Looking back to the beginning of the year, it’s easy to see how lockdown in the UK was inevitable, yet hindsight is a wonderful thing and I don’t think anyone truly anticipated the extent to which COVID-19 would change our lives.
Since the end of March the UK has been in lockdown, with very tight, very clear restrictions in place around leaving our homes for exercise, essential shopping and going out to work if you are a ‘key worker’. Our members have classified as ‘key workers’ in emergency situations, and I am proud that so many of our members have made themselves available, making use of our emergency call our search category to support those in need. We are coming to a time where consideration is being given for how to release lockdown, and the details surrounding this are being published slowly – but what is clear is that social distancing, from all including loved ones, is likely to become the new norm.
The impact that this lockdown has had on the economy, peoples livelihoods and mental health and well being of the population has no doubt been huge, but the Government have set out a number of support packages for both the employed and self-employed to try and protect jobs as best they can.
For all employers, they have introduced the temporary Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme allowing staff who cannot be maintained due to disruption caused by the Coronavirus to be furloughed whilst being able to claim a grant that covers 80% of their usual monthly wage costs. This is up to £2,500 and the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and person contributions (up to the level of the minimum automatic enrolment employer person contribution) on that subsidised furlough pay. The ability to bring people back off furlough if there is some work that needs doing, can be for a few days or longer, then furlough them again for a minimum period of 3 weeks, provides flexibility that may help businesses take on a job and not worry about what to do after if there is no replacement work. This scheme started on 1st March and was initially in place for 4 months but an announcement has come today from the Chancellor Rishi Sunak, extending the scheme until October.
The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme has also been introduced to support the self-employed during this time. This is a taxable grant of 80% of the average monthly trading profits of your company, which will be paid in a single instalment – initially covering 3 months but may be extended. This grant will be capped at £7,500 and your trading profits must be no more than £50,000. The grant will be subject to Income Tax and self-employed National Insurance and does not prevent you from continuing to work or learning a new trade. HMRC will work out if you are eligible, based on your self-assessment tax return, and contact you with how to apply.
As well as grant schemes, the Government have also introduced two business loan schemes to support small businesses. The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) is for small and medium-sized businesses to access loans, of which 80% is guaranteed by the government, up to £5 million. The government pays interest and any fees for the first 12 months and can be borrowed for up to 6 years – depending on the type of finance you apply for.
Even more appealing is the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, announced on the 4th May, which is 100% guaranteed by the Government, with no interest or fees to pay for the first 12 months, after which the interest rate will be 2.5%. The money can be borrowed for up to 6 years with no early repayment fee. The scheme allows small and medium sized businesses to borrow between £2,000-£50,000 – but is capped at a 25% of turnover. You cannot apply for this loan in conjunction with the CBLIS, but if you have already received a loan of up to £50,000 under another Government Scheme you can transfer it into the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, until the 4th November.
These examples of unprecedented levels of support shown by the Government to help businesses stay afloat during these challenging times are much needed and welcomed. My message to any businesses struggling is to make the most of the support available from the government and to keep in touch with your bank, as they are continually evolving the support they can provide and may have new solutions to help the business through the coming months that work for you. Take comfort that things will improve, as they always do, and we can see light at the end of the tunnel.
The Government’s recently published guidance on Working Safely in People’s Homes provides details about how to start working again in a safe manner. A lot of focus is given to ensuring a full and thorough risk assessment is done to ensure risks are identified and considered, basic hygiene measures are followed, social distancing of 2m is applied wherever possible and clarification that any PPE, not needed prior to Covid-19, is not necessary. The demand for tradespeople is still present and will grow. For example, the new Regulations for mandatory Electrical Safety Checks in the Private Rented Sector in England will be introduced on the 1st June, driving a need for electrical inspectors. We’ve published more information about these new Regulations on our website for Landlords and Members.
Now is the time to start considering how you, and your employees, can safely return to work whilst not risking the health of yourself, your team, family or clients. Read the Government Guidance, consider your options and stay safe.
We will continue to provide you with the latest advice from the Government as to what is expected of you to ensure the R levels remains below 1, and we are proud to be here representing and supporting you during these unprecedented times.