The Budget 2020 – Covid-19 and support for businesses

Luke Prout, Tax Partner at Streets Chartered Accountants, explores the specific measures introduced in the Budget to help businesses deal with the impact of Covid-19.

The Covid-19 virus has consumed the entire global population and is spreading rapidly and whilst cases are reported to be declining in China, cases across the world and in the UK are increasing at a rapid pace. This will cause a short-term effect on the economy and productivity. Therefore, the chancellor has announced some welcome business measures to allow certain businesses to have some breathing space due to loss of production, supply chain issues or employee sickness. There are also welcome relaxations for leisure businesses such as public houses and restaurants and retail that may suffer from reduced custom and footfall.

The government has announced:

  • The government will bring forward legislation to allow small- and medium-sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19.

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.
  • 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. It is estimated that 900,000 properties, or 45% of all properties in England, will receive 100% business rates relief in 2020 to 2021. Business may need to apply for the relief by contacting their local authority and guidance will be issued in the next week.
  • 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 £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.
  • A new temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank, will launch in a matter of weeks 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.
  • All businesses and self-employed people in financial distress, and with outstanding tax liabilities, may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time To Pay service. These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities. These businesses can contact HMRC’s new dedicated COVID-19 helpline from 11 March 2020 for advice and support. To ensure ongoing support, HMRC have made a further 2,000 experienced call handlers available to support firms and individuals when needed.