Home COVID19: Support for Businesses

COVID19: Support for Businesses

Welcome to the Business Support Hub providing you with support and guidance from a variety of government departments and agencies during this unprecedented and difficult time.

For the most up to date information, please visit www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk

The ABC Business Support team is now working remotely, please contact us to request a call back.

Page last updated: 6 April 2020, 3.30pm.

Support and advice

  • The Northern Ireland Executive has announced two immediate grants will be 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). This will benefit around 27,000 businesses.
  • A grant of £25,000 will be provided to companies in the retail, tourism and hospitality sectors with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000. This should assist 4,000 business.
  • The schemes will be administered by the Department for the Economy and Invest Northern Ireland working with the Department of Finance’s Land & Property Services.
  • Applicable businesses will not be disadvantaged as a result of Reval 2020.
  • More information: www.finance-ni.gov.uk/landing-pages/reval2020

How will eligible businesses be identified?

  • The ratings system will be used as the mechanism to identify eligible businesses in Northern Ireland.
  • Last year’s rating list will be the basis for payment.
  • Businesses who are eligible as a result of revaluation are also being identified.
  • Businesses with multiple properties will only be eligible for one grant in total.
  • Vacant properties and MLA Constituency Offices are not eligible for this grant.

Rental properties and landlords

  • For rental properties, the scheme is designed to benefit small businesses and not landlords or managing agents.
  • A new online form for rental properties is to be made available in the coming days.  This will apply to landlords and managing agents of properties with a rateable value of £1,590 or less and small businesses in the same position.
  • Landlords can request a mortgage holiday to get a break from paying their mortgage for a fixed period of time. Government recommend a three month period break. Mortgage loans will still attract interest during this time and will be added to future payments. Negotiations are required between lessee and landlord to reach a solution on payment.

How and when will businesses receive payment?

  • Payments have been processed in respect of 6,775 businesses eligible to receive the £10,000 grant who pay their business rates by direct debit and for whom bank details were held by LPS.
  • Businesses that qualify for a £10,000 grant but who do not currently pay business rates by direct debit can provide their bank details by completing an online registration form: www.covid-19smallbusinessgrants.economy-ni.gov.uk/
  • Please ensure to accurately complete the online registration form to avoid delays.
  • If details of more than one bank account are held by LPS, for example, where there are multiple business rate accounts using different bank accounts, LPS has not made an assumption on which bank account to use.  If this applies, then you must complete the online registration form.
  • If you have already registered using the online form, LPS will aim to issue emails within one week of receipt to either confirm that the grant payment has been issued, or that there is a problem with your registration, or to advise that you are not eligible for the grant.
  • Please note payments will be made directly into bank accounts and may take up to three working days to clear.
  • LPS is working to process grant payments to those who register details as quickly as possible but there will be a significant number of registrations to process so it will take them time to work through all the registrations.

Businesses should note that:

  • If any information provided via the online registration form is later found to be false, repayment of funding may be required.
  • Any payment must be declared to HMRC as appropriate as part of the tax return for the business.
  • The grants constitute State Aid and businesses will be asked to confirm that they agree to the State Aid Requirements when completing the online form.
  • Additional processes are underway for the £25,000 grant for the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors and the scheme will be fully operational as soon as possible.
  • More information: Small Business Grant Scheme Helpline available Monday-Friday 9.00am-5.00pm – 0300 200 7809 or www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-business-support-grant-schemes
  • It will provide a government guarantee of 80% to enable banks to make loans of up to £25 million to firms with an annual turnover of between £45 million and £500 million.
  • The facilities backed by a guarantee under CLBILS will be offered at commercial rates of interest and the UK Government expects the scheme to be delivered through commercial lenders.
  • The Government will provide lenders with an 80% guarantee on individual loans for businesses that would otherwise be unable to access the finance they need.
  • Lenders will still be expected to conduct their usual credit risk checks.
  • The scheme will allow lenders to specifically support businesses that were viable before the COVID-19 outbreak but now face significant cash flow difficulties that would otherwise make their business unviable in the short-term.
  • Businesses would remain responsible for repaying any facility they take out.
  • For more information, eligibility and how to apply visit: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/business-support/coronavirus-large-business-interruption-loan-scheme-uk-wide
  • With immediate effect measures to be implemented to ensure that Government Departments (including those in Northern Ireland) pay contractors as quickly as possible to maintain cash flow 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.
  • Suppliers to Government can request relief using various options such as interim payments, advance payments for goods and services, changes to delivery and payment dates and bringing forward orders and payments.
  • Supplier requests for relief will receive a response within three days of receipt. If approved they must provide a certificate of costs which sets out their actual costs, expenses, cash flow and profits. The supplier will also be required to ensure that staff and the contract supply chain are paid promptly.
  • Suppliers must provide any information or evidence which is reasonably required to verify payments requested. If the supplier does not spend the interim payment in line with what it said it required the interim payments for, action will be taken to recover the payments and mandatory or discretionary exclusion from future government contracts may be considered.
  • More information: www.gov.uk/government/publications/procurement-policy-note-0220-supplier-relief-due-to-covid-19
  • 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

