Home COVID19: Support for Businesses FAQs

COVID19: Support for Businesses FAQs

Your questions answered

Our Frequently Asked Questions provides an overview of key UK Government advice and support available to businesses and the self-employed during the Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.

Want to speak to someone? Arrange a call back with a member of our Business Support team here.

Grants

What grants are available for businesses to help with the impact of Covid-19?

Businesses in Northern Ireland have access to two grants through the Coronavirus Business Support Grant Scheme:

  • A 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 Net Asset Value (NAV) up to £15,000).
  • The Small Business Rate Relief Scheme has been extended to include small industrial businesses that have a rateable value of less than £15,000 and who qualify for industrial de-rating.
  • 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.
  • Business Support Grant Scheme has been extended to include sole tenants of rental properties where the business or landlord receives the rate bill or the business owns the property that has a total NAV of £1,590 or below.

Northern Ireland’s rating system is being used to identify eligible businesses.

More information: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-business-support-grant-schemes

Small Business Grant detail form: www.covid-19smallbusinessgrants.economy-ni.gov.uk/RatepayerInfo/InputForm

Are businesses with multiple premises eligible for more than one £10,000 grant?

No. Businesses are eligible for one grant of £10,000 in total.

Are grant schemes currently open?

The deadline for eligible businesses who wanted to register for the £10,000 and £25,000 grant schemes was Wednesday 20 May 2020.

More information: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-business-support-grant-schemes

How soon will businesses receive grant payments?

  • The total number of businesses now qualifying for the small £10,000 grant is 29,500 (i.e. 27,000 plus 2,500 small industrial businesses). Of the original eligible 27,000 businesses, bank details were only held by Land and Property Services (LPS) for 6,775 businesses, therefore all others were required to apply online.
  • Given the extent of processing to be undertaken by LPS, it is important that eligible businesses accurately complete the online registration which is then subject to verification.

Rates relief

When will the next rates bill be issued to businesses?

Businesses will have their rates waived for April to July 2020. This amount does not need to be paid back. Monthly Direct Debit payment plans will be automatically updated to collect payments between July 2020 and March 2021. Rate payers can still choose to make payment through monthly instalments from July 2020 to March 2021 to aid cash flow.

Is the Small Business Rate Relief applied to businesses or landlords?

Small Business Rates Relief will be applied automatically to all qualifying business owners by LPS. Eligibility for the Small Business Rate Relief is based on the NAV of the business property. As the Small Business Rate Relief scheme remains in operation for 2020-2021, a range of discounts will automatically be applied to your rates bill if the NAV of your property is £15,000 or less. Ratepayers that occupy multiple (more than three) premises of any size, or are part of a chain are not eligible for this rate relief.

More information: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/small-business-rate-relief

Is it possible to get an estimate now for rates to be charged in 2020-21?

No. As the regional rate for 2020-21 has not yet been set, it is not yet possible to estimate your rate bill for 2020-21. As the Small Business Rate Relief scheme remains in operation for 2020-2021, a range of discounts will automatically be applied to your rates bill if the NAV of your property is £15,000 or less.

More information: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/rates

In addition to the above Covid-19 measures, are there any other rates reliefs available to businesses?

Yes, existing reliefs are available to help business ratepayers. 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.

Wages

Can all employers access funding from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

Any employer with a PAYE scheme on or before 19 March 2020, and a UK bank account can apply. Up to October 2020 employers are able to access funding from HMRC to pay 80% of salaries to support employees being kept on payroll, with a limit of £2,500 per employee per month. From August furloughed workers will be able to return to work part-time with employers paying a percentage of their salary.

What does a furloughed worker mean?

A furloughed worker is an employee who continues to be employed by their employer but does not undertake work for the employer while they are furloughed.

Do I carry on paying wages to employees as normal?

Yes. You should pay employees 80% of their normal monthly salary. Cash flow is an important consideration for employers while waiting for payments from HMRC. The availability of business interruption loans may be a form of bridging finance to consider if there is an immediate need. Employers are required to submit information to HMRC on employees and their earnings through a new online portal.

More information: www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

How will the wage cost be calculated?

