Cumbria Chamber of Commerce has produced this toolkit to help businesses operate through the pandemic.
It is divided into four sections covering restrictions and safe working; advice, grants, loans and reliefs; skills and training; and tools and templates. We’re updating the toolkit regularly as new information comes to light. To help flag up the latest information, recent additions and changes are marked as ***NEW*** or ***UPDATED*** respectively.
This guidance applies to businesses in England – different rules apply for Scotland where the Government is advising against unnecessary travel to other parts of the UK, including Cumbria. There is, however, a list of exemptions from the advice not to travel including travel to and from work.
The Prime Minister has announced a national lockdown to take effect from Thursday November 5 until Wednesday December 2 (although it could be extended). This will require certain businesses to close including non-essential retail, much of the hospitality sector and close-contact services such as hairdressers. More details in the section below on Restrictions and Safe Working.
The Chancellor has announced that the Job Retention Scheme will be extended until the end of March paying 80% of the wages of furloughed staff (although employers may be asked to pay a contribution from January). The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme is also being enhanced to allow self-employed people to claim a grant equivalent to 80% of average trading profits for the quarter November to January. More details in the section below on Advice, Grants, Loans and Reliefs, along with information on grants for businesses required to close or otherwise severely impacted.
***NEW*** The Government has announced details of new restrictions that will replace the national lockdown with effect from Wednesday December 2. The restrictions are more rigorous than the tier system that applied prior to lockdown. There will be three tiers defined as ‘medium alert‘, ‘high alert‘ and ‘very high alert‘. Non-essential retail and close-contact services such as hairdressers – which are required to close at present – will be able to operate under all three tiers. We expect an announcement on Thursday, November 26, on which tiers will apply in different parts of Cumbria.
RESTRICTIONS and SAFE WORKING
Government advice is that people should work from home wherever possible. This applies throughout the winter period, not just the November lockdown. Where working from home isn’t practical, businesses can continue to operate unless they’re on a list of businesses that must remain closed. Where business premises remain open, they should follow Covid-secure guidelines. An online tool helps businesses to carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment and make sensible adjustments to their premises and workforce. Those that don’t do this could face enforcement proceedings.
There is specific sector advice on working safely for:
NHS Test and Trace has published advice on how to recognise, contain and reportoutbreaks of Covid-19 on business premises. There’s a series of action cards to download for different types of business.
It is now a legal requirement for people who have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace to do so, supported by payments of £500 for those on lower incomes who cannot work from home. There is no requirement on employers to deduct National Insurance contributions from Covid Test and Trace payments. Fines for those breaching self-isolation rules start at £1,000 up to a maximum of £10,000 for repeat offences and the most egregious breaches including for those preventing others from self-isolating. This could include business owners who threaten self-isolating staff with redundancy if they do not come to work.
It is mandatory for certain businesses to have a system to collect NHS Test and Trace data and keep this for 21 days. Those affected include tourism and hospitality businesses, cinemas, concert venues, theatres and close-contact services such as hairdressers (bear in mind that most of these businesses will be required to close during the November lockdown). These businesses are also now required to download QR codes to display prominently on posters so that customers can check in with the new NHS Covid-19 app as an alternative to filling out a check-in book. Businesses that fail to comply face a fine of £1,000 rising to £4,000 for repeat offenders. The app is available to download for Apple and Android devices now. The Information Commissioner’s Office has published guidance on the data protection implications of collecting this information.
Businesses selling food or drink for consumption on the premises (such as cafes, bars, pubs and restaurants), social clubs, casinos, bowling alleys, amusement arcades (and other indoor leisure centres or facilities), funfairs, theme parks, and adventure parks and activities, and bingo halls, must close between 10pm and 5am. Bear in mind that these businesses are required to close during the November lockdown. Take-aways can continue to operate through the November lockdown (and pubs and restaurants can offer a take-away service) but must close at 10pm. Delivery and drive-thru services can continue after 10pm.
