Home COVID19: Business Information, Advice and FAQs

COVID19: Business Information, Advice and FAQs

Coronavirus (Covid-19) is putting the business community under extreme pressure resulting in huge and unprecedented challenges.

In this section, local businesses and self employed individuals can access all the latest information on financial assistance and support programmes, practical advice as well as a comprehensive frequently asked questions section.

Financial Support

This Scheme closed on Wednesday 20 May 2020.

The Northern Ireland Executive has made two grants available to local businesses.

  • A one-off grant of £10,000 will be provided to all small businesses who are eligible for the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme (i.e. all businesses with a NAV up to £15,000) or who currently benefit from Industrial Derating. This grant scheme also includes businesses occupying rental properties.
  • A grant of £25,000 will be provided to companies in the retail, tourism and hospitality sectors with a rateable value between £15,001 and £51,000. This grant scheme also includes businesses occupying rental properties.
  • More information: here

Hardship Fund is aimed at helping micro-businesses (less than 10 employees) that require financial support due to the impact of Covid-19. Only one grant will be paid to each eligible business which has not qualified for the £10,000 Coronavirus Small Business Grant, the £25,000 Retail, Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure Sector Business Grant and and Covid-19 Childcare Support Grant. Social enterprises and charities will be able to access the Fund if they meet the eligibility criteria.

The level of Hardship grant will be up to £10,000 for business which pay business rates on premises and up to £5,000 for those that don’t pay business rates. Only one grant will be paid to each eligible business irrespective of how many properties the business occupies. Businesses should note that other non-repayable Government grants related to Covid-19 will be taken into account and will be deducted, where applicable, from the final grant awarded.

The Fund, which is being administered by Invest NI, will close for applications at 6.00pm on Friday 12 June 2020.

Support includes increased advice and support, longer-term skills, capacity building initiatives and a £50 million Heritage Emergency Fund. Grants from £3,000 to £50,000 and £50,000 to £250,000 are available. The Fund is intended to safeguard heritage sites and organisations in which the Heritage Lottery has previously invested.

A grant to cover 80% of salaries for paid workers up to a maximum of £2,500 per month or £576.92 per week. While on furlough, employee’s wages will be subject to usual income tax and other deductions. Employers can top up salaries further if they choose to, but are not required to.

The scheme will be backdated to 1 March 2020 and will be open until 31 October 2020. The scheme will be available for all employees currently paid via PAYE and includes a mechanism to address the position of zero hour’s workers and other employees who may not be entitled to receive standard rates of pay.

This scheme allows self-employed individuals or members of partnerships in the UK who have lost income due to Covid-19 to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of their average trading profits up to a maximum of £7,500 (equivalent to three months’ profits) paid in a single instalment.

Those eligible will have the money paid into their bank account by 25 May 2020, or within six working days of completing a claim. HMRC will be contacting customers eligible for the Scheme from 4 May 2020 however customers are also being encouraged to check their eligibility using the online eligibility checker.

The Scheme which is designed to support the childcare sector is open for applications.

Financial assistance is available to:

  • Registered daycare settings, school age childcare settings and childminders that remain open for vulnerable children and those of key workers; and
  • Daycare and school age childcare settings which remain closed and are unable to reopen.

The Department of Health has written to registered childcare providers and issued applications to those eligible to apply – any provider entitled to apply to the Scheme should have received an application form at this stage.

More information including help to complete an application: www.familysupportni.gov.uk/Support/91/covid19-childcare-options-and-associated-guidance

This scheme will provide loans up to £5 million, guaranteed by Government, for smaller businesses across the UK who are experiencing lost or deferred revenues, leading to disruptions to their cashflow. Businesses can access the first 12 months of finance interest-free and fee-free, as the government will cover the first 12 months of interest payments and any lender-levied charges.