  • Full and part time salaried employees: employee’s actual salary before tax, as of 19 March 2020 should be used to calculate the 80% (do not include fees, commission and bonuses).
  • Employees whose pay varies: If the employee has been:
    • employed (or engaged by an employment business) for a full twelve months prior to the claim: can claim for the higher of either:
      • the same month’s earning from the previous year
      • average monthly earnings from the 2019-20 tax year
    • Employed for less than a year: can claim for an average of their monthly earnings since they started work.
    • Only started in March 2020: use a pro-rata for their earnings so far to claim.

More information: www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

My business is struggling to pay wages for furloughed workers while waiting on payment of Job Retention Scheme Grant. How can I access funds in the short-term?

Businesses need to consider terms for immediate cashflow while waiting on grant payments.  At first, contact should be made with current lender to discuss opportunities for short-term lending facilities. Alternatively, the availability of Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) may be a form of bridge financing to consider if there is an immediate need.

More information on CBILS: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme-small-businesses

What if an employee becomes sick while furloughed?

Furloughed employees retain their statutory rights when they are ill. This means that furloughed employees who become sick must be paid at least Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Employers must decide whether to move these employees onto SSP or keep them on furlough, at their furloughed rate. If the employer decides to move the sick employee onto SSP, they are then required to cease claiming for the furloughed salary. Employers may qualify for 2 weeks of SSP.

Is it possible to rotate staff who are furloughed?

Guidance states that employees can be furloughed multiple times. Each instance of furlough must be for a minimum of three consecutive weeks. This period can be immediately followed by a further three-week period and for up to three months. This indicates that employers can rotate employees on furlough as long as each period is for a minimum of three consecutive weeks.

Is it possible to furlough foreign nationals with visas?

Yes. Guidance issued by UK Government states that foreign nationals are eligible for furlough. Undoubtedly these workers would have to be working in the UK and paying UK PAYE. Guidance recently issued by UK Government states that grants provided under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme are not counted as “access to public funds” and employers can furlough employees on all categories of visa.

Does the Job Retention Scheme cover people on the Construction Industry Scheme?

Those on the CIS scheme who own a limited company may be eligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme if they are operating a PAYE scheme.

People who work in the construction industry and are dealt with under the CIS, are often treated as self-employed by their engager. CIS scheme workers who are self-employed or a member of a partnership may wish to investigate their eligibility for the Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). To be eligible for the SEISS applicants must satisfy the following criteria:

  • 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.

Is it possible for businesses to access Covid-19 grant support schemes (deemed as State Aid) at the same time as applying for financial support through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

Northern Ireland COVID-19 Response related Grants (£10,000 & £25,000) and Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme are unlikely to present an issue from a state aid perspective. The UK Government COVID-19 related financial support schemes are likely to fall within the terms of the recent extension to permissible state aid by the European Commission. Grant aid within certain limits was addressed in the European Commission’s State Aid Temporary Framework to support the economy (the “Temporary Framework”) which was adopted on 19 March 2020 and subsequently amended and extended on 3 April 2020 to allow member states the flexibility needed to address the challenges faced from COVID-19 without breaching existing state aid regulations.

The Temporary Framework of 19 March 2020 identified certain types of permissible state aid which could be employed to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. The amendment extended the Temporary Framework to cover the following types of state aid to assist member states in developing a targeted and proportionate response to the current pandemic:

  • the provision of targeted support in the form of deferral of tax payments and/or suspensions of employers’ social security contributions
  • the provision of targeted support in the form of wage subsidies for employees
  • support for coronavirus related research and development
  • the construction and upgrading of testing facilities for products relevant to tackle the coronavirus outbreak
  • the production of products relevant to tackle to coronavirus outbreak

The amended Temporary Framework will be in place until 31 December 2020. The Commission will assess the situation before then with a view to ensuring legal certainty and to see if it needs to be extended.

Hardship Rate Relief

Does the Hardship Rate Relief apply to all non-domestic properties?

Not all. Most non-domestic properties, including those owned or used by voluntary organisations, will be eligible for Hardship Rate Relief if they meet certain conditions. However, properties such as car parks, advertising hoardings, telecommunications masts and towers, and cash machines (ATMs) will not be eligible. The Hardship Rate Relief is intended to assist a business recover from a temporary crisis that could not have been foreseen. The rating year issued will be used to assess Hardship Rate Relief. The amount awarded is up to a maximum of 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. If you have received any De Minimis over the previous three years, the maximum amount may be reduced.

