Some businesses may experience increased costs or disruptions to their cash flow as a result of COVID-19. The Budget announces a set of measures to provide support to businesses during this temporary period by either reducing their costs or bridging cashflow problems arising from the outbreak, and to protect people’s jobs.
Statutory Sick Pay – The government will support small and medium-sized businesses and employers to cope with the extra costs of paying COVID-19 related SSP by refunding eligible SSP costs. The eligibility criteria for the scheme are as follows:
- this refund will be limited to two weeks per employee
- 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 should not require employees to provide a GP fit note
- the eligible period for the scheme will commence from the day on which the regulations extending SSP to self-isolators come into force
- while existing systems are not designed to facilitate such employer refunds for SSP, the government will work with employers over the coming months to set up a repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible
Business Rates Reliefs – The government has already announced the Business Rates retail discount will be increased to 50% in 2020-21. To support small businesses affected by COVID-19 the government is increasing it further to 100% for 2020-21. The relief will also be expanded to the leisure and hospitality sectors. These temporary measures, taken together with existing Small Business Rates Relief, mean that around 900,000 properties, or 45% of all properties in England, will receive 100% business rates relief in 2020-21. The government has also already announced the introduction of a £1,000 Business Rates discount for pubs with a rateable value below £100,000 in England for one year from 1 April 2020. To support pubs in response to COVID-19 the discount will be increased to £5,000. Local authorities will be fully compensated for these Business Rates measures.
Small business grant funding – The government recognises that many small businesses pay little or no business rates because of Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR). To support those businesses, the government will provide £2.2 billion of funding for Local authorities in England. This will provide £3,000 to around 700,000 business currently eligible for SBRR or Rural Rate Relief, to help meet their ongoing business costs. For a property with a rateable value of £12,000, this is one quarter of their rateable value, or comparable to 3 months of rent. Most properties that are eligible for SBRR will have a lower rateable value, and so this will represent an even greater proportion of their annual rent.
Time to Pay – The government will ensure that businesses and self-employed individuals in financial distress and with outstanding tax liabilities receive support with their tax affairs. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has set up a dedicated COVID-19 helpline to help those in need, and they may be able to agree a bespoke Time to Pay arrangement. Time to Pay was successfully used in response to flooding and the financial crisis, giving businesses a time-limited deferral period on HMRC liabilities owed and a pre-agreed time period to pay these back. These tailored arrangements will give a business the time it needs to pay HMRC to support their recovery while operating through any temporary financial challenges that occur. To ensure ongoing support, HMRC have made a further 2,000 experienced call handlers available to support firms when needed. HMRC will also waive late payment penalties and interest where a business experiences administrative difficulties contacting HMRC or paying taxes due to COVID-19.
Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme – The government will launch a new, temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank, to support businesses to access bank lending and overdrafts. The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to a per lender cap on claims) to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to SMEs. The government will not charge businesses or banks for this guarantee, and the Scheme will support loans of up to £1.2 million in value. This new guarantee will initially support up to £1 billion of lending on top of current support offered through the British Business Bank.