Published: 08:20, 24 March 2020
| Updated: 08:25, 24 March 2020
Like so many of the steps taken during this health crisis, the government's package of measures to support industry has been both jaw-dropping and unimaginable just a few short weeks ago.
While policy continues to change and evolve as the scale of measures taken continue to be felt, here is a guide to the support available so far - and how to get it.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
This is seen as the key plank to preventing a potentially catastrophic number of redundancies as all but the most essential businesses are forced to close or are seeing dramatic drops in revenues.
Announced by the government, it is a multi-billion pound scheme which will see all UK employers, regardless of size, be able to access central government funds to allow them to continue paying salaries of staff without the need to lay workers off.
In short, it will reimburse employers for 80% of workers' wages up to a cap of £2,500 per staff member per month.
It is at the discretion of individual companies as to whether they top up the wages.
To access the scheme, employers will need to designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers', and notify employees of this change.
It effectively means putting staff on a leave of absence - so they will not be able to work during the time.
The measures will last an initial three months, back-dated from March 1. This will, however, be extended if necessary.
The government says changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation
You should then submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal - the details of which are still to be announced.
HMRC is "urgently working to set up a system of reimbursement".
Clearly, given many revenues streams have almost completely dried up, there is a need for this system to be in place as soon as possible as cash-flows hit critical point.
Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan
While HMRC works to get the wages scheme in place, many firms may require more immediate funding to help ease cash-flow pressures.
In one of is earlier announcements, the government confirmed details of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme which will support SMEs with access to working capital - to include loans and overdrafts - of up to £5million in value and for up to six years.
Central government will pay to cover the first 12 months of interest payments and any lender-levied fees. This means smaller firms will not face the additional strain of upfront costs of securing the funding and benefit from lower initial repayments.
It has been welcomed by the British Chambers of Commerce which describes the scheme as a "crucial step in getting credit flowing to firms who urgently need it during this difficult period. The inclusion of an overdraft facility in the scheme is particularly welcome to those who are facing an immediate and significant loss of cashflow".
The government will guarantee 80% of each loan.
It is being delivered through commercial lenders, backed by the British Business Bank - the state-owned economic development bank which was established to increase the supply of credit to SMEs as well as providing business advice services.
To qualify, your business needs to be UK based with a turnover of no more than £45m a year and, according to the British Business Bank, "have a borrowing proposal which, were it not for the current pandemic, would be considered viable by the lender, and for which the lender believes the provision of finance will enable the business to trade out of any short-to-medium term difficulty".
The scheme is now open for applications. To apply, you should talk to your bank or one of the 40 accredited finance providers - not the British Business Bank - as soon as possible, to discuss your business plan.
All major banks are offering this scheme. If you have an existing loan with monthly repayments you may want to ask for a repayment holiday to help with cash flow.
Paying sick pay
With the numbers of those suffering the virus on the rise, or being unable to work due to self-isolation or the lockdown, the government is bringing forward legislation to allow SMEs to reclaim statutory sick pay (SSP) paid out to staff for sickness.
Firms eligible will need to have fewer than 250 staff as of February 28.
It will cover up to two weeks' SSP because of coronavirus and allow firms to reclaim payments made to staff.
Firms are urged to keep careful records of staff absences and SSP payments. If evidence is needed, staff should be told to seek a 'sick note' from NHS 111 online. Those isolating as a result of a family member showing symptoms can obtain a note via the NHS website. Don't encourage them to call 111 or their GP.
However, details of the scheme are still being worked on so, again, don't expect the money to be immediately available.
Business rate holidays
Unsurprisingly, the hospitality, leisure, and many retail businesses are going to be hit hardest by the outbreak.
As a result, the government has introduced business rate holidays for those in the sectors for the 2020-21 tax year.
It will cover properties being wholly or mainly used as shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs, cinemas, live music venues, hotels and self-catering accommodation.
To take advantage you need do nothing. It will apply to council tax bills in April. The government says, however, "local authorities may have to reissue your bill automatically to exclude the business rate charge" and that they will do this as "soon as possible".
This will also apply to nursery schools.
Additional funding is being made available to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses to plug gaps in income.
The Retail and Hospitality Grant Scheme provides businesses in the sectors with a cash grant of up to £25,000 per property.
For firms in these sectors with a rateable value of under £15,000, they will receive a grant of £10,000.
For businesses with a rateable value of between £15,001 and £51,000, they will receive a grant of £25,000.
Your local authority will write to you if you are eligible for this grant - although guidance to local authorities has not yet been provided - but your first port of call will be your local council.
Deferred tax payments
In another step to ease the pressure on businesses, VAT payments are being deferred for three months.
The deferral period will run from March 20 until June 30.
It will be automatically applied and businesses do not need apply.
If you're self-employed, income tax payments due in July under the self-assessment system will be deferred until January 2021.