COVID-19: Government support for individuals and businesses

COVID-19: Government support for individuals and businesses

In July 2022, the Government announced some extensions to ongoing support schemes:

On 21 December 2021, the Government announced a further package of support for businesses including:

In the Autumn 2021 Budget, the Chancellor announced continuing rate relief for some high street businesses and an extension to recovery loans for SMEs.

On 4 October 2021, the Chancellor announced a number of extensions to the schemes under the Government’s ‘Jobs Plan’: in additions to a number of schemes to help individuals, including the long-term unemployed and those made redundant after the end of furlough, the Chancellor announced extended incentives for employers:

At the spring Budget of 2021, the Chancellor announced a range of extensions to ongoing COVID support packages to support businesses, individuals and the economy as lockdown rules eased.

In January 2021, following the announcement of the new national lockdown, HM Treasury has also announced a new one-off grant for retail, hospitality and leisure sector businesses

In December 2020, the Government made a number of announcements about further support for business as follows:

On 22 October 2020, the Chancellor announced enhanced support for businesses, including extra grants funding for businesses in Tier 2 lock-downs areas, enhancing the Self-employed income support scheme and increasing local authority lockdown grants.

On 24 September 2020, the Chancellor announced a further range of business support measures in his Winter Economy plan.

Further insight following Chancellors update on support packages from the 2020 Summer Economic statement can be found below:

While the package of help for business will evolve over time, the key elements of the current proposals are summarised below:

Government extends ‘kickstart jobs scheme’ for young people

As part of the 2020 Summer Economic Statement, the Government has announced a ‘kickstart jobs scheme’ to create more jobs for individuals aged between 16 and 24. This scheme will specifically subsidise six month work placements for 16 to 24 year olds on Universal Credit who are at risk of long-term unemployment.

For each ‘kickstarter’ job, the Government will cover the cost of 25 hours' work a week at the National Minimum Wage (NMW) - £4.55 for under 18s, £6.45 for 18 to 20-year-olds, and £8.20 for 21 to 24-year-olds. Employers will be able to make payments to exceed these NMW limits if they wish.

The scheme will now be extended to operate until March 2022 and will be open to applications from employers and gateways until 17 December 2021.  

Apprenticeship grants – extended financial support

The Government has extended the apprenticeship grant payments scheme to employers in England who engage new apprentices: the final engagement date is now 31 January 2022 but the payment remains at £3,000 for each new apprentice. This is in addition to the £1,000 Employers in England have already been receiving for new 16-18 year-old apprentices, and those aged under 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan – where that applies. The payments do not extend to the other nations in the UK.

The scheme is an extension of the original measure for under 18s and will be paid via the training provider that employers (who pay the Apprenticeship levy) engage. Smaller employers (with fewer than 50 employees) who are not liable for the Apprenticeship levy access existing payments via their apprenticeship service account. 

Government-backed loans to businesses 

In the spring 2021 Budget, the Chancellor announced that the Government will open a new scheme from 6 April 2021 to help businesses of all sizes fund the resumption of business after lockdown ends. As with the existing loan schemes (below), the Government will underwrite the new loans by with a guarantee.

Businesses could borrow between £25,000 and £10m. Any business (apart from banks and insurers) had to apply before 31 December 2021, including those already borrowing under existing COVID-19 loan schemes.  

From 1 January 2022, the terms available changed: loans are only now available to SMEs but finance of up to £2m is available and the Government will guarantee 70% of the borrowing. On 25 July 2022, the Government announced that the scheme would be extended a further two years from its planned 30 June 2022 end date but new applicants now be required by the bank to provide a personal guarantee for any size of borrowing in addition to the Government guarantee.

As before, the scheme will offer both overdrafts and invoice finance over a maximum of three years and term loans and asset finance over a maximum of six years. Personal guarantees will be required for loans over £250,000 and the business must be able to show it has been affected by the pandemic but remains viable (and not insolvent). 

