Covid-19: Government issues back to work guidance

The Government has published practical guidance for employers to help them get their businesses back up and running and their workplaces operating safely.

The guidance covers eight workplace settings which are allowed to be open, from outdoor environments and construction sites to factories and takeaways. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19

Here are the five key points, which the government says should be implemented as soon as it is practical:

  1. Work from home, if you can

All reasonable steps should be taken by employers to help people work from home. But for those who cannot work from home and whose workplace has not been told to close, our message is clear: you should go to work. Staff should speak to their employer about when their workplace will open.

  1. Carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions

This guidance operates within current health and safety employment and equalities legislation and employers will need to carry out Covid-19 risk assessments in consultation with their workers or trade unions, to establish what guidelines to put in place. If possible, employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website and the government expects all businesses with more than 50 employees to do so.

  1. Maintain two metres social distancing, wherever possible

Employers should re-design workspaces to maintain two metre distances between people by staggering start times, creating one-way walk-throughs, opening more entrances and exits, or changing seating layouts in break rooms.

  1. Where people cannot be two metres apart, manage transmission risk

Employers should look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams minimising the number of people in contact with one another, or ensuring colleagues are facing away from each other.

  1. Reinforcing cleaning processes

Workplaces should be cleaned more frequently, paying close attention to high-contact objects like door handles and keyboards. Employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.

The government has created a downloadable notice, which it says employers should display in their workplaces to show their employees, customers and other visitors to their workplace, that they have followed the guidance.

The guidance has been developed with input from firms, unions and industry bodies and in consultation with Public Health England (PHE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), to develop best practice on the safest ways of working across the economy.

It applies to businesses that are currently open. It also includes guidance for shops which may be in a position to begin a phased reopening at the earliest from June 1.

The workplace settings the guidance covers are: construction and other outdoor work; factories, plants and warehouses; labs and research facilities; offices and contact centres; other people’s homes; restaurants offering takeaway or delivery services; shops and branches and vehicles.

Guidance for other sectors that are not currently open will be developed and published ahead of those establishments opening to give those businesses time to plan.

The government says it will also shortly set up taskforces to work with these sectors to develop safe ways for them to open at the earliest point at which it is safe to do so, as well as pilot re-openings to test businesses’ ability to adopt the guidelines.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “These are practical steps to enable employers to identify risks that Covid-19 creates and to take pragmatic measures to mitigate them.

“And as we are able to reopen new sectors of the economy, we will continue our collaborative approach working with a wide range of stakeholders, to provide guidance for additional workplaces.”

Sarah Albon, HSE chief executive, said: “We have worked with BEIS to ensure businesses have access to the information they need to put in place measures to help them work safely. This will assist employers in carrying out risk assessments and putting practical measures in place.

“At the heart of the return to work is controlling the risk posed by the virus. Ensuring safe working practices are in place will help deliver a safe return to work and support businesses across the country.”

Furlough scheme will remain open until October

The government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will remain open until the end of October, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced.

It means that furloughed workers will continue to receive 80 per cent of their current salary, up to £2,500 a month. (https://wnj.co.uk/job-retention/)

However, the Chancellor has also announced that the government will ask employers to start sharing the cost of the scheme from August.

And from the beginning of that month, furloughed workers will be able to return to work part-time – with employers being asked to pay a percentage towards their salaries.

Under the current scheme, which was launched in March in response to the coronavirus crisis, furloughed employees cannot work.

Thousands of businesses up and down the country have now furloughed members of staff.

More specific details and information around the implementation of the changes to the job retention scheme will be made available by the end of this month, the government has said.

Mr Sunak said: “Our Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has protected millions of jobs and businesses across the UK during the outbreak – and I’ve been clear that I want to avoid a cliff edge and get people back to work in a measured way.

“This extension and the changes we are making to the scheme will give flexibility to businesses while protecting the livelihoods of the British people and our future economic prospects.”

New statistics have revealed the job retention scheme has protected 7.5 million workers and almost one million businesses.

Latest official figures also show businesses have benefitted from more than £14bn in loans and guarantees to support their cashflow during the crisis.