Once the November lockdown ends and indoor and outdoor licensed premises reopen, food and drink must be ordered from, and served at, a table. Licensed and unlicensed businesses must take all reasonable steps to ensure the customer remains seated whilst consuming food or drink on the premises. Cinemas, theatres and concert halls will be able continue beyond 10pm when they reopen, but only if the performance started before 10pm, and food and drink cannot be served after 10pm.
A maximum of 15 people are allowed to attend weddings and receptions, while up to 30 can attend funerals. Weddings and civil partnerships are not permitted during the November lockdown,
Face coverings are mandatory in many settings including shops, shopping malls, public transport, visitor attractions and hairdressers. The Government has extended the list to include staff in shops, customers in taxis and private hire cars and customers in hospitality settings except when seated to eat or drink. The maximum fine for those that don’t comply is £3,200.
For business travel and commuting, consult the guidance on safe travel.
The Government is urging people to reduce the number of journeys they make during the November lockdown and not to travel outside their local area. Journeys to and from work are permitted. Where possible, people are asked to walk or cycle and to avoid busy times on public transport.
Westfield Health, which runs the Chamber Health Care service for Chamber members, has created a range of live coaching webinars and 1:1 coaching sessions to help employers manage the transition back to into work and ensure staff are engaged and productive.
Cumbria Business Growth Hubis your first port of call for advice. Growth Hub advisers, who are all experienced business people, can work with you one-to-one. This advice is free to qualifying SMEs. Advisers can help you apply for grants and loans. Your customers might behave differently, you may need to consider new markets or new routes to market and you may have to reconfigure your premises to meet social-distancing requirements. Advisers can help you tackle theses issues. To give a flavour of the wider Growth Hub offer, Cumbria Growth Catalyst provides a review and intensive support for SMEs, the Consultancy Subsidy offers grants of up to £1,300 to buy-in outside expertise, Cumbria Manufacturing Service provides specialist help and grants to manufacturers while Manufacturing Made Smarter helps manufacturers access new technologies. The Growth Hub is also the gateway to programmes run by Lancaster University Management School.
The Growth Hub is partnering with Risk Dashboard to offer the Covid-19 Risk Dashboard to Cumbrian SMEs. This is a simple-to-use tool to help you survive the challenges of Covid and thrive moving forward.
The Kickstart Scheme is a £2bn fund to create hundreds of thousands of high quality six-month work placements aimed at those aged 16 to 24 who are on Universal Credit and are deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment. Funding available for each job will cover 100% of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic-enrolment contributions. Employers looking to create job placements for young people should check if they can apply for funding. Those able to offer at least 30 placements can apply to Kickstart directly. Those offering fewer than 30 placements should apply through the Chamber. Here are tips for making a successful application.
***UPDATED*** The Additional Restrictions Grant is available to businesses required to close that do not directly pay business rates and to businesses that are not required to close but have been severely impacted. We expect many businesses that supply the hospitality and retail sectors will fall into that category. In Cumbria, district councils will pay the grants and set the eligibility criteria and amounts. From what we know, grants will be similar to those awarded under the Local Restrictions Support Grant (Closed) Addendum above, with a maximum grant of £3,000 per 280day period that restrictions apply. Carlisle City Council, Copeland Borough Council and Eden District Council are now accepting applications. We expect Allerdale, Barrow and South Lakeland to follow shortly.
The Local Restrictions Support Grant (Open) is for businesses that remained open but were severely impacted by the tier-2 local restrictions that applied before national lockdown on November 5. In Cumbria, Barrow entered tier-2 on October 17 and Carlisle on October 31. Allerdale, Copeland, Eden and South Lakeland were never subject to tier-2 restrictions. Barrow Borough Council is inviting grant applications and Carlisle City Council will follow. In Barrow, businesses occupying properties with a rateable value of £15k or less will get £934 for each 28-day period they were subject to the restrictions; those with a rateable value or more than £15k but less than £51k will get £1,400 per month; those with a rateable value of £51k or above will get £2,100 per month.