Original schemes

In response to the funding difficulties of businesses during the pandemic, in 2020 the Government launched four loan schemes to support businesses:

  • Bounce back loan scheme (BBLS)
  • Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS)
  • Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS)
  • COVID Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF)

On 24 September 2020, the Chancellor announced that the terms of the schemes were to be extended –read more here.

On 17 December 2020, it was announced that BBLS, CBILS and CLBILS would remain open until the end of March 2021 (the CCFF ran until 31 March 2021). On 8 February 2021, the Treasury announced more options for BBLS borrowers: to pause all payments for a further six months, elect to make interest only payments for a six month period (up to three times during the loan) and extend the loan term to ten years. 

Help to Grow Digital £5,000 grants extended to smaller companies

The Government grant scheme that provides a 50% subsidy on buying approved software to help your business administration (from e-commerce to digital accounting) is being extended to smaller businesses.

Originally the grant (of up to £5,000) was only available to companies with more than 5 employees, but it has now been extended to businesses with at least 1 employee. For more information see Help to grow.

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Business Rates reliefs

Qualifying businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors have already benefited from 100% relief from business rates, for the period to 30 June 2021. Thereafter, qualifying businesses benefit from a business rates reduction of 66% for the period from 1 July 2021 through to 31 March 2022. 

However, this relief will be capped at a value of £2m per business for properties that were forced to close due to COVID-19 on 5 January 2021. For qualifying businesses where the properties were not forced to close on 5 January 2021, the relief will be capped at a value of £105,000 per business. Subject to the application of the caps, therefore, this represents a discount of 75% of business rates when measured across the whole financial year to March 2022.

This relief for the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors is extended for the year April 2022 to 31 March 2023 but the rate will only be 50% of the business rates payable and will be capped at £110,000 per group of related companies.

Relief for airports and ground operations from business rates was renewed for six months from 1 April 2021 through to 30 September 2021. Eligible businesses in England receive full relief from business rates for this six month period, capped at £4m per claimant. Subject to the application of the cap, therefore, this represents a discount of 50% of business rates when measured across the whole financial year to March 2022.

Some businesses have declined to take advantage of business rates relief, and have made payments to local authorities (notwithstanding entitlement to relief). The Government is to legislate to put beyond doubt that such payments will be deductible for income tax and corporation tax purposes, so that businesses are no worse off than if they had paid an actual business rates liability.

Local authorities will be fully compensated for these business rates measures. It is assumed that the reliefs will be processed automatically by each Local Authority. Read more on eligibility for relief.

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Direct business grants

On 21 December 2021, the Chancellor announced further one-off grants to hospitality and leisure businesses in England to help them through the Omicron variant-related difficulties. As with previous grants, these will be based on the rateable value of the business premises, with business being eligible for grants as follows:

  • £2,700 if their business property has a rateable value of £15,000 or under
  • £4,000 where the rateable value is between £15,000 and £51,000
  • £6,000 where the rateable value is over £51,000.

As before, funds have also been extended to the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to enhance their grant schemes.

For businesses in other sectors, the Government is providing £102m in extra funding to Local Authorities to expand their discretionary ‘Additional Restrictions Grant’ schemes for businesses. Theatres, museums and other cultural entities can apply to the Arts Council for additional funding from the Culture Recovery Fund, which has been allocated a further £30m in funding for the current Omicron difficulties.

From 1 April 2021, Restart grants replaced both Local Restrictions Support Grants (Closed) and Local Restrictions Support Grant (Open). The Restart grants provide non-essential retail businesses with up to £6,000 per premises: businesses required to stay shut for longer (such as gyms, leisure, personal care, accommodation and hospitality) received up to £18,000. As with previous grants, the exact grant depends on the rateable value of the premises: up to £8,000 if the rateable value is £15,000 or less, £12,000 if it’s between £15,000 and £51,000, and £18,000 for higher rateable values. As before, businesses that are not eligible can still apply to their Local Authority for support from the authority’s increased hardship fund. 

