Category44

Employment

Covid-19: Government support for SMEs and Industry Professionals, How real and tangible is it?

By businesses, coronavirus, Employment

With the scourge of the pandemic that is Covid-19 accelerating and showing no signs of waning, the employment of tighter measures to close down ‘non-essential’ industry sectors such as non-food retail shops etc. the future of Small to medium sized businesses (SME’s) remains evermore uncertain. With the life blood of businesses now on pause; and costs & overheads ever increasing – Business Owners and Industry Professionals (the self-employed demographic) have compelled the government to put in place several fiscal packages and plans to support and prop up the collapse of the SME industry in the UK; a sector which accounts for a whopping 50% of turnover of all business in the UK. So, how really is the Government supporting our SME businesses during these unprecedented times?

First of all the statistics…

 

UK Small Business Statistics (Figures obtained from the Dept. of Business, Innovation & Skills, as well as the FSB)

Summary

  • There were 5.8 million small businesses at the start of 2019.
  • Compared with the previous year, the private sector business population increased 3.5% (+200,000 businesses).

SMEs and the Economy:

  • At the start of 2019 there were 5.82 million small businesses (with 0 to 49 employees), 99.3% of the total business. SMEs account for 99.9% of the business population (5.9 million businesses).
  • SMEs account for three fifths of the employment and around half of turnover in the UK private sector.
  • Total employment in SMEs was 16.6 million (60% of the total), whilst turnover was estimated at £2.2 trillion (52%).

Composition of the business population:

  • In 2019, there were estimated to be 5.9 million UK private sector businesses
  • 1.4 million of these had employees and 4.5 million had no employees.
  • The UK private sector business population is made up of 3.5 million sole proprietorships (59% of the total), 2.0 million actively trading companies (34%) and 405,000 ordinary partnerships (7%) in 2019.
  • 2.6 million private sector businesses as registered for VAT or PAYE, 45% of the estimated total population.

So, this is a demographic not to be ignored by the government.

WHAT THE GOVERNMENT HAS TO SAY ABOUT YOUR EMPLOYEES

Wages

To encourage employers to keep their employees on the payroll and prevent them from being made redundant, the government recently introduced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

This scheme will reimburse 80% of your employees’ wages of up to £2,500 per month. The Scheme will reimburse your employees’ wages backdated from 01 March 2020. For now, it will operate for 3 months.

The requirements are simply that:

  1. you are a UK employer
  2. you have a PAYE scheme
  3. you have changed the status of your employees to furloughed workers
  4. you have submitted information about the furloughed workers and their earnings to HMRC through their new online portal

 

Sick pay

The scope of SSP has been temporarily expanded: The government will allow SME’s to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from Day 1 instead of the usual Day 4 provisions if an employee is absent due to Covid-19 related sickness.

Employers will be refunded for up 2 weeks’ worth of SSP for an employee; as well as being able to reclaim certain expenditures incurred for an employee who has claimed SSP.

For this the requirements are:

  1. the employer must have fewer than 250 employees (as of 28 February 2020)
  2. must maintain records of staff absences and payment of SSP

 

Self employed Consultants

Those not eligible for SSP e.g. the self-employed or people earning below the Lower Earnings Limit can now more easily make a claim for Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance.

 

WHAT THE GOVERNMENT HAS TO SAY ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS

Business rates holiday

Is your business based in England?

Are you in the retail, hospitality and/or leisure sector?

Do you own a shop, restaurant, café, gym, hotel, catering business?

Then you may be eligible for a business rates holiday for the 2020 to 2021 tax year. This means the business rates payable to your Council will be exempt. This exemption will be automatic and will apply to your next council tax bill in April 2020.

Small Business Rate Relief

If you are:

  1. a business based in England
  2. considered a small business and already receive small business rate relief (or rural rate relief)
  3. a business that occupies property

then you will be provided with a grant of £10,000 to help your ongoing business costs.

If you are eligible for this scheme, your local authority will write to you.

Cash grants

If your business operates within the retail, hospitality and leisure sector then you may be eligible for a cash grant of up to £25,000. This includes businesses who operate as shops, restaurants, café, bars, gyms, hotels, self-catering and accommodation provision.

The government have issued 2 grants:

  1. The £15,000 grant: If your business has a property with a rateable value of up to £15,000 you will receive a grant of £10,000
  2. The £25,000 grant: If your business has a property with a rateable value of between £15,000 and less than £51,000 you will receive a grant of £25,000

If you are eligible for this scheme, your local authority will write to you.

Deferral of VAT and Income tax

If you are concerned about the ongoing payments of income tax or VAT, then rest assured! The government have proposed that they will support businesses by deferring VAT payments for 3 months. They have also proclaimed that income tax payments that were due in July 2020 may be deferred until January 2021.

The deferral is an automatic offer – so no lengthy and strenuous applications needed! Simply cancel your direct debit with the bank and freeze payments until the end of 2020. Again, the devil is in the details… so take clear advice before actioning any proposals. am

Coronavirus Interruption Loan Scheme

SME’s may temporarily be entitled to help and support to access loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance for up to 6 years.

