Government announces COVID-19 support for businesses

Rishi Sunak, the government's chancellor, has unveiled a £350bn package of support to help businesses survive the impact of the COVID-19 virus.

The funding includes support funding sick leave for employees and temporary holidays for rates payers.

He said: "This is not a time for ideology and orthodoxy, this is a time to be bold, a time for courage. I want to reassure every British citizen this government will give you all the tools you need to get through this.

"That means any business who needs access to cash to pay their rent, their salaries, suppliers or purchase stock will be able to access a government-backed loan or credit on attractive terms."

Statutory Sick Pay

The government will refund up to two weeks of SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19. This amounts to a little under £200, and is available to businesses which employed 250 or fewer at the end of February.

Action: To make a claim, employers should maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note. 

However, there is currently no mechanism in place to the repayments, and experts are warning that the funds may not materialise for several months yet.

Business rates relief

The government has increased the Business Rates retail discount in England to 100 per cent for the 2020 to 2021 tax year for properties below £51,000 rateable value. The relief will also be extended to the leisure and hospitality sectors, and there is also a £5,000 business rates discount for pubs with a rateable value below £100,000 in England.

The government has also set aside £2.2bn 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 £3,000 to businesses currently eligible for SBRR or Rural Rate Relief, to help meet their ongoing business costs.

Action: Companies will need to apply for the discount through their local councils. Further guidance is due to be published on March 20.

Business interruption loans

The British Business Bank will launch a temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme which will give businesses access to bank lending and overdrafts. The government will also support lenders by guaranteeing 80 per cent of each loan granted to SMEs, and will not charge businesses or banks for the service.

Help paying tax

Businesses and self-employed people who are in financial distress may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time To Pay service. The standard 3.5 per cent annual interest on deferred tax payments will be waived.

Eligibility will be judged on a case-by-case basis related to individual circumstances and liabilities.

Action: Businesses or individuals seeking support should contact the HMRC on 0800 0159 559.

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