  • 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.
  • More information: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-ni-budget-2020-21-includes-further-rates-reduction
  • 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.
  • 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.

Eligibility

All NI businesses with the exception of:

    • properties used solely for, or in connection with:
    • the parking of motor vehicles;
    • telecommunications masts and towers; or
    • automatic teller machines
    • Properties used solely for exhibiting advertisements

Hardship Relief constitutes State Aid and will be given in compliance with the State Aid rules.

How to claim

  • The Government will be automatically deferring business payment for Value Added Tax (VAT).
  • Deferral will apply from 20 March 2020 until 30 June 2020.
  • All UK businesses are eligible.
  • VAT refunds and reclaims will be paid by the government as normal.
  • Deferral will be automatic and businesses will not need to make VAT payments during this period, however HMRC has published the following advice in relation to this:

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.

  • This scheme is to support employees to be kept on payroll by employers.
  • Grant rate – 80% of salaries for paid workers with salaries of up to £2,500 per month.
  • 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 for at least three months but will be extended if required.
  • First grants to be paid before end of April 2020.
  • The scheme will be available for all employees currently paid via PAYE and it is understood it will include 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.
  • Businesses may need to fund the gap between payment of wages and receipt of the grant – if businesses need short term cash flow support, they may be eligible for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).
  • If employees’ salaries are reduced as a result of these changes, they may be eligible for support through the welfare system, including Universal Credit.
  • The Scheme is expected to be up and running by the end of April 2020.
  • For information on, who can apply, how to claim and availability visit: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-claim-wage-costs-through-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme and www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19#history
  • This scheme allows self-employed individuals or members of partnerships to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next three months.
  • It is anticipated that the Scheme will be available from early June 2020.

Eligibility

  • A self-employed individual or a member of a partnership who can satisfy the following:
    • have submitted an Income Tax Self Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-19;
    • traded in the tax year 2019-20;
    • are trading when they 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.
  • Self-employed trading profits must also be less than £50,000 and more than half of your income must come from self-employment.
  • This is determined by at least one of the following conditions being true:
    • 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; or
    • 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.
  • If you started trading between 2016-19, HMRC will only use those years for which you filed a Self-Assessment tax return.
  • If you have not submitted your Income Tax Self-Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-19, you must do this by 23 April 2020.
  • HMRC will use data on 2018-19 returns already submitted to identify those eligible and will risk assess any late returns filed before the 23 April 2020 deadline in the usual way.

How much can an individual or member of a partnership get?

  • They will get a taxable grant which will be 80% of the average profits from the tax years (where applicable):
    • 2016 to 2017
    • 2017 to 2018
    • 2018 to 2019
  • To work out the average HMRC will add together the total trading profit for the three tax years (where applicable) then divide by three (where applicable), and use this to calculate a monthly amount.
  • It will be up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for three months.
  • The grant will be paid directly into bank accounts, in one instalment.

How to apply?

  • HMRC will contact those who are eligible for the scheme and invite them to apply online.
  • Individuals should not contact HMRC.
  • Access to this scheme will be through GOV.UK only. If someone texts, calls or emails claiming to be from HMRC, saying that you can claim financial help or are owed a tax refund, and asks you to click on a link or to give information such as your name, credit card or bank details, it is a scam.

What happens after you’ve applied?

