Business Covid toolkit

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:

The Health and Safety Executive has produced guidance on working safely during the coronavirus outbreak and information on managing risk and doing a risk assessment.

Some employees may be unable to come to work because they have been told to self-isolate under NHS Test and Trace.  See this guidance for employers, businesses and workers and the guidance on coronavirus testing.

NHS Test and Trace has published advice on how to recognise, contain and report outbreaks 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.

NHS Test and Trace only tests people who have symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. There is guidance for businesses that want to set up their own test programmes to ensure their workforce is Covid-free. Employees who are given a relevant coronavirus antigen test by their employer are not liable to an Income Tax benefit in kind charge.

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.

There is revised guidance on social distancing issued to coincide with the November lockdown.

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.

International travel is prohibited during the November lockdown except for limited circumstances, such as for work. Employees returning from abroad may be subject to quarantine restrictions and be required to self-isolate for 14 days. The Government has issued on guidance on the employment rights of individuals required to self-isolate on returning to the UK. There are exemptions from the quarantine requirement and a list of countries exempt from the requirement to quarantine. Before travelling abroad, check the latest advice from the Foreign Office, including a list of countries where the Foreign Office has lifted its advice against all but essential travel. There is also useful guidance on safe air travel and travel insurance.

There is specific advice for for seasonal poultry workers coming to England to process poultry on farms, and for their employers.

A travel ban is in place on visitors from Denmark following an outbreak of a variant strain of Covid-19 linked to mink farms there. British nationals returning from  Denmark must self-isolate for 14 days with their household. This requirements extends to UK haulage drivers returning from Denmark while drivers of other nationalities who have travelled from or through Denmark in the last 14 days can no longer enter the UK.

Defra has issued guidance on how to dispose of business waste, including face coverings and PPE. Businesses that use PPE are being warned about sub-standard face masks that fail to provide adequate protection.

In addition to Government advice on safe working, some professional and trade bodies have produced guidance too. They include:

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.

You can view webinars and videos on best practice including case studies where businesses talk about the measures they have implemented to protect staff and customers. There are more case studies in the Government’s Coronavirus Business Support blog.

Cumbria LEP has case studies on how local businesses and organisations are operating safely: The Bath House; Carlisle City Council; James Cropper; H&H Reeds; Kathryn Jackson Coaching;  Network Rail; Oxley Group; Rattle Ghyll; Story Contracting; Temple Heelis; Tullie House Museum; James Walker; University of Cumbria; Wax Lyrical.

 

 

ADVICE, GRANTS, LOANS AND RELIEFS

Cumbria Business Growth Hub is 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 Local Restrictions Support Grant (Closed) Addendum  is available to businesses required to close during the November lockdown. For those occupying properties with a rateable value of £15k or under, grants will be £1,334 for each 28-day period that restrictions apply; for properties with a rateable value of more than £15k but less than £51k, the monthly grant is £2,000; for properties with a rateable value of £51k or above, the grant is £3,000 per month. Shops that have closed but are still operating a click-and-collect service, and restaurants operating as takeaways, are eligible. In Cumbria, the six district councils are responsible for issuing these grants. Use these links to apply to Allerdale Borough Council, Barrow Borough Council, Carlisle City Council, Copeland Borough Council, Eden District Council and South Lakeland District Council.

***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.

There is specific guidance for people who are self-employed and getting less work or no work because of coronavirus.

The Government has reduced the VAT rate from 20% to 5% for the hospitality industry and holiday accommodation, and for visitor attractions. This temporary measure was due to end on January 12, 2021, but has been extended until March 31, 2021.

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 Government’s Green Homes Grant scheme allows home owners to improve the energy efficiency of their properties. Businesses must be TrustMark accredited to carry out installations under the scheme. Find out more and sign up here.

The Rural Payments Agency has issued guidance for farmers, landowners and rural businesses on payments, grants and services, including changes to making claims.

