March 23, 2020

Covid-19: Financial Help for Small Businesses in the UK

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It’s a challenging time for SMEs around the world as the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic starts to unfold. Global shares have taken a hit, interest rates have been cut and the OECD has downgraded its growth forecasts as factories close to help contain the virus. On  Friday 20 March, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced the first set of measures to help businesses impacted by COVID-19. 

The government has pledged support for businesses through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and other temporary and targeted measures. These are designed to help companies manage cash flow during this difficult period through unlimited loans and guarantees. An initial £330 billion of guarantees will be made available, which is equivalent to 15% of UK GDP.

Bear in mind some aspects of business support are devolved and differ in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Full information and relevant links can be found on the government's support for businesses page.

Image by Joshua Rodriguez 

Funding Options is here to help. Some of our lending partners are part of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS); feel free to get in touch to find out more about how we can assist. In the meantime, here are some of the most frequently asked questions and key business support measures the UK government has announced so far. 

 

How will I manage to pay my employees?

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

A scheme designed to enable all UK employers to carry on paying a percentage of their workers' salary for those who would otherwise be made redundant during the crisis. HMRC intends to reimburse 80% of furloughed workers' wage costs, up to £2,500 per month. HMRC is currently working on setting up a system to facilitate this. 

To access this scheme you will need to designate affected employees as "furloughed workers" and notify them of this. Once the new portal system is up and running, you'll be able to submit all the relevant information to HMRC. 

 

Sick Pay support

The government is planning to bring forward legislation that allows SMEs to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid to employees due to coronavirus. The government will be liaising with employers over the next few months to set this up. In terms of eligibility, employers with less than 250 employees (as of 28 Feb 2020) will be be able to apply.

The government has published guidance for employees, employers and businesses, including advice on how to prevent the spread of the virus, what do to if an employee is showing symptoms, eligibility for sick pay and more.

 

Do any of the measures cover tax payments?

Deferring VAT and Income Tax payments

The government has said they will defer VAT payments for three months (March to June 2020). For Income Tax Self-Assessment, payments due on the 31 July 2020 could be deferred until 31 January 2021.

For self-employed people, Income Tax payment due in July will be deferred until January. Note: If you normally pay by direct debit you should cancel the it with your bank if you're unable to pay. 

Time To Pay

If you're a business owner or self-employed person in financial difficulty and have outstanding tax liabilities, you might be able to get support via HMRC's Time To Pay scheme. The support offered will be aligned to your individual needs and circumstances. Call HMRC on 0800 0159 559 if you've missed a payment or think you may miss the next.

 

Aside from deferred tax, is there any help for the self-employed?

The first measure the government bought in for the self employed was to suspend the minimum income floor. This means self-employed workers can now access Universal Credit in full at a rate equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay for employees. You can find more information and apply for Universal Credit via the government website here

On 26th March 2020 Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that self-employed workers can apply for a grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits over the last three years (up to £2,500 a month) to help them cope with the financial effects of Covid-19. The scheme is open to those who earn under £50,000 a year and the money will arrive directly into people's banks accounts from HMRC in June.

Further eligibility criteria applies.

 

What help is available for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses?

Business rates holiday

For the 2020 to 2021 tax year, the government will implement a business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure companies. This will apply to properties being used as the following"

  • Shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas and live music venues
  • Buildings used for assembly and leisure
  • Hotels, guest & boarding premises and self-catering accommodation
  •  

Use this business rates calculator to estimate the charge you won't have to pay this year.

Cash Grants 

According to the UK government, cash grants of up to £25,000 per property are to be made available to businesses to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses via their Local Authority. The amount will be based on criteria such as sector and rateable business value.

Local authorities will be writing to businesses that are eligible for a cash grant. Local authorities  can provide more information on eligibility criteria and the provision of these grants.

 

Will there be business rates relief for nurseries?

Yes, the government will also introduce a business rates holiday for nurseries based in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year for properties occupied by providers that are on Ofsted’s Early Years Register and buildings that are entirely or mainly used for the provision of the Early Years Foundation Stage.

 

Is there any support for businesses paying minimal/no business rates?

The Small Business Grant Scheme will provide funding for local authorities to support those businesses that usually pay no or little business rates due to small business rate relief (SBBR), rural rate relief (RRR) and tapered relief. A single grant of £10,000 will be made available to eligible businesses to support ongoing business costs.

 

I can't afford my commercial rent – will I be evicted?

If you're unable to pay the rent on your premises up to (currently) 30 June due to COVID-19, you will be protected from eviction under the government's new measures.

Bear in mind that this isn't a payment holiday and you will still be liable for the rent. 

 

What is the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme UK?

The UK government is increasing the amount businesses can borrow through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Schemes (CBILS), a temporary replacement for the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme, from £1.2 million to £5 million. It will guarantee 80% of the value and will make a Business Interruption Payment to cover the first 12 months of interest payments and any lender-levied fees.