This scheme will provide loans up to £25 million, guaranteed by Government, to firms with an annual turnover of more than £45 million. From 26 May 2020, firms with a turnover of more than £250 million will be able to apply for loans up to £200 million. Businesses can access the first 12 months of finance interest-free and fee-free, as the Government will cover the first 12 months of interest payments and any lender-levied charges.

The Scheme will assist small and medium-sized businesses to borrow between £2,000 and £50,000. Government will guarantee 100% of loans with no fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months. Loan terms will be up to six years with no repayments due during the first 12 months. Government to work with lenders to agree a low interest rate for the remaining period of the loan. Scheme will be delivered through a network of accredited lenders.

Banks, insurers and reinsurers (not insurance brokers), public sector bodies, state-funded primary and secondary schools are not eligible to apply.

Eligibility

You can apply for a loan if your business:

  • Is based in the UK
  • Has been negatively affected by COVID-19
  • Was not an ‘undertaking in difficulty’ on 31 December 2019

If you are already claiming under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) you cannot apply. If you have already received a loan of up to £50,000 under CBILS you may wish to transfer it into the Bounce Back Loan Scheme.  This can be arranged with your lender until 4 November 2020.

Delivered in partnership with the British Business Bank, the £500 million scheme will provide loans to high-growth UK-based companies ranging from £125,000 to £5 million, subject to at least equal match funding from private investors. Loans may be an option for businesses that rely on equity investment but are unable to access CBILS.

With immediate effect until 30 June 2020, measures to be implemented to ensure that Government Departments, including those in Northern Ireland, pay contractors as quickly as possible to maintain cashflow and protect jobs.  Payments will continue to flow promptly even if the contract cannot be delivered as previously agreed. Departments will take action to continue to pay suppliers at risk due to COVID-19 on a continuity and retention basis so they are able to resume normal service delivery and fulfil their obligations when the outbreak is over.

£750 million of targeted support will be made available through Innovate UK’s grant and loan scheme. Up to £200 million of grant and loan payments will be accelerated for 2,500 existing Innovate UK customers on an opt-in basis. An additional £550 million will be made available to increase support for existing customers. £175,000 will be offered to approximately 1,200 firms not currently in receipt of Innovate UK funding.

The Prince’s Trust and NatWest have launched a £5 million grant fund for young entrepreneurs whose businesses have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The Enterprise Relief Fund aims to help 18-30 year olds keep their businesses afloat during the Covid-19 crisis. In conjunction with grants, the initiative will offer one-to-one support and guidance.

Eligibility

  • Department for Communities has launched a £1.5 million Creative Support Fund for the Arts Sector in Northern Ireland.
  • The Fund will provide financial support for a diverse range of performing artists and community art organisations.

The Organisations Emergency Programme

  • The Organisations Emergency Programme, which is scheduled to open in May 2020, will support small and medium-sized organisations to apply for maximum funding of £25,000 to help them develop new projects or programmes or re-arrange events which have had to be cancelled as a result of COVID-19.
  • The Creative Support Fund (incorporating both Emergency Programmes) are being administered by the Arts Council NI.
  • More information: www.artscouncil-ni.org

National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is coordinating applications for nationally supported or funded Covid-19 Urgent Public Health Research. Covid-19 research is being prioritised to gather the necessary clinical and epidemiological evidence that will inform national policy and enable new diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines to be developed and tested for Covid-19.

Open to all UK businesses, the Bank of England will buy short term debt from larger companies in order to help finance short term liabilities. The facility will purchase commercial paper (which is an unsecured, short-term debt instrument issued by a company) of up to one-year maturity. The minimum size of an individual security that the fund will purchase from an individual participant is £1 million, with financing terms comparable to those prevailing in markets before Covid-19. To access the scheme you will need to contact your bank.  Not all banks issue commercial paper so if this applies to your bank, UK Finance will provide a list of banks that are able to assist.