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 British Chambers of Commerce’s Coronavirus Hub has a dedicated section to help businesses looking to restart. Chamber members can sign-up for online events and webinars.

The Government has extended protections for businesses that struggle to pay their rent. They will be protected from eviction until the end of the year. In addition, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has published a code of practice to encourage commercial tenants and landlords to work together to protect viable businesses.

The Government has extended measures to protect businesses from insolvency.

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.

Companies House has issued on guidance on changes to filing arrangements because of the pandemic including a new services allowing companies to upload certain forms digitally instead of submitting them on paper.

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.

The Department for Work and Pensions has produced a factsheet for businesses looking to make staff redundant.

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.

There is also advice that employers can share with employees who cannot work because of Covid restrictions and those being made redundant.

Be the Business has advice on pivoting, altering your business model to adapt to changing market conditions.

Cumbria Tourism has set up a Coronavirus Recovery Hub for tourism and hospitality businesses.

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.

An employer guide has been developed for employers that want to get their apprenticeships up and running again with advice and support to help organisations where apprentices have been affected by the pandemic. Further guidance is available on discovering the benefits of apprenticeships during the pandemic and tried and tested tips for supporting apprentices after a break in learning.

Many of the business support and loan schemes launched under lockdown in March remain available. They include:

  • The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme had been due to close on October 31 but will now be extended to operate until the end of March. It will pay 80% of the wages of furloughed employees who are unable to work because of the pandemic, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.  Employers may be asked to contribute from January. Claims for periods ending on or before October 31 must be submitted by November 30.  Claims after November 1 must be submitted within 14 days of the end of the period that you are claiming for. Check if you can claim, see how to claim, find examples to help you claim, calculate how much you can claim, check which employees you can claim for also individuals you can claim for who are not employees and see the steps to take before calculating your claim. There’s also information too on how to repay grant if you’ve over-claimed. The Pensions Regulator has advice on how the scheme affects employers’ pension contributions. The extension of the Job Retention Scheme until March means that the Job Retention Bonus, announced previously, will not now be paid in February.
  • The Self Employment Income Support Scheme is currently closed to applications but is being extended and will reopen on November 30 when self-employed individuals, whose businesses have been adversely affected by the pandemic, will be able to claim a further lump sum to cover three months’ profits for the period November to January. The scheme is being enhanced to boost payments during lockdown in November. Self-employed people will be able to claim 80% of average monthly profits for the quarter. The maximum grant is increased to £7,500. A further additional grant, which may be adjusted to respond to changing circumstances, will cover the period from February to April 2021. There’s guidance on how to show your business has been adversely affected, how different circumstances affect your eligibility, how HMRC calculates your trading profits and what to do if you’re self-employed and getting less work or no work.  You can also use the online service to check the status of your payment, if you think the grant amount is too low or HMRC have asked you to update your details for your claim. Self-employed people who can’t work or claim under the scheme can apply for Universal Credit.
  • The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme allows SMEs to reclaim employees’ coronavirus-related Statutory Sick Pay.
  • Businesses in retail/hospitality/leisure and nurseries don’t have to pay business rates in 2020-21.
  • 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 Loans offer 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.
  • Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loans offer advances up to £200m to businesses with a turnover of more than £45m. 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.

LUMS also offers the Business Model Innovation Programme  to help SMEs adapt their business models so that they’re better able to weather future crises.

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.

Acas has produced template letters for making staff redundant.

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 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has produced a returning to the workplace planner, a  workforce safety risk assessment template and a workforce planner flowchart to help you navigate complex workforce planning decisions.

The Government’s support-finder tool asks 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.

Public Health England has created a customer-logging toolkit including posters to download and print.

Local authorities in Cumbria have produced a poster to download, urging people to wear a face mask if they cannot stay 2m apart. It is available to download and print in A2, A3, A4 and A5 formats.

HMRC has produced a template to claim for 100 or more employees under the Job Retention Scheme.

 

 

 

© Cumbria Chamber of Commerce