UK: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Employers and Employees

UK: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Employers and Employees

This guide highlights all the government updates regarding COVID-19 for employers and employees in the United Kingdom.

Please note that the content of this article shares guidance for employees provided by the UK Government.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Employers

Sick Pay

Those who follow advice to stay at home and who cannot work as a result, will be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP), even if they are not themselves sick. Employers should use their discretion and respect the medical need to self-isolate in making decisions about sick pay. Anyone not eligible to receive sick pay, including those earning less than an average of £118 per week, some of those working in the gig economy, or self-employed people, are able to claim Universal Credit and/or contributory Employment and Support Allowance.

For those on a low income and already claiming Universal Credit, it is designed to automatically adjust depending on people’s earnings or other income. However, if someone needs money urgently they can apply for an advance through the journal.

Certifying Absence from Work

By law, medical evidence is not required for the first 7 days of sickness. After 7 days, employers may use their discretion around the need for medical evidence if an employee is staying at home. It is strongly suggested that employers use their discretion around the need for medical evidence for a period of absence where an employee is advised to stay at home either as they are unwell themselves, or live with someone who is, in accordance with the public health advice issued by the government.

If evidence is required to cover self-isolation or household isolation beyond the first 7 days of absence then employees can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online or from the NHS website.

What to Do If an Employee Needs Time off Work to Look After Someone

Employees are entitled to time off work to help someone who depends on them (a ‘dependant’) in an unexpected event or emergency. This would apply to situations related to coronavirus (COVID-19). For example:

  • If they have children they need to look after or arrange childcare because their school has closed
  • To help their child or another dependant if they’re sick, or need to go into isolation or hospital

There’s no statutory right to pay for this time off, but some employers might offer pay depending on the contract or workplace policy.

Handling Post or Packages

Staff should continue to follow existing risk assessments and safe systems of working; there are no additional precautions needed for handling post or packages.

Support for Businesses

The Chancellor has set out a package of temporary, timely and targeted measures to support public services, people and businesses through this period of disruption caused by COVID-19.

This includes a package of measures to support businesses including:

  • A Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
  • Deferring VAT and income tax payments
  • A Statutory Sick Pay relief package for small and medium sized businesses (SMEs)
  • A 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality, leisure and nursery businesses in England
  • Small business grant funding of £10,000 for all business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief
  • Grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000
  • The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme offering loans of up to £5 million for SMEs through the British Business Bank
  • A new lending facility from the Bank of England to help support liquidity among larger firms, helping them bridge coronavirus disruption to their cash flows through loans
  • The HMRC Time To Pay Scheme

Support for Businesses Through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.

Eligibility

All UK businesses are eligible.

How to Access the Scheme

You will need to:

  • Designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers,’ and notify your employees of this change - changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation
  • Submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal (HMRC will set out further details on the information required)

HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. HMRC are working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers.

If your business needs short term cash flow support, you may be eligible for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan.

Support for Businesses Through Deferring VAT and Income Tax Payments

The government will support businesses by deferring Valued Added Tax (VAT) payments for 3 months. If you’re self-employed, income tax payments due in July 2020 under the self-assessment system will be deferred to January 2021.

VAT

For VAT, the deferral will apply from 20 March 2020 until 30 June 2020.

Eligibility

All UK businesses are eligible.

How to Access the Scheme

This is an automatic offer with no applications required. Businesses will not need to make a VAT payment during this period. Taxpayers will be given until the end of the 2020 to 2021 tax year to pay any liabilities that have accumulated during the deferral period. VAT refunds and reclaims will be paid by the government as normal.

Income Tax

For income tax self-assessment, payments due on the 31 July 2020 will be deferred until the 31 January 2021.

Eligibility

If you are self-employed you are eligible.

How to Access the Scheme

This is an automatic offer with no applications required.

No penalties or interest for late payment will be charged in the deferral period.

HMRC have also scaled up their Time to Pay offer to all firms and individuals who are in temporary financial distress as a result of Covid-19 and have outstanding tax liabilities.