This includes 268,000 Bounce Back Loans worth £8.3bn, 36,000 loans worth over £6bn through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and £359m through the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Blackpool-headquartered Federation of Small Businesses, has welcomed the extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

He said: “It is a lifeline which has been hugely beneficial in helping small employers keep their staff in work. Small employers have told us that part-time furloughing will help them recover from this crisis and it is welcome that new flexibility is announced.”

Covid-19: Taxman extends appeals deadline

Taxpayers may be given an additional three months to appeal HMRC decisions or penalties if the usual 30-day deadline cannot be met because of the coronavirus crisis.

HMRC has announced it will accept delayed appeals against decisions or penalties dated as far back as February this year where the delay is down to the impact of Covid-19.

Businesses and individuals that have the right to appeal a decision are informed in writing and usually have 30 days to do so.

However, in new guidance, the taxman says: “If you or your business have been affected by coronavirus (COVID-19), HMRC will give you an extra three months to appeal any decision dated February 2020 or later. Send your appeal as soon as you can, and explain the delay is because of coronavirus.”

You must include:

• your name or business name
• your tax reference number (this will be on the decision letter)
• what you disagree with and why
• what you think the correct figures are and how you’ve calculated them
• your signature

You should also tell HMRC if you have any extra information or if you think it has missed something.

If you want to appeal a decision about ‘indirect tax’ – for example VAT, excise duty or customs duty – you can request a review by HMRC or appeal straight to the tax tribunal.

HMRC also says it will not object to taxpayers asking a tribunal to hear their appeal outside of the normal 30-day deadline where the decision is dated February 2020 or later – provided that the request to the tribunal is made within three months of the normal deadline.

The announcement comes after the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) highlighted difficulties taxpayers were having in meeting the 30-day deadline during the crisis.

Support for small businesses in co-working spaces

The Department for Business, Energy, Innovation & Skills (BEIS) has confirmed a new £617million scheme to support businesses in shared spaces, regular market traders and small charity properties.

The move plugs a loophole, which meant small businesses in shared office space missed out on a £10,000 cash grant, which is part of the government’s package of Covid-19 support measures.

The new additional fund is aimed at small businesses with ongoing fixed property-related costs.

Announcing the move, the government said: “A discretionary fund has been set up to accommodate certain small businesses previously outside the scope of the business grant funds scheme.”

The new money is an additional five per cent uplift to the £12.33bn funding previously announced for the Small Business Grants Fund (SBGF) and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants Fund (RHLGF).

The government says it is asking local authorities to prioritise businesses in shared spaces, regular market traders, small charity properties that would meet the criteria for Small Business Rates Relief, and bed and breakfasts that pay council tax rather than business rates.

However, local authorities may choose to make payments to other businesses based on local economic need. The allocation of funding will be at the discretion of local authorities.

Businesses must be small, under 50 employees, and they must also be able to demonstrate that they have seen a significant drop of income as a result of coronavirus restriction measures.

There will be three levels of grant payments. The maximum will be £25,000. There will also be grants of £10,000. local authorities will have discretion to make payments of any amount under £10,000. The Treasury says it will be for councils to adapt this approach to local circumstances.

The move follows a campaign by small businesses, angry at missing out on the original support scheme. A petition was signed by almost 12,000 business owners.

The government says that further guidance for local authorities will be set out shortly.

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS): an update

HMRC has started to contact people who may be eligible for the government’s Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) to explain the process and help them get ready to make a claim.

The claims service will open on Wednesday May 13, with payments reaching bank accounts by May 25, or six working days after the claim is made.

HMRC says the scheme will benefit self-employed individuals or those in a partnership whose business has been adversely affected by coronavirus, covering most people who get at least half of their income from self-employment.  

SEISS is a temporary scheme that will enable those eligible to claim a taxable grant worth 80 per cent of their average trading profits up to a maximum of £7,500 -equivalent to three months’ profits – in a single instalment.

HMRC is using information provided in 2018-19 tax returns – and returns for 2016-17 and 2017-18 where needed – to determine eligibility and is contacting those who may be eligible via email, SMS or letter.

It has also opened an online tool which will let people check their eligibility for themselves, as well as giving them a date on which they can apply.

To check if you are eligible visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme

WNJ can’t process claims on behalf of our clients, they must calculate their claims themselves, but we can provide assistance if needed.

