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What help is still available for businesses as Covid-19 restrictions lift?


Businesses are still feeling the impact (Picture: Getty Images)

With the most recent delay in the final lifting of Covid-19 restrictions for businesses, it is likely to be some time before trading recovers in certain sectors after lockdown.

Danni Hewson, finance analyst at investment platform AJ Bell, points out that the next few months are likely to be ‘lumpy’, with delays in restrictions making recovery ‘even more bumpy’.

Despite this, some of the support for businesses affected by coronavirus has already been removed, and other schemes are expected to expire soon.

‘The next few months will bring challenges as programmes like furlough begin to unravel and there have already been calls for the chancellor to consider extending the scheme into the autumn for sectors unable to get back to fighting strength,’ Hewson says.

With this in mind, it is important to make the most of the help available now, before it is withdrawn or becomes less generous. Here’s a rundown of what is available.

Furlough

Most of us are now familiar with the job retention scheme, which allows employees to ‘furlough’ their staff (ie let them stay at home) on 80% of their salary capped at £2,500 a month.

The scheme has become more flexible, so that employees can be furloughed part time, but it is also less generous than in its original iteration, as employers must now pay National Insurance and pension contributions for their staff.

At present the scheme ends completely on September 30, and becomes less generous again at the end of this month.

Furlough rules are changing on July 1 (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

From July 1, employers must contribute 10% of the furlough payment for staff — up to £312.50 per employee per month — as well as the National Insurance and pension contributions. Then from August 1, this rises again to 20%, or a maximum of £625.

The expiry is expected to create job losses. Forecasts from the British Chambers of Commerce suggest that unemployment will peak at 6% and youth unemployment at 15.6% in the last quarter of this year, after the furlough scheme expires.

‘Economic scarring from the pandemic is projected to weigh on economic activity once government support winds down, and drive an uneven recovery across different sectors and groups of people,’ says Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce.

For more information, visit gov.uk

Reclaim statutory sick pay to employees

Businesses with fewer than 250 employees can apply to have any statutory sick pay that has been made due to coronavirus repaid to them. You can claim up to two weeks of pay per employee.

Employees do not have to provide a doctor’s note for you to make a claim. But you can ask them for either an isolation note from NHS 111 — if they are self-isolating and cannot work because of Covid — or a ‘shielding note’ or letter from their doctor or health authority advising them to shield because they’re at high risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

There is no end date to this scheme. See the government website for guidance.

Kickstart

Employers can get funding from the government to create placements for 16- to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit.

The Kickstart scheme pays minimum wages for 25 hours a week as well as pension contributions and National Insurance.

Kickstart employees can start up until December 31, so there is still plenty of time to benefit from this.

See here for more information.

VAT on food and drinks is still reduced to 5% (Picture: Getty Images)

VAT reduction

For businesses in the hospitality, hotel or holiday accommodation sector, a reduced 5% rate of VAT applies until September 30.

This means that, instead of 20% VAT on food and non-alcoholic drink consumed at a table, or on hot takeaway meals, you will only be charged 5%.

The same applies for holiday accommodation and admission to attractions. You do not have to pass these savings on to customers.

Recovery Loans

Many of the loan schemes for coronavirus-hit businesses closed at the end of March. However, the Recovery Loan scheme, running until December, is supposed to help businesses to get back on their feet.

Under the scheme, the government guarantees 80% of the loan for the lender, which may make it easier for you to borrow, but you are still liable for the full 100% of the cost.

Interest and other charges cannot be higher than 15%, but there is no guarantee that it will be lower than other commercial loans.

Unlike bounceback loans, there is no interest-free period. Those who have taken out bounceback loans and other coronavirus loans in the past are not precluded from taking a Recovery Loan.

Visit british-business-bank.co.uk for more information.

The Recovery Loan scheme lasts until December (Picture: Getty Images)

Local authority grants

Restart and additional restrictions grants are still being given out by local councils to businesses affected by lockdown restrictions as they reopen.

There should be information on your local council website about eligibility and how to apply.

Some home-based businesses can now apply as long as they have unavoidable fixed costs, so it is worth checking even if you have been turned down in the past.

The final SEISS grant

The last of a series of grants for the self-employed, known as SEISS (Self-Employed Income Support Scheme) will be open to applicants from late this month.

To be eligible, you must have traded in the tax years 2019 to 2020 and submitted your tax return on or before March 2 this year, and to have traded in 2020 to 2021.

You must either be currently trading but impacted by reduced demand due to coronavirus, or have been trading but be temporarily unable to do so due to coronavirus.

If turnover is down by 30% or more you will receive a maximum of £7,500 or 30% of three months’ average trading profits. If less than that you will receive a maximum of £2,850 or 30% of three months average trading profits.

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