Support for Businesses Who Are Paying Sick Pay to Employees

The government will bring forward legislation to allow small-and medium-sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19. The eligibility criteria for the scheme will be as follows:

  • This refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19
  • Employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible - the size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020
  • Employers will be able to reclaim expenditure for any employee who has claimed SSP (according to the new eligibility criteria) as a result of COVID-19
  • Employers should maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note. If evidence is required by an employer, those with symptoms of coronavirus can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online and those who live with someone that has symptoms can get a note from the NHS website
  • Eligible period for the scheme will commence the day after the regulations on the extension of SSP to those staying at home comes into force
  • The government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible

Eligibility

You are eligible for the scheme if:

  • Your business is UK based
  • Your business is a small or medium-sized and employs fewer than 250 employees as of 28 February 2020

How to Access the Scheme

A rebate scheme is being developed. Further details will be provided in due course once the legalisation has passed.

Support for Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Businesses That Pay Business Rates

Business Rates Holiday for Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Businesses

A business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses will be introduced in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year.

Businesses that received the retail discount in the 2019 to 2020 tax year will be rebilled by their local authority as soon as possible.

Eligibility

You are eligible for the business rates holiday if:

  • Your business is based in England
  • Your business is in the retail, hospitality and/or leisure sector

Properties that will benefit from the relief will be occupied hereditaments that are wholly or mainly being used:

  • as shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas and live music venues
  • for assembly and leisure
  • as hotels, guest & boarding premises and self-catering accommodation

How to Access the Scheme

There is no action for you. This will apply to your next council tax bill in April 2020. However, local authorities may have to reissue your bill automatically to exclude the business rate charge. They will do this as soon as possible.

You can estimate the business rate charge you will no longer have to pay this year using the business rates calculator.

Further guidance for local authorities is available in the expanded retail discount guidance.

Cash Grants for Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Businesses

The Retail and Hospitality Grant Scheme provides businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a cash grant of up to £25,000 per property. For businesses in these sectors with a rateable value of under £15,000, they will receive a grant of £10,000. For businesses in these sectors with a rateable value of between £15,001 and £51,000, they will receive a grant of £25,000.

Eligibility

You are eligible for the grant if:

  • Your business is based in England
  • Your business is in the retail, hospitality and/or leisure sector

Properties that will benefit from the relief will be occupied hereditaments that are wholly or mainly being used:

  • as shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas and live music venues
  • for assembly and leisure
  • as hotels, guest and boarding premises and self-catering accommodation

How to Access the Scheme

You do not need to do anything. Your local authority will write to you if you are eligible for this grant. Guidance for local authorities on the scheme will be provided shortly. Any enquiries on eligibility for, or provision of, the reliefs and grants should be directed to the relevant local authority.

Find your local authority.

Support for Nursery Businesses That Pay Business Rates

A business rates holiday for nurseries in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year will be introduced.

Eligibility

You are eligible for the business rates holiday if:

  • Your business is based in England

Properties that will benefit from the relief will be hereditaments:

  • occupied by providers on Ofsted’s Early Years Register
  • wholly or mainly used for the provision of the Early Years Foundation Stage

How to Access the Scheme

There is no action for you. This will apply to your next council tax bill in April 2020. However, local authorities may have to reissue your bill to exclude the business rate charge. They will do this as soon as possible.

You can estimate the business rate charge you will no longer have to pay this year using the business rates calculator.

Further guidance for local authorities is available in the nursery discount guidance.

Support for Businesses That Pay Little or No Business Rates

The government will provide additional Small Business Grant Scheme funding for local authorities to support small businesses that already pay little or no business rates because of small business rate relief (SBBR), rural rate relief (RRR) and tapered relief. This will provide a one-off grant of £10,000 to eligible businesses to help meet their ongoing business costs.