To check if you are eligible you will need your:
• Self Assessment Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number
• National Insurance number

If eligible, you will need to register with HMRC and set up a Government Gateway Account ID and password (you are prompted to do both these after confirmation of eligibility).

Once registered, HMRC will confirm a both a date and time that clients can claim from.

People are eligible if their business has been adversely affected by coronavirus, they traded in 2019-20, intend to continue trading and they:   

• Earn at least half of their income through self-employment;
• Have trading profits of no more than £50,000 per year
• Traded in the tax year 2018 to 2019 and submitted their Self Assessment tax return on or before 23 April 2020 for that year.    

HMRC says it expects its phone lines to be very busy over the next few weeks as people enter this new scheme, so it is encouraging customers to only call if they can’t find what they need on GOV.UK, from their tax agent or via its webchat service.

If you are told you that you’re not eligible to make a claim, you can ask HMRC to review this after you’ve used the online tool. If you want to do this at a later time, you’ll be able to use the online tool more than once.

Bounce Back Loan scheme launches

Small businesses will be able to apply for quick and easy-to access loans of up to £50,000 from today – with the cash expected to land within days.

Businesses will be able to borrow between £2,000 and £50,000. The loans will be 100 per cent government backed for lenders, and businesses can apply online through a short and simple form.

Thousands of small firms and sole traders – including hairdressers, coffee shops and florists – will be eligible for the loans, designed to help them make it through the coronavirus outbreak.

Business owners can apply to accredited lenders by filling out a simple online form, with just seven questions to answer.

The government has also agreed with lenders, who include the five largest banks, that an affordable flat rate of 2.5 per cent interest will be charged on these loans.

Any business that has already taken out a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan of £50,000 or less can apply to have these switched over to the new scheme.

The full rules of the scheme and guidance on how to apply is available on the British Business Bank website. https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-schemes/bounce-back-loans/

The Bounce Back Loan scheme is the latest step in a package of support measures launched by Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

You can apply for a loan if your business is based in the UK, has been negatively affected by coronavirus and was not an ‘undertaking in difficulty’ on December 31 2019.

You cannot apply if you’re already claiming under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).

According to advice from the British Business Bank, (https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-schemes/bounce-back-loans/for-businesses-and-advisors/) ideally should initially approach your own bank for a loan – but you don’t have to. And you can approach another lender if you are rejected by another

Your business must be able to self declare to the lender that it:

• has been impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
• was not a business in difficulty at December 31 2019 (if it was, you must confirm your business complies with additional state aid restrictions under de minimis state aid rules)
• is engaged in trading or commercial activity in the UK and was established by 1 March 2020
• is not using the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) or the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility Scheme (CCFF), unless the Bounce Back Loan will refinance the whole of the CBILS, CLBILS or CCFF facility
• is not in bankruptcy or liquidation or undergoing debt restructuring at the time it submits its application for finance
• derives more than 50 per cent of its income from its trading activity (this requirement does not apply to charities or further-education colleges)
• is not in a restricted sector

Bounce Back Loans are available to businesses in all sectors, except the following:

• Credit institutions (falling within the remit of the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive)
• Insurance companies
• Public-sector organisations
• State-funded primary and secondary schools

Announcing the scheme Mr Sunak said: “Small businesses will play a key role creating jobs and securing economic growth as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Bounce Back loan scheme will make sure they get the finance they need – helping them bounce back and protect jobs.”

Eligible companies will be subject to standard customer fraud, anti-money laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) checks prior to any loan being made. Some State Aid restrictions may apply to applications. The borrower always remains 100 per cent liable for the debt.

‘Bounce Back Loan’ scheme to help SMEs

A new coronavirus crisis aid scheme will offer small businesses up to £50,000 in loans that will be 100 per cent guaranteed by the government.

The ‘Bounce Back Loan’ scheme has been unveiled by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak. It will be launched on Monday, May 4.

It will help small and medium-sized businesses to borrow between £2,000 and £50,000.

The government will guarantee 100 per cent of the loan and there won’t be any fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months.

Loan terms will be up to six years. The government says it will work with lenders to agree a low rate of interest for the remaining period of the loan.

The scheme will be delivered through a network of accredited lenders.