The Government has extended a £1m tax break that aims to stimulate investment in manufacturing and support business confidence. Businesses can continue to claim up to £1m in same-year tax relief through the Annual Investment Allowance for capital investments in plant and machinery until January 1, 2022. The £1m cap had been due to revert to £200k on January 1, 2021.
The Government has compiled a round-up of coronavirus support and resources from public bodies, organisations and charities that may be useful to businesses. It also has a web portal enabling businesses to access the latest advice and information, sector by sector, from business representative organisations and trade associations.
HM Revenue and Customs has issued guidance on repaying overpayments made under the Eat Out to Help Out scheme that ran throughout August. This applies if HMRC writes to say that your business has been paid too much or if you realise that you’ve claimed too much. Failure to report an overpayment could lead to a penalty of up to 100% of the amount claimed.
The Marine Management Organisation is offering fast-tracks grants of up to £100,000 to help ports or harbours impacted by the pandemic. Apply by November 29. There are also grants of up to £50,000 and for health and safety improvements on fishing vessels.
The Zoo Animals Fund provides grants of up to £730,000 to zoos and aquariums that are experiencing severe financial difficulties because of loss or revenue. The deadline for applications has been extended until January 29, 2021.
The Financial Conduct Authority has won a test case on the legal clarity of business interruption cover. It reviewed more than 500 policies from 40 insurers and identified a sample of 17 policy wordings that highlighted the key areas of dispute. The test case also clarified that the COVID-19 pandemic and the Government response was a single cause of the covered loss. This is a key requirement for claims to be paid even if the policy provides cover. The case outcome should help policyholders and insurers identify which business interruption policies provide cover for the coronavirus pandemic and which do not.
The Competition and Markets Authority has issued a statement on refunds where wedding services are cancelled because of Covid to help consumers understand their rights and to help businesses to treat their customers fairly.
There have been changes to insolvency law to give relieve the administrative burden on businesses – for example by providing more time to file accounts – and give struggling companies breathing space from their creditors while they seek a rescue.
Jobcentre Plus has created a website to assist employers looking to recruit or or make redundancies. It offers advice on next steps and the best ways to support staff who are losing their jobs.
Cumbria LEP has launched Jobs Fuse in partnership with the National Careers Service and the Department for Work and Pensions. Employers looking to make redundancies can call a hotline to find out about careers advice and support available to staff. The service also promotes vacancies to individuals available to start work.
The Government has simplified the licensing process for outdoor seating and stalls, making it easier for hospitality businesses to serve customers outside.
Businesses recruiting young people need to be aware that, because of Covid, the Government has put in place special arrangements so that qualifications can be awarded even though exams have been cancelled. Read the guidance for employers.
Bounce Back Loans offer advances up to £50,000 to SMEs. There are no fees, no interest in the first 12 months and no requirement to start repayments for 12 months. The interest rate from year two is 2.5%. The Chancellor has extended the maximum repayment period from six to 10 years and is allowing payment holidays and interest-only periods of up to six months. The deadline for applying has been extended until January 31, 2021. Businesses that already have a Bounce Back Loan can now apply for a top-up loan from their existing lender if they originally borrowed less than the £50k maximum.
Coronavirus Business Interruption Loansoffer advances up to £5m to SMEs. They are fee-free and interest-free for 12 months. Lenders will not demand personal guarantees for loans under £250,000. These loans are partially guaranteed by the Government. The Chancellor has extended the guarantee period from six years to 10 in the hope that lenders will allow borrowers to extend the repayment period to 10 years too. The deadline for applications has been extended to January 31, 2021.