Eligibility

You are eligible if:

  • Your business is based in England
  • You are a small business and already receive SBBR and/or RRR
  • You are a business that occupies property

How to Access the Scheme

You do not need to do anything. Your local authority will write to you if you are eligible for this grant. Guidance for local authorities on the scheme will be provided shortly. Any enquiries on eligibility for, or provision of, the reliefs and grants should be directed to the relevant local authority.

Find your local authority. Further guidance for local authorities is available on administering the business grant schemes.

Support for Businesses Through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

The temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme will support SMEs with access to loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5 million and for up to 6 years. The government will also make a Business Interruption Payment to cover the first 12 months of interest payments and any lender-levied fees, so smaller businesses will benefit from no upfront costs and lower initial repayments. The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to pre-lender cap on claims) to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to SMEs. The scheme will be delivered through commercial lenders, backed by the government-owned British Business Bank. There are 40 accredited lenders able to offer the scheme, including all the major banks.

Eligibility

You are eligible for the scheme if:

  • Your business is UK based, with turnover of no more than £45 million per year
  • Your business meets the other British Business Bank eligibility criteria

How to Access the Scheme

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. You can find out the latest on the best ways to contact them via their websites.

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.

The full rules of the scheme and the list of accredited lenders are available on the British Business Bank website.

Support for Larger Firms Through the COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility

Under the new Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility, the Bank of England will buy short term debt from larger companies.

This will support your company if it has been affected by a short-term funding squeeze, and allow you to finance your short-term liabilities.

It will also support corporate finance markets overall and ease the supply of credit to all firms.

Eligibility

All non-financial companies that meet the criteria set out on the Bank of England’s website are eligible.

How to Access the Scheme

The scheme is now available for applications. More information is available from the Bank of England.

Support for Businesses Paying Tax: Time to Pay Service

All businesses and self-employed people in financial distress, and with outstanding tax liabilities, may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time to Pay service.

These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities.

Eligibility

You are eligible if your business:

  • Pays tax to the UK government
  • Has outstanding tax liabilities

How to Access the Scheme

If you have missed a tax payment or you might miss your next payment due to COVID-19, please call HMRC’s dedicated helpline: 0800 0159 559.

If you’re worried about a future payment, please call nearer the time.

Insurance

Businesses that have cover for both pandemics and government-ordered closure should be covered, as the government and insurance industry confirmed on 17 March 2020 that advice to avoid pubs, theatres etc is sufficient to make a claim as long as all other terms and conditions are met.

Insurance policies differ significantly, so businesses are encouraged to check the terms and conditions of their specific policy and contact their providers. Most businesses are unlikely to be covered, as standard business interruption insurance policies are dependent on damage to property and will exclude pandemics.

Support for Businesses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Because some elements of business support are devolved, the measures you can access may differ if your business is in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Businesses in Scotland

View the latest guidance on coronavirus for businesses in Scotland.

Businesses in Wales

View the latest guidance on coronavirus for businesses in Wales.

Businesses in Northern Ireland

View the latest guidance on coronavirus for businesses in Northern Ireland

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Employees

Staying at Home

If you have symptoms of coronavirus infection (COVID-19), however mild, stay at home and do not leave your house for 7 days from when your symptoms started.

If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus, then you must stay at home for 7 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill.

Sick Pay

You can get £94.25 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you’re too ill to work. It’s paid by your employer for up to 28 weeks.

If you are staying at home because of COVID-19 you can now claim SSP. This includes individuals who are caring for people in the same household and therefore have been advised to do a household quarantine.

To check your sick pay entitlement, you should talk to your employer, and visit the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) page for more information.

SSP Start Date

The government is legislating for SSP to be paid from day 1, rather than day 4, of your absence from work if you are absent from work due to sickness or need to stay at home due to COVID-19. Once the legislation has been passed, this will apply retrospectively from 13 March. You should talk to your employer if you are eligible for SSP and need to claim.

Proof of Sickness

If you have COVID-19 or are advised to stay at home, you can get an ‘isolation note’ by visiting NHS 111 online, rather than visiting a doctor. For COVID-19 cases this replaces the usual need to provide a ‘fit note’ (sometimes called a ‘sick note’) after 7 days of sickness absence.

