In these unprecedented times, businesses need to be clear on the actions they should be taking
Coverage of coronavirus has swept the globe and, understandably, businesses are concerned. The impact the COVID-19 crisis will have on businesses remains very much in the dark, with regulations and information updating daily at this point.
This concern is particularly felt in small businesses, for whom even a slight change in circumstances can have significant consequences.
With that in mind, here’s a roundup of the information you need to help keep your business afloat during the confusion. At time of publication this is up to date but with the Chancellor introducing measures all the time, we’ll be highlighting the latest developments on our social media channels.
You can also find important information at www.gov.uk.
What government support is available for small businesses during the coronavirus?
There are several official measures in place designed to help workers and business owners during this time. These include:
Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme: These are available for businesses with a turnover below £41 million. They are delivered by the British Business Bank. You can apply for a loan of up to £1.2 million, with the government covering up to 80% of losses with no fees. This is expected to launch later this month or early April.
Statutory Sick Pay: This is available for businesses with fewer than 250 employees, and the cost of providing 14 days of SSP will be refunded in full by the government. However, it does not apply to self-employed people or people earning less than £118 a week on average. Applying for government benefits is advised in these circumstances (see Employment and Support Allowance).
Tax Helpline: This is a dedicated helpline for businesses and self-employed workers experiencing financial distress and outstanding tax liabilities. You may be able to arrange a bespoke Time to Pay arrangement by calling 0800 0159 559.
Employment and Support Allowance: This support is designed for self-employed people, freelancers who can’t claim SSP or those on low incomes. If you have an illness that affects how much you can work, or if you need to self-isolate, ESA is now available from day one of isolation.
Business Rate Discount: This is available for properties below £51,000 rateable value. In line with these measures, business rates retail discounts in England are set to be increased to 100% for 2020-21. As a result, nearly half of all business properties will not pay any business rates.
Cash Grants for Small Businesses: This is a £3,000 cash grant set to be delivered by Local Authorities to 700,000 of the UK’s smallest businesses in April. You don’t need to apply – the local authorities will be making contact with you if your small business already receives rate relief.
What else can you do to support yourself and your business?
If you have a start-up loan or any other business loan, be sure to contact your lender as soon as possible as they are in the best position to offer advice. Do your best to optimise your cash flow during this time by issuing invoices promptly, planning for any ‘pinch points’ with financial support, delaying non-essential investments and reviewing your current financial commitments.
We may all be being encouraged to isolate, but that doesn’t undermine the importance of communication. Speak to any suppliers about stock, and consult your customers and clients to let them know how your business plans to deal with the current situation. Will it be business as usual or will you close? Will your services change or can you offer alternatives? This is also a good chance to find out what your customers are planning – is anyone thinking of cancelling your services?
You should also plan for staff sickness. Many businesses are seeing increased time off among employees right now, whether that’s due to illness, isolation or that there simply isn’t enough work to justify staff members coming in. This is particularly important if your business contains vulnerable staff, such as those with disabilities or pre-existing health conditions.
To cope with this, there are key questions you need to consider: are there activities you can cancel? What is the minimum staffing level at which you can operate safely? Are your staff able to work remotely? If so, the Government advises that they do so.
Make sure you stay up to date with Government guidelines and stick to them. And remember, in times of high stress and uncertainty like this it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself as well as your business. Seek out support if and when you need it.