***UPDATED*** HM Revenue and Customs is allowing businesses to defer tax payments such as VAT and self-assessment payment on account. The Chancellor has now refined these schemes. Business that deferred VAT bills are being given the option to pay back in smaller instalments. Rather than paying a lump sum in full at the end March 2021, they will be able to make 11 smaller interest-free payments during the 2021-22 financial year. Likewise, self-assessment taxpayers will be given a 12-month extension to the ‘Time to Pay’ facility, meaning payments deferred from July 2020, and those due in January 2021, will not need to be paid until January 2022.
The Future Fund offers convertible loans to businesses driving innovation. The deadline for applications has been extended until January 31, 2021.
HMRC has explanatory videos covering many of the above schemes while Cumbria Business Growth Hub has a summary of the loan schemes, outlining their pros and cons, with advice on making applications and deadlines. Businesses that have received grants they were not eligible for, or have been paid more than their entitlement, could be subject to penalties if they do not inform HRMC.
Grants of up to £7,000 are available to SMEs in rural areas of Cumbria that suffer from slow broadband connections. The aim is to ensure businesses have access to download speeds of at least 30Mbps.
SKILLS AND TRAINING
The Government has announced two leadership programmes to help small business leaders grow their companies in the wake of the pandemic. The Small Business Leadership Programme strengthens decision makers’ leadership skills. The 10-week programme will be delivered online by experts from university business schools. The Peer Networks Programme helps business owners improve problem-solving skills through guided exercises. Both are free to businesses that meet the eligibility criteria. There are 2,000 places available on the Small Business Leadership Programme and 6,000 on the Peer Networks Programme.
The Chancellor has announced incentives to support employers looking to recruit apprentices before January 31, 2021. They are worth up to £2,000 per apprentice, with no limit on the number of payments a business can receive. The training provider Seetec Outsource has compiled a guide setting and how changes to apprenticeship funding policy will benefit employers who pay the apprenticeship levy as well as SMEs that can access government funding for their apprentices.
For businesses making staff redundant, Inspira provides free careers advice and guidance to furloughed workers, those facing redundancy as well as its usual free careers guidance service for adults. Likewise Cumbria Community Learning and Skills provides training and qualifications for adults to improve their employment prospects and further their career development, offering courses throughout Cumbria.
Cumbria Coaching Network is offering free coaching to the leaders and employees of businesses, charities and public sector organisations in Cumbria that have been adversely affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The group of professional coaches can help people who are experiencing distress, anxiety and business challenges.
Digital Tech Cumbria is an initiative to help Cumbrian businesses identify how digital technology can support the achievement of their goals. It is open to SMEs that sell to other businesses.
Digital Boost is a free service offering online workshops and courses, and one-to-one advice, to help small businesses boost their digital skills and capabilities.
The Government has set up an online learning platform to help people boost their skills while at home during lockdown. The Skills Toolkit offers free digital and numeracy courses.
Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) is offering the Evolve Digital programme to equip leaders of family businesses with the tools and techniques they need to enhance their leadership skills and boost their confidence when it comes to assessing and adopting technology. It is free to businesses that meet the criteria.
In addition, two existing LUMS programmes have been adapted to run online:
The Made Smarter Leadership Programme is an eight-month leadership programme for business leaders of manufacturing SMEs wanting to improve their productivity through the adoption of new industrial digital technologies.
Productivity Through People is a 10-month programme in partnership with three world-class manufacturers – BAE Systems, Siemens and Rolls-Royce – designed to support and invest in the manufacturers of tomorrow. Gain access to the latest techniques, thinking and research to transform your productivity and working practices.
TOOLS AND TEMPLATES
Once your business has completed a risk assessment, you can download and print a notice to display showing that your workplace is Covid-secure.
The British Chambers of Commerce has drafted a template exemption letter to be issued, where appropriate, to staff travelling back to the UK to show they are exempt from the requirement to self-isolate for 14 days.
The Government’s support-finder toolasks simple questions about your businesses, then advises what loans, tax relief or grants you can claim. This complements its coronavirus hub setting out the support available to businesses.
The Department for Transport has produced posters that employers can download and print to help staff plan their journeys to and from work safely.