COVID-19

General Government Advice

The following websites provided general, regularly updated advice from the UK Government and NI Executive for businesses on how to deal with COVID-19.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): UK government response

NI Business Info

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Announced by the Chancellor on Friday 20 March, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be available to all employers who will be able to apply to HMRC for a grant to cover 80% of the wages of retained workers who are furloughed (i.e. given a leave of absence from work) because of the COVID-19 outbreak and are kept on the payroll rather than being laid off. The scheme will be backdated to 1 March 2020 and automatically includes Northern Ireland. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be open for 4 months but the Chancellor has said that it will be extended if needed.

HMRC’s online portal is now open for claims and can be accessed by following this link – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

Guidance has been published by the Government including more detail about how the scheme will operate.  This can be found at the following webpage – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

This scheme will be provided by the British Business Bank through participating providers including Danske, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank, and will offer more attractive terms for both businesses applying for new facilities and lenders, with the aim of supporting the continued provision of finance to UK businesses during the Covid-19 outbreak. The scheme will provide the lender with a government-backed guarantee against the outstanding facility balance. The Government will also cover the first 12 months of interest payments, so businesses will benefit from lower initial repayments. The business remains liable for repayments of the capital. The maximum value of a facility provided under the scheme will be £5 million.

More information can be found at https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme-cbils/

Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS)

The Government has also announced the creation of a Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme which is intended to support larger businesses, with an annual turnover of between £45 million and £500 million, to access loans of up to £25 million.

The scheme to be delivered through commercial lenders with the Government providing lenders with an 80% guarantee on individual loans for businesses that would be otherwise unable to access the finance they need. Facilities backed by a guarantee under CLBILS will be offered at commercial rates of interest.

To access CLBILS, a business must be based in the UK, have an annual turnover of between £45 million and £500 million and be unable to secure regular commercial financing, and they must also have a borrowing proposal which the lender would consider viable, if not for the coronavirus pandemic and believes will enable the business to to trade out of any short-term to medium-term difficulty.

More information about the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme can be found at – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-the-coronavirus-large-business-interruption-loan-scheme

 

Self-Employed Income Support Scheme

The Chancellor announced a Self-Employed Income Support Scheme on Thursday 26 March.  This scheme will pay self-employed people a direct cash grant of 80% of their average profits over the last 3 years, up to £2,500 a month for those with average profits of £50,000 or less.  The income scheme will cover the three months to May with grants paid in a single lump sum instalment covering all 3 months and will start to be paid at the beginning of June.  More information about this scheme can be found on the following link – https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chancellor-gives-support-to-millions-of-self-employed-individuals .

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

Due to changes which the Government have passed through Parliament, employers with fewer than 250 employees are now able to reclaim up to 2 weeks of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) per employee for sickness absence due to COVID-19. The size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020. The mechanism for reclaiming SSP is not yet in place.

 

VAT

VAT payments for the next quarter (i.e. the period from 20 March to 30 June 2020) will be deferred. Taxpayers will have until the end of the tax year 2020/21 to pay any VAT liabilities that accumulate over the deferral period.

Rates

As a result of the announcement by the Finance Minister Conor Murphy MLA on Tuesday 17 March ( https://www.finance-ni.gov.uk/news/covid-19-ps100m-emergency-rates-package-businesses ), all businesses in Northern Ireland will not pay any rates for the first three months of this year, saving businesses a total of £100 million. The Minister has said that as part of the Executive’s budget, he will bring proposals forward for a reduction in the regional business rate that will also benefit all businesses.

Grant Scheme

On Wednesday 18 March, the NI Executive announced that they would be introducing a grant scheme for some businesses. This has two elements:

  • A £10,000 for all businesses who are eligible for the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme (i.e. all businesses with a Rateable Net Annual Value (NAV) up to £15,000); and
  • A grant of £25,000 to companies in the retail, hospitality and tourism sectors with a NAV between £15,000 and £51,000.

Businesses are now able to register online to receive the £10,000 Small Business Grants.  To ensure that your business gets the grant it is entitled to, please go to the following Department for the Economy webpage and provide the requested details – https://www.covid-19smallbusinessgrants.economy-ni.gov.uk/

Registration for applications for the £25,000 Retail, Hospitality, Tourism and leisure Grant is now open.   Further details on eligibility and how to apply can be found on the following website – https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-£25000-retail-hospitality-tourism-and-leisure-grant

Tax

HMRC has set up a new helpline to help businesses concerned about paying their tax due to coronavirus (COVID-19). The helpline allows any business or self-employed individual who is concerned about paying their tax due to coronavirus to get practical help and advice. Up to 2,000 experienced call handlers are available to support businesses and individuals when needed.

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

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

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

Tourism Sector Advice

Tourism NI has set up a dedicated tapeline service and online enquiry facility to assist the sector with any queries they may have as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The service can be accessed by calling 028 95925313 between 9am and 5pm Monday to Sunday.