On 5 January 2021 the Government announced a new ‘one-off’ grant payment to retail, hospitality and leisure sector businesses on top of the local lockdown grant scheme for businesses in England. Businesses will receive grants of:

  • £4,000 if their business property has a rateable value of £15,000 or under
  • £6,000 where the rateable value is between £15,000 and £51,000
  • £9,000 where the rateable value is over £51,000.

To help businesses that fall outside the grant scheme, the Government has also released an additional £594m to the discretionary support fund administered by Local Authorities and Devolved Governments.

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Supporting the self employed

On 26 March 2020, the Chancellor announced initial details of a Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS). The scheme was intended to mirror the support given for furloughed employees and paid qualifying self-employed individuals up to 80% of their average monthly income (as a taxable grant) up to a limit of £2,500 per month for April, May and June 2020. 

On 29 May 2020, the Chancellor announced that the scheme would be extended for a further three months. The second phase of the scheme was set at 70% of average monthly income with the maximum lump sum payment for the second phase set at £6,570. 

On 24 September 2020, the Chancellor announced another two rounds of grants under the SEISS scheme from November 2020 to April 2021 and on 22 October he announced changes to the size of these grants. To qualify for these grants, individuals (including members of partnerships) must:

  • Currently be eligible for the SEISS (although they do not have to have claimed the previous grants)
  • Declare that they are currently actively trading and intend to continue to trade
  • Declare that they are impacted by reduced demand due to COVID-19 in the qualifying period, which for the first grant is between 1 November 2020 and the date of claim.

The third round of grant covered the three months from 1 November 2020 to 31 January 2021. For November to January 2021, the maximum lump sum payment will 80% of the individual’s average monthly trading profits for the period maximum lump sum payment £7,500. 

The fourth round grant was set at 80% of three months’ average trading profits, capped at £7,500 – it covered the period to the end of April 2021.  As for previous grants, the amount will be paid in a single instalment, and will be a taxable receipt of the self-employed business.

The fifth grant covered the period to the end of September 2021. The rate of grant payment depended on the amount the individual’s trading turnover was reduced by COVID-19 for the period April 2020 to April 2021: 

  • 80% of three months’ average trading profits, capped at £7,500, for those with a turnover reduction of 30% or more
  • 30% of three months’ average trading profits, capped at £2,850, for those with a turnover reduction of less than 30%.

Eligible individuals were able to submit claims for the fifth grant before 30 September 2021.

For each round of grants claimants were required to certify that their business is affected by Coronavirus restrictions in the relevant period. The full qualifying criteria for the original self-employed grants required individuals (including partnership members) to:

  • Have made at least one tax return showing a year’s worth of trading income
  • Their annual profits are no more than £50,000 in the relevant tax year (2019/20 for the fourth and fifth grants or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 in prior years.
  • They have submitted their self-assessment tax return for the relevant tax year
  • They earn more than 50% of their annual income from self-employment (eg it is expected that those with high levels of rental income in addition to self-employed profits would not qualify)
  • They were trading during 2019/20 and 2020/21 and will carry on (when the COVID-19 crisis is over) and have lost income as a result of the crisis.
  • For the fifth grant, individuals must state whether their reduction in turnover due to COVID-19 is more or less than 30% for the period April 2020 to April 2021 (this affects the level of the fifth grant). 

The Government has now confirmed that the qualifying criteria is less stringent for individuals for whom having a new child either affected their trading profits or total income for 2018/19 or meant that a tax return was not submitted for that year - read more

Individuals who commenced self-employment after 5 April 2020 will not be able to apply for the scheme as they have no tax records on which payments can be calculated. Individuals trading through a personal service company will not be eligible but may be able to claim under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

You can check if you are eligible Self-employed income support scheme and find out when you can apply here

For those who can claim, in calculating the amount of grant payable, HMRC will average the individual’s profits over the past three tax years (or a shorter period, provided profits have been declared on at least one tax return).

Individuals must apply personally online and the three month grant will be paid as a lump sum. Individuals who are already registered as self-employed will be contacted by HMRC and asked to complete an online claim before payments are made. Where a taxpayer makes a mistake on a claim or makes a fraudulent claim, the overpayment identified will be clawed back by HMRC.