More information on Hardship Rates Relief: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/covid-19-emergency-rates-package-businesses

Self-employed

I am self-employed. What financial support is available to me as a result of the pandemic?

Self-employed individuals will be able to claim a taxable grant through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. This grant is worth 80% of their annual monthly profits, up to £2,500 per month for the next three months. Applies to anyone with annual trading profit up to £50,000. More than half of total income must have been from self-employment. Claiming individuals are required to have a tax return for 2019 and prove that they have been adversely affected by the Coronavirus. HMRC aims to contact eligible applicants by mid May 2020 and invite them to complete an online form. Scheme grants will be available from beginning June 2020. Grant payments will be made directly to individual bank accounts. Self-employed individuals who pay themselves a salary and dividends through their own company are not covered by the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme but will have 80% of their salary covered by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme if operating through PAYE.

More information: www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme 

What other help is available for the self-employed?

  • Income tax self-assessments that were due in July 2020 will be deferred to January 2021. As this process is applied automatically, no applications are required.

  • The standard allowance in Universal Credit and the basic element in Working Tax Credit will both increase by £20 per week for one year from 6 April 2020 on top of planned annual uprating i.e. additional income of £1,040 per annum.

  • The UK Government will be automatically deferring business payments for Value Added Tax (VAT). Deferral will apply from 20 March 2020 until 30 June 2020. Any liabilities accumulating during the deferral period will be afforded until the end of the 2020-21 tax year for payment. Deferrals will be automatic and businesses do not need to make VAT payments during this period.

    More information: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-support-and-advice-self-employed

Supplier relief

My business is delivering a publicly funded project, however due to the impacts of the pandemic the project has been temporarily paused. Can I claim payment for works already delivered?

Yes. Measures are to be implemented to ensure that Government Departments pay contractors as quickly as possible in order to maintain cash flow and protect jobs. Payments will continue to flow promptly even if the contract cannot be delivered as previously agreed. Suppliers 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. 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 interim payments.

Supplier relief will be available until 30 June 2020.

More information: www.gov.uk/government/publications/procurement-policy-note-0220-supplier-relief-due-to-covid-19

Where can I access guidance for late payments on works completed on a UK Government contract?

Small businesses (less than 50 staff) who are experiencing problems with late payments from larger companies can seek guidance from the Office of the Small Business Commissioner. The Small Business Commissioner (SBC) is an independent public body set up by UK Government under the Enterprise Act 2016 to tackle late payment and unfavourable payment practices in the private sector.

More information: www.smallbusinesscommissioner.gov.uk/contact-us/

Support for commercial tenants

I am a commercial tenant and I am struggling to pay my rent as a result of lost revenue. Can I be forced out of my premises?

No. Extra protection is now in place for the next three months for businesses who miss a rent payment as a result of cash flow difficulties related to Coronavirus. UK Government has taken steps to change the law so that no business can be forced out of its premises due to loss of income. Commercial tenants will still be liable for the rent after this period. Onus has been placed on lessee and landlord to negotiate to reach a solution on payment.

More information: www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/coronavirus-extension-notice-quit-period-landlords

Support for the Tourism sector

What financial support is available to assist tourism and hospitality businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic?

An unprecedented number of financial measures have been announced by the UK Government to support businesses. See below measures that can be accessed for tourism and hospitality businesses. Please note that eligibility criteria apply to all measures:

  • Small Business Grant Scheme (£10,000 grant for businesses with NAV up to £15,000, and £25,000 grant for businesses with NAV between £15,001 and £51,000)
  • NI Micro-business Hardship Fund
  • Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
  • Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme
  • Corporate Financing Facility – for larger businesses
  • Deferment of VAT payments
  • HMRC Time to Pay arrangements
  • Covid-19 grant for UK hospitality workers
  • Self Employed / individuals support

More information: https://tourismni.com/globalassets/grow-your-business/covid-19/covid–19-support-for-ni-businesses-25-march.pdf

Tourism NI has set up a dedicated helpline and online enquiry facility for the tourism and hospitality industry. Helpline: 028 95925313, lines open Monday to Sunday 9am – 5pm. Online queries can be submitted through the following link: www.cognitoforms.com/TourismNI/ContactTourismNI