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Coronavirus (COVID-19) – government support for businesses (as at 14 March 2020)

Temporary measures announced so far by the UK and Scottish governments to assist businesses during the coronavirus outbreak include a statutory sick pay (SSP) relief package for small and medium-sized businesses, measures on business rates, a loan scheme, and an HMRC time to pay scheme. The SSP measure is covered in a separate news article; the other measures are outlined below.

The Chancellor outlined plans for rates reliefs for businesses elsewhere in the UK in his budget on 11 March, which was followed by the Scottish Finance Secretary’s announcement on 14 March (business rates for properties in Scotland are overseen by the Scottish government). The UK guidance can be found on the gov.uk website but as the Scottish measures will be more relevant to our clients we have summarised them below:

  • A 75% rates relief from 1 April 2020 for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a rateable value of less than £69,000
  • 1.6% rates relief for all properties across Scotland from 1 April 2020, effectively cancelling the planned rates rise that was due to take effect
  • A fixed rates relief of up to £5,000 for all pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000 from 1 April 2020
  • An £80 million fund to provide grants of at least £3,000 to “small businesses in sectors facing the worst economic impact of COVID-19”
  • Local authorities are also to be urged to “respond positively to requests from rate payers for payment deferrals for a fixed period”

For most businesses the impact of the cuts will be minimal, but every bit of help is to be welcomed at this early stage. More help may come later on.

It also isn’t clear yet how quickly these changes will be applied as most businesses will already have received their rates bills for 2020/21, or how applications for grants from the £80m fund will be made and assessed. We will pass this information on once we have it.

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme is a UK government measure, to be delivered by the British Business Bank in the next few weeks. Lenders will be provided with a government guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to a per-lender cap). The Scheme will support loans of up to £1.2m in value and initially up to £1 billion of total lending, and the government will not charge businesses or banks for the guarantee. Again, we will provide more news on this when we have it.

Finally, HMRC have set up a new dedicated helpline on 0800 0159 559 to assist businesses and self-employed people in financial distress as a result of coronavirus. They will assess claims to defer outstanding tax liabilities on a case-by-case basis. This helpline is in addition to the existing business support helpline (0300 200 3835). Both helplines are open from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 8am to 4pm on Saturdays.

March 16, 2020

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