While HMRC may send individuals information about the SEISS) through emails or text, individuals should be very careful about potential fraud/scams: remember you can only apply for the SEISS personally (no agents can apply on your behalf) and it must be done through your personal Government Gateway account (which includes identity verification). A genuine email or text from HMRC will not include a link to the SEISS claim system, it will simply request you to log onto your Government Gateway account and start your application from there. If you are unable to use the online process, you can call HMRC’s COVID-19 hotline (0800 024 1222) to make an application over the phone. 

Self-employed individuals who were normally required to make a self-assessment tax payment on account on 31 July 2020 did not need to make that payment – it could be deferred until 31 January 2021. On 24 September 2020, the Government announced that it will extend this 31 January 2021 deadline for taxpayers with up to £30,000 of Self-Assessment liabilities. Such taxpayers will be able to agree a plan to pay their tax liabilities over an additional 12 months, ie up to 31 January 2022, although interest will be charged from February 2021 onwards. This does not affect the ability of any Self-Assessment taxpayer who is unable to pay any tax bill on time to negotiate a Time to Pay agreement with HMRC.

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VAT Deferral 

On 20 March 2020, the Chancellor announced that UK VAT registered business will be able to delay the payment of VAT return liabilities falling due between 20 March and 30 June 2020.

HMRC guidance confirmed that the deferral is automatic and covered all UK VAT registered businesses (presumably including taxable persons that are not established in the UK), but not businesses who pay UK VAT via MOSS (Mini One Stop Shop).

If businesses chose to delay their VAT payment then the VAT payments falling due in the period between 20 March and 30 June did not need to be paid immediately but instead should be paid on or before 31 March 2021 but an instalment plan was made available. HMRC has also confirmed that there should be no interest or penalty charges. The deferral was automatic and did not need to be applied for, but any organisations that choose to pay their VAT liability as normal were able to do so in the normal way. The VAT returns due to be submitted during the deferral period had to be submitted as usual. 

From 1 July 2020, VAT payments should have returned to normal but Time to pay arrangements could be requested by businesses. It should also be noted that while HMRC were sympathetic to business needs, such arrangements were not automatic and HMRC required more evidence that the business was unable to raise the funds elsewhere.

Imported medical equipment

On 31 March 2020, HMRC announced that state organisations and other authorised non-state bodies could claim relief from import duty and import VAT on protective equipment, relevant medical devices or equipment brought into the UK from non-EU countries during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The relief will be available from 30 January 2020 to 31 December 2020 in respect of:

  • Imported goods for free circulation that are:
    • For distribution free of charge to those affected by, at risk from or involved in combating the coronavirus (COVID-19)
    • To be made available free of charge to those affected by, at risk from or involved in combating the coronavirus outbreak, while remaining the property of the organisations importing them
  • Imported goods for donation or onward sale to the NHS
  • Goods imported by a disaster-relief agency for free circulation to meet needs during the coronavirus outbreak.

Non-state bodies can request authorisation by contacting the National Import Relief Unit (NIRU) by emailing for an application form.

General import duty and import VAT deferral

BDO is aware that, in some circumstances, HMRC, allowed import VAT and duty to be deferred.  Unlike the other VAT deferrals, this was a deferral that needed to be applied for in advance and businesses needed to provide an explanation as to why their finances had been affected by COVID-19.

Duty deferment account holders

Businesses that operate a Duty deferment account and were experiencing severe financial difficulty as a result of COVID-19 and therefore found themselves unable to pay the deferred customs duties and import VAT (due to be taken by direct debit on Wednesday 15 April 2020) could apply for approval to defer the whole or part of the payment. HMRC confirmed that where it approved a deferral, the guarantee would not be called upon and the deferment account would not be suspended.

Such arrangements where made via the Duty Deferment Office on 03000 594243, email or the COVID-19 helpline.