  • Small and medium-sized businesses and employers can reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19.
  • Cover up to two weeks Statutory Sick Pay per employee.
  • Employers with less than 250 employees.
  • Employees will not need to provide a doctors fit note and can self certify for the first seven days off work.
  • Employers should maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP.
  • 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.
  • The eligible period for the scheme will commence the day after the legislation/regulations on the extension of SSP to those staying at home comes into force. Once the legislation/regulations have been passed, this will apply retrospectively from 13 March 2020.
  • Government to work with employers over coming months to set up a repayment mechanism.
  • More information: www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • More information: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk or www.nidirect.gov.uk
  • 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.
  • More information: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk or HMRC Coronavirus Helpline 0800 015 9559.
  • 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.
  • The helpline is available to assist businesses who are concerned about paying their tax due to coronavirus.  This service is available to any business or self-employed individual.
  • More information: 0800 024 1222.
  • All companies must send their accounts, reports and confirmation statements to Companies House every year. If a company’s accounts are filed late, the law imposes an automatic penalty.
  • Your company should take appropriate measures to ensure accounts are filed on time. You should also file your accounts online if you are able to do so.
  • More information: www.gov.uk/file-your-company-annual-accounts
  • If, immediately before the filing deadline, it becomes apparent that accounts will not be filed on time due to your company being affected by Coronavirus, you may make an application to extend the period allowed for filing.
  • 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.
  • More information: www.gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-more-time-to-file-your-companys-accounts

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.
  • More information: www.gov.uk/government/publications/late-filing-penalties
  • 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.
  • All UK businesses are eligible.
  • 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.
  • The scheme will be available from 23 March 2020.
  • More information: www.bankofengland.co.uk
  • Dedicated helpline for tourism businesses: 028 9592 5313.
  • Help and guidance available Monday to Sunday 9.00am – 5.00pm.
  • Submit an online query at www.tourismni.com

Quality grading assessments & statutory inspections postponed

  • Assessments and Inspections (and any associated payments) will be postponed until further notice so that tourism businesses can focus on putting in place measures to protect their businesses.
  • Live chat section dealing with current business queries.
  • Online training links for e.g. marketing, business advice etc.
  • More information: www.enterprisenation.com/
  • Hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, caravan parks, camping sites and boarding houses should take steps to close immediately.
  • Hotels and other accommodation providers should remain open if they satisfy the government guidance with regards exclusions.
  • More information: www.gov.uk/guidance/covid-19-advice-for-accommodation-providers
  • If you have been told to stay at home by NHS 111, and your employer requires evidence to support sickness absence, isolation notes for employees who are unwell with symptoms of coronavirus can be obtained from NHS website: https://111.nhs.uk/isolation-note/
  • 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.
  • More information: www.gov.uk
  • JobCentre Online (JCOL) is a website that will assist employers who are looking to recruit new staff managed through the Department for Communities.
  • Employers can notify and manage their job vacancies online in a quick, easy and convenient way.
  • As an employer you can enter job specifications, qualifications required, wage details and any other requirements specific to their vacancies, with the ability to manage your account online 24/7.
  • JCOL reaches a wide audience, advertising current job vacancies throughout Northern Ireland, as well as vacancies in the Republic of Ireland.

How do employers post their job vacancies?

  • Employers can register with www.employersonlineni.com  and have their job vacancies posted on Job Centre Online the same day. This is a free service to all employers.
  • Right to work checks have been temporarily adjusted due to Coronavirus to make it easier for employers to carry them out.
  • With effect from 30 March 2020 the following temporary changes have been made:
    • Checks can now be carried out over video calls;
    • Job applicants and existing works can send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks using email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals;
    • Employers should use the employer checking service if a prospective or existing employee cannot provide any of the accepted documents.
  • More information: www.gov.uk/employee-immigration-employment-status
  • At the point at which the Government advises that these temporary measures will end, businesses will be asked to carry out retrospective checks on existing employees who started work during the temporary measures.
  • More information: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/ensure-your-workers-are-eligible-work-uk
  • If you have temporarily closed your business:
    • Conduct a full security check of your premises.
    • Test your alarm & ensure it is fully operational.
    • Identify any vulnerable areas. Rectify these. Ensure internal doors, security gates, bollards and fire exit doors have been secured prior to closure of premises.
    • Move high value items into secured locations (if practical).
    • Remove cash from the premises and install signage stating all cash or valuables have been removed.
  • Remember in an emergency dial 999.
  • Require more bespoke advice, then please contact your local crime prevention officer using Policy Non-Emergency Telephone Number 101.

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 11.00 pm 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 www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/health-protection-coronavirusrestrictions-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

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

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 www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancingand-for-vulnerable-people

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

Support for Businesses FAQs

Covering key queries and concerns, read more on our Frequently Asked Questions here.

Stay in touch

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