims) to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to SMEs. The government will not charge businesses or banks for this guarantee, and the Scheme will support loans of up to £1.2 million in value. The scheme’s details are yet to be finalised, however details are available on the British Business Bank website at www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/supporting-business-loans-enterprise-finance-guarantee

Business Rates

For one year, for those in the retail sector the business rates discount is being increased to 100% and the 100% relief is being extended to those in the leisure and hospitality sectors.  The relief applies to businesses using a property with a rateable value of less than £51,000.

The planned rates discount for pubs is being increased to £5,000.

Additionally, businesses already eligible for Small Business Rate Relief or Rural Rate Relief will additionally have the ability to apply for a £3,000 cash grant to help meet ongoing business cost.

For more information on the reliefs available businesses should contact their Local Authority.

If you require further advice, please contact us. You may also wish to read our article ‘Dealing with distress: Top 10 tips for dealing with COVID-19 financial distress’ which offers practical guidance on the actions you can take to increase the resilience of your business at this challenging time.

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