Where Import VAT/Duty was not covered by your deferment account

The situation for non account holders was more complicated, but provided you were a Registered Importer and are paying the liability at the point of importation, and had severe financial problems that arose directly from the impact of COVID-19, it was possible to request an extension to the payment deadline.

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Tax - Improved Time To Pay arrangements

The Government announced extra resources to assist those struggling to pay their tax liabilities and in financial distress. HMRC committed 2,000 experienced call handlers to support taxpayers. 

This includes a dedicated COVID-19 helpline to help those in need. The helpline number is 0800 024 1222. Opening hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, and Saturday 8am to 4pm. 

Support included agreeing a bespoke Time To Pay arrangement with HMRC. This will help those struggling with cash flow and allow those who enter into arrangements to spread liabilities owed over a pre-agreed period. In addition, HMRC agreed to waive late payment penalties and interest where businesses experience administrative difficulties contacting HMRC or paying taxes due to COVID-19.

As always, it is important to get upfront agreement from HMRC before a payment deadline. There is also a commitment to suspend debt collection proceedings.

From 1 September 2021, HMRC has resumed its normal debt collection activities and, if a taxpayer is unwilling to discuss a payment plan, or ignores attempts by HMRC to contact them, HMRC may start the process of collecting the debt using its enforcement powers, including taking control of goods, summary warrants and court action, including insolvency proceedings.

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Paying Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

From 21 December 2021 to 17 March 2022, where a small or medium-sized business (ie with 250 or fewer staff as of 30 November 2021) has an employee off sick or isolating due to COVID, the employer can reclaim the amounts of SSP paid to the individual for up to 10 days sick leave from HMRC. To claim, the employer must have had a UK payroll since at least 30 November 2021 and have already paid the SSP to the relevant employee. The administrative procedure for claims was reactivated in January 2022 and final claims must be made by 24 March 2022. SSP procedures will revert to pre-COVID arrangements thereafter.

Under the original scheme, all employees who self-isolate will be able to claim SSP and, as a temporary measure, SSP claims can be made from Day 1 rather than Day 4 of illness. Employees who are caring for someone who is self-isolating will also be able to claim SSP on this basis.

Businesses with fewer than 250 employees as at 28 February 2020 (including groups and charities with fewer than 250 PAYE employees in total at that date) will be able to reclaim SSP expenditure up to a maximum of two weeks per employee from the Government. Employers can claim online here for employees self-isolating before this special scheme ends on 30 September 2021 (the final deadline for making such claims is 31 December 2021).

In addition, the 2020/21 income tax exemption and NIC disregards for Coronavirus antigen tests provided and reimbursed by the employer, have been extended to 2021/22. This extension also applies to employer-reimbursed expenses linked to the cost of home office equipment. In addition, there has been a relaxation in the requirement that employer-provided bikes and cycle safety equipment under the Cycle to Work scheme must be predominantly used for qualifying journeys.– read more on COVID-19 and reportable benefits.

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Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Since March 2020, employers who find it necessary to lay employees off temporarily on furlough due to the pandemic can apply to HMRC for a grant to help retain those staff. To date, the scheme has gone through three phases with a further phase now announced to run from May to the end of September 2021:

  • March – June: the scheme covered up to 80% of the employee’ usual monthly wage costs up to a maximum of £2,500 per employee per calendar month, plus the associated employer’s NIC and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions but no work could be carried out by the furloughed employee.
  • July – October: support under the scheme was phased down gradually with the employer paying more each month but it was made flexible to allow employees to work part of a month.
  • November - 30 April 2021: the grant returns to the original support level of 80% but employers must pay employer NICs and pension contributions, flexible working is allowed.
  • May – 30 September 2021: employees will continue to receive 80% of normal wages through to 30 September but employers must fund 10% of wages during July and 20% in August and September.

For details of the CJRS rules, read our FAQs on the scheme.