The government have proposed to cover the first 12 months of interest payments using the Business Interruption Payment so the financial burden on SME’s is lessened. They will also provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan.

40 accredited lenders and all major banks have agreed. If you are unsure if your lender has signed up to the scheme or would like to make an application, then either visit their website or simply contact them directly.

You may be eligible for this if your:

  1. business is based in the UK
  2. turnover does not exceed £45 million per year
  3. Having a borrowing proposal which the lender: (a) would consider viable were it not for the Covid-19 pandemic (b) believes will enable you to trade out of any short-term to medium-term difficulty

Finally…Commercial Leases

It is also worth noting that commercial landlords are now compelled to put a moratorium on lease forfeitures and evictions for the next 3 months. This does not mean that your commercial lease is automatically terminated though so beware! Put as simply as possible, this means that Commercial Landlords must hold off issuing any proceedings against a business tenant which does not or cannot afford to pay its rent in these hard times.

But as we all know its not always that simple, the devil is always in the detail….

 

If you are struggling to navigate the labyrinthine regulations and laws being reeled out by the Government please contact one of our legal and tax advisors for a free  of charge 30 minute consultation on how we can help ease the burden of COVID-19 on your business and industry practice.

Remote Working Doesn’t Have to be so Remote

By coronavirus, Employment

Recent events have completely revolutionised our world of work and our hitherto accepted traditions for social connections. However, for most people working from home can be challenging; especially if you are struggling to find an appropriate work space in your home; are worried about your internet connections dropping in and out (ergo looking like a frozen zombie half the time!) and missing those gossip filled lunch breaks with your colleagues. All which contribute to your mental wellbeing…

So! in order to help make your remote working experience as pain free as possible, here are  seven top tips on what you can do to ensure that you can effectively conduct your work from the comfort of your home and keep social connections going with your favourite people!

Setting up your work-space

  1. Camera and audio quality are important! It’s likely that your laptop will already have built-in camera and audio, however, sometimes the audio may be affected if the sound is played aloud and so you may have to resort to wearing earphones during online meetings. Always have these ready on the go or invest in some good quality audio software. Your employer may subsidise your investment. You never know, if you don’t ask you don’t get…

 

  1. Ensure that your internet connection is stable! Invest with a good quality broadband service provider and ask if your employer is willing to subsidise your subscription fees for upgrading to a more suitable broadband provider in order to effectively carry out your work-related duties. The usual home networks aren’t usually able to take many devices at once, especially if your work is Gigabyte heavy (unlike office broadband networks which are designed for heavy duty downloading, uploading etc.). You could also put in place a rota or schedule of your work times at home so that those who are also using the same internet connection in your home know when to wait until your meeting finishes before they start streaming their favourite shows or downloading the latest games! Communication is the key here…

 

  1. Source a good background- either virtual or real! It’s all well and good putting on a smart shirt and styling your hair before your online meeting, but just because those on the screen cannot see your bright pink pyjama bottoms, doesn’t mean that they also cannot see your messy room in the background. Try to sit with your back facing a wall (this often works best when sitting at a dining table) alternatively, you could set up a temporary desk and chair in front of a closed door – this allows those that you’re engaging with to focus on you, and not play ‘I spy’ with the objects behind you. Also be acutely of your surroundings at all times and avoid situations that could cause the utmost professional embarrassment! Like forgetting you are on video camera and using the loo at the same time! (that really happened! And it went viral on social media) Most remote conferencing applications allow you to temporarily black out your video camera or take a visual/audio break from the meeting whilst keeping the audio on for you to hear proceedings.

Break-time

  1. Take regular breaks! Desk or Armchair Yoga is amazing! Working in an office often means strict lunch breaks, but not if you’re working from home. It’s very easy to lose your structure and discipline. So, it’s important to manage your time and workload efficiently, so that you can still execute your work projects whilst also taking regular five-minute breaks – either to stretch your legs, check on the kids or make yourself a quick cup of tea. Doing this allows you to avoid occupational health issues such as repetitive strain syndrome or eye, back and neck problems. At home you are more likely to ignore the ergo dynamics you wouldn’t ignore at work because you are in your comfort zone.

 

  1. Make use of your one opportunity to exercise per day! Exercising and watching same light-hearted entertainment can be good for your mental health. During these stressful times, some find it difficult to cope with anxiety if they feel trapped in their homes, and it’s very easy to become so focused with work that you forget to indulge in some self-care or mindfulness. Therefore, going out for a bit of fresh air in open spaces very early in the morning or much later in the evening (when there tends to be less souls out and about) and in any event, making sure you respect the social distancing guidelines at all times; as well as making time to carry out an activity that you enjoy is very important for your mental health. So, out come the collectors train sets and crochet needles that you have stashed away in storage…

Interactive calls and meetings

  1. Virtual meetings don’t have to be so black and white! On many online platforms there are different ways to make online meetings more interactive and interesting than they would usually be at the office – just because you’re all stuck at home, doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun! One example of an online platform that allows its participants to be interactive with one another and improve the quality of the meeting is ‘Zoom’. Different ways to make your meetings both more professional and more interesting is through the use of interactive whiteboards, a screen capture that can show the participants of the virtual meeting call whatever you choose to share on your screen; you can even create break out rooms for people to congregate separately on mini projects during the virtual meeting. You can even record the meeting and refer back to it later. Slide shows, Short Sharp videos and Savvy whiteboards are amazing for bringing a virtual meeting to life and breaking up the monotony…