Isolation notes will also be accepted by Jobcentre Plus as evidence of your inability to attend.

If You’re Self-Employed or Not Eligible for SSP

If you are not eligible for SSP – for example if you are self-employed or earning below the Lower Earnings Limit of £118 per week – and you have COVID-19 or are advised to stay at home, you can now more easily make a claim for Universal Credit or new style Employment and Support Allowance.

If you are eligible for new style Employment and Support Allowance, it will now be payable from day 1 of sickness, rather than day 8, if you have COVID-19 or are advised to stay at home.

Furloughed Workers

If your employer cannot cover staff costs due to COVID-19, they may be able to access support to continue paying part of your wage, to avoid redundancies.

If your employer intends to access the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, they will discuss with you becoming classified as a furloughed worker. This would mean that you are kept on your employer’s payroll, rather than being laid off.

To qualify for this scheme, you should not undertake work for them while you are furloughed. This will allow your employer to claim a grant of up to 80% of your wage for all employment costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month.

You will remain employed while furloughed. Your employer could choose to fund the differences between this payment and your salary, but does not have to.

If your salary is reduced as a result of these changes, you may be eligible for support through the welfare system, including Universal Credit.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme intends to run for at least 3 months from 1 March 2020, but will extend if necessary.

Claiming Benefits

Whether you are currently in or out of work, if you are on a low income and affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19, you will be able to access the full range of the welfare system, including Universal Credit.

From 6 April the government is increasing the standard allowance in Universal Credit and the basic element in Working Tax Credit for 1 year. Both will increase by £20 per week on top of planned annual uprating. This will apply to all new and existing Universal Credit claimants and to existing Working Tax Credit claimants.

If You Have COVID-19 or Are Staying at Home

You are now able to claim Universal Credit, and if required can access advance payments upfront without needing to attend a jobcentre.

If You Are Self-Employed

You are able to claim Universal Credit, providing you meet the usual eligibility criteria.

To support you with the economic impact of the outbreak, and allow you to follow government guidance on self-isolation and social distancing, from 6 April the requirements of the Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed. This change will apply to all Universal Credit claimants and will last for the duration of the outbreak.

New claimants will not need to attend the jobcentre to demonstrate gainful self-employment.

Support for Rent Costs

You should check your eligibility for Universal Credit, which is available for people in and out of work. Support for rental costs will be paid through Universal Credit.

From April, the government is increasing Local Housing Allowance rates to the 30th percentile of market rents. This applies to all private renters who are new or existing Universal Credit housing element claimants and to existing Housing Benefit claimants.

To help business owners, the Scottish Government have made changes to the non-domestic rates (business rates) for 2020-21 along with extra rates relief.

Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop has confirmed that Scottish businesses will get £2.2 billion of support. To break this down, support includes:

  • Small firms receiving the small business bonus or rural relief will be eligible for a £10,000 grant
  • 12 months relief for businesses in hospitality, leisure and retail. Grants will also available for companies in this sector
  • A £25,000 grant for buildings in those sectors with a rateable value between £18,000 and £51,000
  • Effectively freezing the poundage rate next year

Working from Home Allowance

An employer can make a payment of up to £18 per month which is intended to cover things to do with your work, for example, business telephone calls or the extra cost of gas and electricity for your work area. You cannot claim for things that you use for both private and business use, for example, rent or broadband access.

The £18 per month can be paid tax free, and you are not required to keep any records.

What the guidance says, however, is that if you’ve agreed with your employer to work at home voluntarily, or you choose to work at home, you cannot claim tax relief on the bills you have to pay. As the government has effectively asked people to work from home where possible, it is up to employers whether they want to make the payment tax free as it is not strictly voluntary.

Anything paid over and above the £18 per month should be subject to tax and NIC as normal. What employers should remember is that people working from home will already be saving on the cost of commuting (unless they walk or cycle to work). The guidance for this can be found here.

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