More information: www.bankofengland.co.uk or www.ukfinance.org.uk/covid-19-corporate-financing-facilities

Relief and Rebate Schemes

All NI businesses (with the exception of public sector and utilities) will have their rates waived until 31 July 2020. No rates will be charged for April, May, June or July 2020, reducing the 2020-21 annual rate bill by just over 33%. This amount does not need to be paid back. The 2020-21 rates bills will be issued in July 2020.

Ratepayers can still choose to pay their bill in monthly instalments between July 2020 and March 2021. Monthly Direct Debit payment plans will be automatically updated to collect payments between July 2020 and March 2021.

The regional rate for 2020-21 has not been set yet, so it is not yet possible to estimate your rate bill for 2020-21. The Small Business Rate Relief scheme will be continued in 2020-21. Eligibility is based on the Net Annual Value (NAV) of your business property.

There is no application procedure, relief will be applied automatically to your business rates bill by LPS if you qualify. This will ensure that if you are eligible you will receive the benefit of the rate relief immediately.

The Hardship Rate Relief for non-domestic property is intended to assist a business recover from a temporary crisis, financial or otherwise, as a result of exceptional circumstances. The relief can provide up to 100% of rates owed for the period of hardship against the rating year the application is received. Hardship Rate Relief is only available on rates that are due, therefore, it will not be possible to claim it for April, May and June 2020. However, if your business has been affected during February and March 2020, you can apply.

The following will pay no rates (100% relief) for the full 2020/2021 financial year (up until 31 March 2020):

  • Hospitality, tourism, leisure and retail properties (with the exception of retail food stores over 300m2 and off licences)
  • Childcare Establishments
  • Belfast City, Belfast International and City of Derry Airports

More information: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/covid-19-emergency-rates-package-businesses or www.finance-ni.gov.uk/lps

The Regional Rate has been adjusted downward to offset the change in the total rateable value due to Reval2020. A further 12.5% cut has now been made in the NI Budget 2020-21. This will effectively see an 18% reduction on the 2019-20 figure which is intended to benefit all business ratepayers and help with the economic recovery needed on the other side of the Coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to the Covid-19 measures announced, there are other existing reliefs available to help business ratepayers. These rate support schemes include:

  • Charitable Exemption for rates: offers charitable bodies 100% relief.
  • Sports and Recreation Rate Relief: provides sport and recreation bodies 80% relief on the parts of their premises that are used for sporting purposes. Community amateur sports clubs receive 100% relief.
  • Industrial Derating: provides manufacturing businesses with a 70% reduction in rates.
  • Non-Domestic Vacant Rating: rates are payable on vacant non-domestic properties at 50% of the normal level.

Small and medium-sized businesses and employers (employers with less than 250 employees on or before 28 February 2020) can reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to Covid-19. The rebate will cover up to two weeks Statutory Sick Pay per employee.

The Scheme covers all types of employment contracts including: full-time, part-time, agency contracts, flexible or zero-hour. The eligible period for the scheme is on or after 13 March 2020.

Online service for small and medium sized employers to recover Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) payments will open on Tuesday 26 May 2020.

Options to Defer and or Extend

The Government will be automatically deferring business payment for Value Added Tax (VAT). Deferral will apply from 20 March 2020 until 30 June 2020 and all UK businesses are eligible. 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 you VAT return.

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.

  • More information: contact the HMRC Coronavirus Helpline on 0800 024 1222

Payments due in July 2020 to be deferred to January 2021. No applications required as deferral will be automatic. No penalties or interest for late payments will be applied in this period.

Firms and individuals who are in temporary financial distress as a result of Covid-19 and have outstanding tax liabilities may apply to HMRC to defer tax payments. Agree to defer tax payments through HMRC’s “Time To Pay” service. These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities. HMRC has also scaled up their “Time to Pay offer” and have established a dedicated COVID-19 helpline.

From 25 March 2020, businesses will be able to apply for a three month extension for filing their accounts. Applications can be made through a fast-tracked online system which will take 15 minutes to complete. Companies should simply cite Covid-19 or Health matters as the grounds for their application. Extensions applied for on these grounds will be automatically and immediately granted.