Announcing the scheme to MPs, the Chancellor said: “Businesses will be able to apply for these new Bounce Back Loans for 25 per cent of their turnover, up to a maximum of £50,000, with the government paying the interest for the first 12 months.”

He added: “There will be no forward-looking tests of business viability; no complex eligibility criteria; just a simple, quick, standard form for businesses to fill in. For most firms, loans should arrive within 24 hours of approval.”

You can apply for a loan if your business:

• is based in the UK
• has been negatively affected by coronavirus
• was not an ‘undertaking in difficulty’ on December 31, 2019

The following businesses are not eligible to apply:

• banks, insurers and reinsurers (but not insurance brokers)
• public-sector bodies
• further-education establishments, if they are grant-funded
• state-funded primary and secondary schools

You cannot apply if you’re already claiming under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).

If you’ve already received a loan of up to £50,000 under CBILS and would like to transfer it into the Bounce Back Loan scheme, you can arrange this with your lender until November, 4, 2020.

Rishi Sunak told MPs: “I know that some small businesses are still struggling to access credit.

“They are, in many ways, the most exposed businesses to the impact of the coronavirus; and often find it harder to access credit in the first place.

“If we want to benefit from their dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit as we recover our economy, they will need extra support to get through the crisis.

“Some businesses will not want to take on more debt; which is why our focus has been on cash grants, tax cuts and tax deferrals. But for others, loans will be part of the answer.

“So today, we are announcing a new micro loan scheme, providing a simple, quick, easy solution for those in need of smaller loans.”

More information about the scheme will be published by the government shortly.

Retailers protected from “aggressive” rent collection

Under pressure shops and other companies will be protected from “aggressive” rent collection and asked to pay what they can during the coronavirus crisis, the government has announced.

It says the majority of landlords and tenants are working well together to reach agreements on debt obligations, but some landlords have been putting tenants under undue pressure by using aggressive debt recovery tactics.

To stop these unfair practices, the government will temporarily ban the use of statutory demands (made between March 1, 2020 and June 30, 2020) and winding up petitions presented from Monday April 27 through to June 30, where a company cannot pay its bills due to coronavirus.

It says the move will help ensure these companies do not fall into deeper financial strain. The measures will be included in the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill, which business secretary Alok Sharma set out earlier this month.

The government is also bringing in secondary legislation to provide tenants with more breathing space to pay rent by preventing landlords using Commercial Rent Arrears Recovery (CRAR) unless they are owed 90 days of unpaid rent.

However, while landlords are urged to give their tenants the breathing space needed, the government is calling on tenants to pay rent where they can afford it or what they can, in recognition of the strains felt by commercial landlords too.

The latest announcements come on top of a package of business support measures, including a moratorium on evictions for commercial tenants for at least a three-month period.

Business secretary Alok Sharma said: “In this exceptional time for the UK, it is vital that we ensure businesses are kept afloat so that they can continue to provide the jobs our economy needs beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our unprecedented package of support can help commercial landlords, including through the recent expansion of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans Scheme.

“I know that like all businesses they are under pressure, but I would urge them to show forbearance to their tenants. I am also taking steps to ensure the minority of landlords using aggressive tactics to collect their rents can no longer do so while the Covid-19 emergency continues.”

Under the new measures, any winding-up petition that claims that the company is unable to pay its debts must first be reviewed by the court to determine why. The law will not permit petitions to be presented, or winding-up orders made, where the company’s inability to pay is the result of Covid-19.

The legislation to protect tenants will be in force until June 30 and the government says it can be extended in line with the moratorium on commercial lease forfeiture.

Legislation will also be brought forward to prevent landlords using commercial rent arrears recovery (CRAR) unless 90 days or more of unpaid rent is owed.

The Financial Conduct Authority, the Financial Reporting Council and the Prudential Regulatory Authority have also issued a joint statement encouraging investors and lenders to take into account the issues arising directly from the COVID-19 pandemic in responding to potential breaches of covenants.

Emergency legislation already introduced by government includes a suspension of forfeiture rights, which prevents all commercial tenants from being removed from their properties.

The government has also announced new insolvency measures which will provide further support to businesses impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Can a sole director be furloughed?

Can you furlough a sole director under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS)? It’s a question that we’ve been asked a number of times.