The CBILS will operate in a similar way to the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme in the sense that it is designed to encourage lending to viable UK businesses that would be turned down for a loan (or other form of debt finance) due to inadequate security.

Small and medium sized businesses from all sectors can apply for the full amount, however eligibility criteria does apply. Visit this page to find out more about the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme delivered by the British Business Bank. Note: 40 accredited lenders are able to offer the scheme, some of which are Funding Options lender partners.

Updates 

On April 3rd 2020, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced further action to support businesses affected by coronavirus by bolstering the CBLIS and announcing a new scheme for larger businesses, the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS). 

- The CBILS will be extended so that all viable small businesses affected by COVID-19 will be eligible should they need finance to keep operating – not just those unable to secure regular commercial financing.

- The government is stopping lenders from requesting personal guarantees for loans under £250,000 and making operational changes to speed up lending approvals.

- The new Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS)  will provide a government guarantee of 80% to enable banks to make loans of up to £25 million to firms with an annual turnover of between £45 million and £500 million. 

Loans backed by a guarantee under the new CLBILS will be offered at commercial rates of interest and further details of the scheme will be announced later in April. 

 

I run a larger business – do any of the measures apply to me?

COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility

If you've been affected by a temporary funding squeeze, the COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility is designed to help you finance your short-term liabilities. It works by the Bank of England buying short-term debt from big businesses. It's also intended to support finance markets and ease the supply of credit for firms of all sizes. More information is available on the Bank of England website.

 

What is the Future Fund for innovation?

In April, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a new £1.25 billion coronavirus scheme to support some of the UK’s most innovative firms. The package comprises a £500 million Future Fund for high growth startups that have been affected by the pandemic and £750 million of grants for SMEs focusing on research and development. As with the other government measures, eligibility criteria applies.

 

Can I claim on my commercial insurance?

You should check the terms and conditions of your policy and contact the vendor. If your policy protects against government ordered closure and pandemics or government ordered closure and unspecified notifiable disease, you should be able to make a claim, although again, this depends on the policy T&Cs. Unfortunately, the majority of commercial insurance policies are not likely to cover  pandemics or notifiable diseases like COVID-19.

 

The government ordered my premises to close

The government has requested the following businesses and venues to close from 21st March 2020. 

On 25.3.20, the government website reads:

"Insurers have agreed that this advice is sufficient for businesses covered for COVID-19 losses to make a claim (if the only barrier to them making a claim was a lack of clarity on whether the government had ordered businesses to close). As such, intervention by the police or any other statutory body is no longer required to trigger cover in the current circumstances."

 

My event was cancelled due to coronavirus

If your event was cancelled and you have an insurance policy has unspecified notifiable disease extensions, you should be able to make a claim. Insurance policy vary, so always check the terms and conditions first and contact the provider.

 

Will Business Improvement District arrangements still apply?

A Business Improvement District (BID) is an area within which businesses are required to pay an extra tax that helps fund projects in the area. Currently, BIDs will be able to extend the maximum duration of their BID arrangements until 31 March 2021 by delaying BID ballots due to take place this year, enabling local authorities to focus on the implications of coronavirus.

 

Finding financial help through Funding Options

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme will be administered through the government-owned British Business Bank (BBB). Funding Options has been chosen by the British Business Bank to help businesses find finance when they have been unable to find it through their main banking providers. 

We were awarded this position because of the breadth of lenders we work with and depth of business finance products we have access to. We are always here to help and may be able to assist you in sourcing working capital to support you during the COVID-19 fallout. 

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Funding Options operates the largest lender marketplace for Small Businesses in Europe, working with a panel of over 200 lender partners (and growing) to match Small Businesses with many different types of financing solutions.   

Given the current situation, we have seen some changes to credit, risk and business sector appetite by a few lenders. However, many lenders on our panel have very clearly and publicly reiterated their support for Small Businesses during this challenging time.

Some of our lender partners have advised us to expect slightly longer response times as a result of the increase in demand for borrowing, but like us, they remain open for business.

We appreciate the urgency of the situation and are here to help.

There will undoubtedly be further clarifications around eligibility criteria and applicability as the full details emerge. In the meantime, if you'd like to see if we can match your business finance request or help you explore the options available, such as working capital lending or bridging finance, one of our Business Finance Specialists would be more than happy to help you.

Many products are available without early repayment fees so if circumstances change sooner (and we hope they do), you could pay the finance back early without penalty. It goes without saying that as usual all applications and subsequent offers will depend on each applicant’s circumstances and creditworthiness.

We’ve also received a number of queries about personal guarantees. Rest assured that requests for personal guarantees are absolutely normal – they are commonly used in Business Finance and are not something that has arisen because of the current situation.

If you’d like further information on personal guarantees or any of the business finance products we offer through our platform, check out our FAQs  and our extensive Knowledge Pages available on our website.