Late filing penalties

If you do not apply for an extension and your accounts have been filed late, an automatic penalty will be imposed. The registrar has very limited discretion not to collect a penalty. Each appeal is treated on a case-by-case basis, and GOV.UK already has policies in place to deal with appeals based upon unforeseen poor health. Appeals based upon Covid-19 will be considered under these policies but will be treated sympathetically.

Strike-off process temporarily paused

Support is available to help businesses avoid being struck off the Companies House register as they deal with the impact of Covid-19. Businesses will be given additional support to help them meet their legal responsibilities. Strike-off process will be temporarily paused for an undisclosed period to prevent companies being dissolved.

Benefit Support

Increasing basic element by £1,000 for the next 12 months.

To be increased by £1,000 per year for the next 12 months. Persons who are self-employed have access in full to Universal Credit, providing they meet the usual eligibility criteria. The requirements of the Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed. This change will apply to all Universal Credit claimants and will last for the duration of the Coronavirus outbreak. The standard allowance in Universal Credit and the basic element in Working Tax Credit will both increase by £20 per week on top of planned annual uprating i.e. additional income of £1,040 per annum. Local Housing Allowance rates will pay for at least 30% of market rents in each area. This applies to all private renters who are new or existing Universal Credit housing element claimants and to existing Housing Benefit claimants.

Practical Assistance

In Northern Ireland the Public Health Agency (PHA) take the lead and co-ordinate all advice and information. Their website can be accessed via the link below and should contain the most up to date local information and guidance: www.publichealth.hscni.net/

Similar information is also available from NI Direct www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/coronavirus-covid-19

Government and the NI Executive have announced restrictions on the public and businesses to combat the spread of Covid 19.

Frequently Asked Questions

What businesses can continue to operate?

The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed new powers to combat the spread of Coronavirus (Covid-19). The regulations came into effect at 11.00pm on Saturday 28 March and provide clarity on what retail services and other venues may remain open in Northern Ireland, and which should close immediately.

The regulations are designed to manage premises where the public gathered and therefore to reduce the spread of Covid-19 between people.

More information: www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/health-protection-coronavirus-restrictions-northern-ireland-regulations-2020

The current list of essential businesses and services can be found at: www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-essential-businesses-and-services

A number of amendments have been made to The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020 and changes will continue to be made as the Northern Ireland Executive permit certain premises to re-open.

Relevant authorities, including PSNI and more recently district councils have been designated by the Department of Health to enforce the requirements to restrict or close premises during the emergency period.

Any queries about the closure or restrictions in premises should be directed to our Environmental Health Department by email or telephone 0300 0300 900.

How can my company manage the risk of Covid-19?
Companies who are still working must operate in compliance with Government and PHA guidelines.

The Department for the Economy has published safety guidance for workplaces giving practical advice and steps to be considered during the Covid-19 crisis. It includes advice on public health guidelines, safer work practices and mental health and wellbeing.

More information here: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/sites/default/files/Covid-19-Working-Through-This-Together_0.pdf

Key guidance provided to businesses include:

  • Encourage employees to work at home, wherever possible;
  • Have systems in place to ensure that if someone becomes unwell in the workplace with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should be sent home and advised to follow the advice to stay at home;
  • Employees should be reminded to wash their hands regularly throughout the day for at least 20 seconds on each occasion, and to sneeze into tissues and dispose of the tissues promptly – Catch it, Bin it, Kill it. (suitable washing facilities with soap and warm water or hand sanitisers must be provided);
  • Frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products.

In their risk assessment, companies should also take account of the general advice regarding distancing and ensure that it is observed between employees both at their workstations and in other areas of their
premises.

Advice can be found at https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-workplace-safety-guidelines-and-social-distancing

Where this cannot be achieved within the normal working environment, additional means of protection should be considered.