A sole director cannot be furloughed completely as they still have to be present to undertake their statutory duties. Such things as on-going administration, book-keeping, tax-filings and banking would likely come under this heading.

However, part-furloughing is possible, with the director’s work and duties as an employee of the business, the subject of the furlough.

That means they cannot do any work they would carry out in normal circumstances to generate commercial revenue or provides services to or on behalf of their company.

Activities such as talking to customers and suppliers, marketing the business, posting on social media and taking work calls would fall into that ‘work’ category.

It is also important to stress that the scheme is only for any wage paid through PAYE to the director. It does not extend to dividends paid to directors.

The government has put nothing in place to provide financial support to shareholders where the amount of their dividend is affected by the coronavirus crisis.

Here’s what HMRC guidance says: “To be eligible for the grant, when on furlough, an employee cannot undertake work for, or on behalf, of the organisation. This includes providing services or generating revenue.”

It adds: “If an employee is working, but on reduced hours, or for reduced pay, they will not be eligible for this scheme.

“Where furloughed directors need to carry out particular duties to fulfil the statutory obligations they owe to their company, they may do so provided they do no more than would reasonably be judged necessary for that purpose.

“For instance, they should not do work of a kind they would carry out in normal circumstances to generate commercial revenue or provides services to or on behalf of their company.”

If the company has two directors then one could be totally furloughed leaving the other in charge of those statutory obligations.

Directors are eligible to make a claim through the system if they are paid through PAYE – and as with other employees any possible claim would be for 80 per cent of the salary paid to them, capped at £2,500.

Here’s an example of how the scheme could work:

A company’s sole director pays himself a basic annual salary of £8,632. The rest of their renumeration is made up by a dividend on the company’s profits. No amount of this dividend can be reclaimed from the government.

As a result of the coronavirus crisis and the government’s restrictions, the company, which is in the entertainment industry, shut down during March.

The director can be furloughed from the day that the company confirms in writing that is happening.

The amount claimed under the scheme for 2019/20 would be £8,632, divided by 12 and adjusted to deduct the number of days worked in March.

Employer pension contributions would then be added: there is no NI to add as annual salary is less than the Employers’ Secondary NICs threshold.

The amount being claimed for 2020/21 would be based on the same figures, with no adjustment for days worked.

At the moment the company can continue to claim for the director under the scheme until the end of June 2020.

Furlough scheme extended to end of June

The government has announced that its Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will be extended by a month to reflect continuing social distancing measures.

The scheme, which allows firms to furlough employees, with the government paying cash grants of 80 per cent of their wages up to a maximum of £2,500, (https://wnj.co.uk/job-retention/) was originally open for three months and backdated from the March 1 to the end of May.

Now, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced that it will be open until the end of June.

He said: “It is the right decision to extend the furlough scheme for a month to the end of June to provide clarity.”

The government says that the scheme will continue to be monitored to ensure people and businesses can get back to work “as soon as it’s safe to do so to drive UK economic recovery”.

Under the scheme, thousands of businesses up and down the country have now furloughed staff.

An online service is being launched today (April 20) to allow businesses to make a claim – the taxman has revealed they will not be able to claim by telephone.

Businesses and agents that are authorised to act on behalf of clients for PAYE matters, will be able to make a claim.

WNJ’s team is available to support its clients through the process, either directly, if authorised, or indirectly.

Please confirm to payroll@wnj.co.uk if you wish to instruct us to access the HMRC portal directly on your behalf and process the grant claim.

In addition, whilst our payroll team has already been processing salaries based on furlough calculations for some clients where applicable, if you haven’t already done so, please can you provide the following information:

• Name and National Insurance number of the employee furloughed
• Details of the furlough claim period
• Confirmation of the business bank account number and sort code

To make a claim themselves, businesses will require the following information:

• PAYE reference number
• Confirmation of the number of employees being furloughed
• The furlough claim period for each employee
• Amount claimed (per the minimum length of furloughing of three weeks). HMRC retain the right to audit all aspects of the claim
• Your business bank account number and sort code
• Your contact name and telephone number

The online service is designed to be ‘self-serve’, with guidance in place.

The Office for Budgetary Responsibility has said the CJRS scheme is limiting the impact on employment.

The government says future decisions on the scheme will take into account further developments on the wider measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus, as well as the responsible management of the public finances.