Small business coronavirus support: Free ways to get government help

Coronavirus government support

It has been an extremely upsetting and tough week for our nation. The coronavirus is here. And very sadly it’s our reality for the foreseeable future. We are not only facing a health crisis but a financial crisis – and that is going to be particularly felt by small businesses.

Our main priority at Fluidly has always been to help small businesses sleep better at night, so while we accept that a good night’s sleep might be unimaginable at the moment, we’ve compiled a list of the useful government resources and support packages that should be helpful at this difficult time.

As of Friday 20 March, the government announced even more help for companies so this article has been updated.

HMRC has set up a free phone helpline

The HMRC has set up a free phone helpline to support businesses – 0800 0159 559.

The helpline allows any business who is concerned about paying their tax due to coronavirus to get practical help and advice. Such as:

How to access the support: Current opening hours of the phone line are 8am-4pm Monday-Friday. Unfortunately we have heard reports of long wait times and that it can be difficult to get through, but HMRC have said to only call if you’re about to miss your next payment and to wait to call if it’s a future payment worry.

Get support with employee salaries through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

This latest announcement of government support will allow employers to access reimbursement to continue paying their employees’ salaries – who would otherwise have been laid off due to the crisis.

Affected employees will need to be notified that they fall into the group of ‘furloughed workers’ (ie. temporarily not working but not made redundant) – this may need to be negotiated depending on your employment contracts.

Information will need to be relayed to HMRC via a new portal that is currently being worked on.

HMRC will reimburse 80% of workers’ wages (up to £2,500 a month). All UK businesses are eligible for this scheme.

How to access the support: There is no system set up to facilitate the reimbursement just yet, but it is being worked on urgently.

You can reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19

The government has announced they will reimburse businesses for some sick pay. The eligibility criteria for the scheme will be as follows:

  • This refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19
  • Employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible – the size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020
  • 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
  • Employers should maintain records of staff absences, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note
  • Eligible period for the scheme will commence the day after the regulations on the extension of Statutory Sick Pay to self-isolators comes into force
  • The government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible. Existing systems are not designed to facilitate employer refunds for SSP

How to access the support: A rebate scheme is still being developed, so more details will be released soon.

Defer VAT payments

Another additional support measure it that all UK businesses can defer VAT payments for the next three months (from 20 March to 30 June 2020).

How to access the support: No need to apply, businesses are just not expected to make a payment during this period. Accumulated liabilities will need to be paid at the end of the 20/21 tax year.

Take advantage of Business Rate discounts

The government will increase the Business Rates retail discount to 100% for one year and expand it to the leisure and hospitality sectors, and increase the planned rates discount for pubs to £5,000.

  • The business rates relief does cover the entirety of 2020/21 financial year – so temporary in as much as it’s for 12 months but no business rates to pay whatsoever
  • It applies to c. 250,000 properties – the other 650,000 properties have a rateable value of up to £12k so do not pay business rates (so 900,000 total). So this will benefit the £12k-£51k bracket
  • Businesses that received the retail discount in 2019-20 will be rebilled by their local authority as soon as possible
  • Those businesses eligible for the newly expanded retail discount and/or the new pubs discount may need to apply to their local authority to receive the discount

How to access the support: You don’t need to take any action, the discount will apply to your next council tax bill in April 2020. (Your bill may need reissuing). You can check what difference the change will make here.

Apply for any relevant government grants

The government will provide an additional £2.2 billion funding for local authorities to support small businesses that already pay little or no Business Rates because of Small Business Rate Relief (SBBR).

This will provide a one-off grant of £10,000 (increased from the initially discussed £3,000) to around 700,000 businesses currently eligible for SBRR or Rural Rate Relief, to help meet their ongoing business costs.

The government has made assurances that their advice for hospitality businesses to close will mean that those with insurance for pandemics will be covered to claim. However, there is also a £25,000 grant for hospitality businesses that don’t have insurance and have a rateable value of above £15,000 and under £51,000.

How to access the support: You don’t need to take any action, your local authority will be in touch with you if you are eligible to receive the grant.

Access funding through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

The government has also announced a new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, however it’s worth noting that this will mean taking on more debt so we have a separate piece on that here.

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Alongside these government packages, lots of small businesses are doing wonderful things to support each other. There’s some great examples on Twitter and LinkedIn but do get in touch if you think there’s other less wellknown support packages we could tell people about by emailing lucy.wayment@fluidly.com.