 

  1. Have a virtual lunch (or after work drinks) together! Using online platforms such as ‘Zoom’ works not only for work related meetings; you can (and many people have cottoned on to this) also use it as a platform for hanging out with your colleagues during lunch time or after work. Grab your lunch and turn on the camera, to socialise and eat together, have a quiz night with drinks and nibbles or have a disco party in the kitchen, living room or conservatory… full on with a virtual DJ and all! In no time it will feel just like the good old days when freedom was a luxury we all took for granted (only your sofa surfing skills will be upgraded… seriously); and your social connections will just take on a whole new high!

If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail

By coronavirus, Employment

At this point in time it goes without saying that COVID-19 has presented of number of challenges to us all. However, several employers are trying to manage the financial toll that the pandemic is having on their business. In this regard, those who have prepared well in advance by consulting employment lawyers and drafting a series of policies to account for various scenarios, including emergencies, have been the least affected. Further, several businesses have been able to operate more or less as normal, with staff simply working remotely in order to implement the government’s advice of social distancing.

However, a number of industries have been forced into temporary closure in order to contain the spread of coronavirus, this was already the case prior to the government’s decision to close pubs, clubs, theatres, cinemas, gyms and restaurants on Friday 20 March which has accentuated this issues further.

Therefore, in light of these challenges, the government also announced a significant relief scheme on Friday which involves designating employees as ‘furloughed workers’.

What is Furloughing

Workers who are furloughed are not being dismissed or made redundant. The definition of ‘furlough’ is a mandatory suspension from work. Quite simply, an employee no longer carries out any work but remains on the company payroll. It doesn’t take an expert in economics to figure out how this could be detrimental to businesses, especially given that we are presently unaware of how much time will pass until all industries are up and running again.

What is the scheme

Under the new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers, regardless of size or industry, can claim a grant from HMRC to cover 80% of furloughed employees wages, up to a limit of £2,500 a month for each employee. Employers have been given the option to top up the remaining 20% at their own discretion.

The scheme will be backdated to 01 March 2020 and will last for at least three months, subject to a review whereby the scheme will be extended if necessary.

The government has not yet published much written guidance on the scheme; and the ins and outs remain opaque. However, it has updated the COVID-19: support for businesses guidance and COVID-19: guidance for employees web pages to provide basic details in the meantime. What the government has made clear is that the scheme will apply to all employees on PAYE, including those on zero-hours contracts, and whilst HMRC are still working to set up the new system of reimbursement, the government hopes that the first grants will be paid within weeks.

What Should Employers Do

The first thing employers should do is review their relevant policies such as the working from home policy. Those who do not have such policies in place should learn significant lessons from this pandemic, namely, that is essential to consult a solicitor or have numerous policies in place should the worst happen. Businesses that have policies drafted have managed the crisis far more comfortably than those who did not or don’t.

Nonetheless, in relation to the scheme, employers will need to:

  1. Decide which employees to designate as furloughed employees – this will vary from industry to industry, as well as business to business.
  2. Notify those employees of the intended change to their status and agree this change with the employees; the majority of employment contracts cannot be varied by an employer without an employee’s agreement.
  3. Consider whether you need to consult with employee representatives or trade unions, as there are numerous scenarios where an employer is under a duty to inform and consult such representatives or even notify the Secretary of State which could apply. Although it must be noted that it is not clear, whether the government expects employers to adhere to this process before placing employees on furlough leave under the current circumstances.
  4. Confirm the employees’ new status in writing. Given the unprecedent unknowns of the current climate we advise employers to put employees on furlough leave for an initial period, subject to review.
  5. Notify HMRC about the furloughed workers and their earnings through the new online portal.
  6. Ensure that the employees do not carry out any further work while they are furloughed.

Should you require any more advice in relation to furloughing, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or your businesses policies in general, please feel free to get in touch with us.

Finally, any advice arising from the issues relating to COVID-19 are constantly evolving, therefore you should always consult the latest directions from government websites, NHS, Public Health England and WHO before taking any action.

COVID-19 The Legal Effects on Employees

By coronavirus, Employment

COVID-19 doesn’t only affect stock levels in high street stores, it will also affect employees. Are you worried about not being paid sick leave? Are you unable to work from home and want your employer to create safeguards within the workplace? Are your children now staying at home and making it impossible to go into work? Read more on the 5 ways that COVID-19 effects employees.

  1. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) Entitlement

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COVID-19 The Legal Effects on Employers

By coronavirus, Employment

COVID-19 doesn’t only affect stock levels in high street stores, it will also affect employers’ obligations with respect to their most vulnerable resource – employees. Are there any additional workplace safety health and safety measures that employers may need to take? How early do employers have to notify their employees about any policy changes? Will employers have to relax their work absence policy? Read more on the 5 ways that employers can make themselves COVID-19 ready.

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