For example:

  • Reduce number of workers on site at any one time;
  • Relocating workers to other tasks;
  • Redesigning processes to allow social distancing in place;
  • Put in place temporary barriers between staff;
  • Utilise technology such as teleconferencing instead of face to face meetings;
  • Adjust workflow or production line speeds.

Public Health guidance on the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) relates to health care settings. In all other settings individuals are asked to observe social distancing measures and practise good hand hygiene behaviours.

Do I need to revise my company’s Risk Assessment to take account of Covid-19 risks?
Employers should continue to ensure that an appropriate assessment of the risk from Covid-19 in their workplace is carried out and appropriate measures put in place in line with current Public Health Agency guidelines.

A template risk assessment for Covid–19 is available from the following link: www.hseni.gov.uk/news/example-risk-assessment-covid-19-workplaces

These measures should be communicated to all relevant employees and others at the place of work. Control measures will depend on the level of risk and type of workplace and should not reduce the level of protection afforded by existing measures (for example keeping fire doors open to reduce the risk from contaminated door handles creates increased risk. Appropriate regular cleaning and advice on hand hygiene is appropriate).

Where there is a requirement to carry out work at other locations outside of the employer’s workplace, employees should comply with site rules and take into account the wider PHA advice regarding good hygiene practices and separation distances. Consideration should also be given to any other persons who may be affected by their work.

Critically, employers should take into account the most up to date official advice and guidance from the Public Health Agency on how to mitigate the health risk to employees and others at the place of work. Employers are advised to keep up to date on Covid-19 by referring to the Public Health Agency website www.publichealth.hscni.net/

Useful links for businesses on Covid-19:

Where can I obtain more specific advice relating to health and safety issues that have been made more difficult due to Covid-19 restrictions?
The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) have produced answers to Frequently Asked Questions by businesses in the following link: https://www.hseni.gov.uk/articles/covid-19-frequently-asked-health-and-safety-questions

So far they have answered queries relating to:

  • First Aid: Advice for people holding first aid at work certificates due to expire
  • Training Certificates due to expire.
  • Training in relation to the redeployment of staff and temporary cover
  • Statutory Inspections (Lifting Equipment, Pressure Systems etc.)
  • Safety Critical Functions
  • Time requirements of reporting on injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences
  • Increased risk associated with the operation of Wet Cooling Plant and Coronavirus outbreak
  • Driver Welfare
  • Gas Safe Engineers

Social economy businesses are encouraged to establish if they are eligible for support from the following:

  • National Lottery Community Fund
  • Department for Communities’ Covid-19 Community Support Fund
  • Community Foundation for Northern Ireland’s Coronavirus Community Fund
  • NET Fund
  • Halifax Foundation Northern Ireland Coronavirus response

More information:

Commercial tenants who cannot pay their rent because of Covid-19 will be protected from eviction. No business will automatically forfeit their lease and be forced out of their premises if they miss a payment up until 30 June 2020.

There is also the option for the government to extend this period if needed. This is not a rental holiday, and all commercial tenants will still be liable for the rent.

All commercial tenants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are eligible.

Support for businesses with supply chains which rely on Trade Credit Insurance. Trade Credit Insurance provides cover to businesses, particularly in the non-service sector such as manufacturing and construction.

To avoid the risk of credit insurance being withdrawn or premium hikes, the government will temporary guarantee business-to-business transactions currently supported by Trade Credit Insurance.

This will support supply chains and help businesses to trade with confidence as they can trust that they will be protected if a customer defaults on payment.

More information: www.gov.uk/government/news/government-to-support-businesses-through-trade-credit-insurance-guarantee

Tourism and hospitality support

Coronavirus (Covid-19) is a major global issue affecting the Tourism and Hospitality sectors on a international scale as well as on a local level. Find further support and advice available to these sectors here

FAQs

Access a comprehensive overview of key business queries and concerns during the Covid-19 crisis in our Frequently Asked Questions section here.

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