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Potential tax issues arising from international travel restrictions

International staff

Managing international staff through the COVID-19 crisis will be increasingly demanding: in many cases physical assignments will not happen, be delayed or postponed and redundancies may increase. Here are some important issues to consider: 

If assignees need to stay in the UK or come back to the UK because of the virus, they will need to consider the impact on their UK residence days under the Statutory Residence Test – see below.

As well as tax residence issues where individuals remain in a country as a result of COVID-19, this could also affect their eligibility for expatriate tax concessions, social security and withholding taxes on earnings. It could trigger unexpected personal tax liabilities and potentially have an impact on the tax status of the employer – see below. 

Many staff with international roles will have returned home so are working from a single location: those with cross border ‘commuter’ jobs may now be working remotely from their home jurisdiction. A number of countries introduced temporary concessions to their usual rules. However, without an official, multi-country relaxation of tax and social security rules there will be tax impacts for both the employee and employer to manage.

Of course, all jurisdictions will still expect all relevant tax returns and filings to be made and, as yet, deadlines have not been moved. 

It is vital for employers to have a strategy for dealing with their international employees and to ensure that all issues are thought through before final action is taken, otherwise unintended consequences and costs will arise. For help and advice - contact us.

Directors, corporate residence and economic substance

Travel restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic made it more complex for companies to manage their tax residence and economic substance positions where they relied on directors travelling to meetings in other territories. For example, if board meetings have to be held in the UK or remotely, or the company is effectively controlled by directors in the UK as a result of travel restrictions arising from the COVID-19 crisis, in theory, this may affect whether or not the company is liable to UK corporation tax. In addition, if there are not sufficient staff in a particular location or jurisdiction as a result of the crisis, the business may not be able to prove that it has a sufficient economic substance in the jurisdiction, and the anti-avoidance legislation of other tax jurisdictions may therefore apply.

Different jurisdictions took different approaches during the COVID-19 crisis. For example, Jersey announced relaxing relaxation of its economic substance and residence rules during the crisis and other jurisdictions to made short term concessions.

Any business that may be affected by residence or economic substance issues as a result of the COVID-19 crisis should seek expert advice on their specific circumstances. For help and advice - contact us.

Personal tax residence – days in the UK

The rules for establishing whether or not individuals are tax-resident in the UK (the statutory residence test) depend, amongst other factors, on the number of days spent in the UK in a tax year (6 April to April). Non-UK resident individuals who end up spending more time in the UK than planned as a result of the COVID-19 crisis may find that they exceed the permitted number of days in the UK relevant to their circumstances.

However, up to 60 days spent in the UK can be ignored if they result from ‘exceptional circumstances’ and HMRC has issued new guidance on how these rules apply during the COVID-19 crisis - read more.

UK tax residence is a complex issue and there may be many other issues to consider in determining your personal tax status. For help and advice on tax residence issues please contact us or see our online tool for an indicative view of your likely residence status. 

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Coronavirus package for innovative businesses: Future Fund and £750m R&D commitment

On 20 April 2020, the Chancellor announced the launch of a £1.25 billion coronavirus package to protect firms driving innovation in UK. There were two aspects:

  • A £500 million investment ‘Future Fund’ for high-growth companies impacted by the crisis, made up of funding from Government and the private sector
  • A £750 million grants and loans fund for SMEs focusing on research and development.

The fund closed to aplications on 31 January 2021 but has since been replaced by another co-investment scheme the Future Fund: Breakthrough

Mortgage payment holiday

On 17 March 2020, the Chancellor also announced that mortgage lenders would offer an initial three-month mortgage payment holiday for those in financial need as a result of the COVID-19 crisis: this was later extended until the end of November.

For the second national lockdown is was announced that the scheme would be extended beyond November 2020. Under the second scheme rules, anyone who was in financial difficulties due to COVID-19 and had already taken the original maximum six month payment holiday could apply to their lender for a further three month holiday (this applies whether the six month holiday was still running or the borrower had resumed payments). All new payment holiday requests must been made by 31 March 2021.

The payment holiday could also be claimed by buy-to-let landlords. Any borrowers that are in financial difficulties after the full payment holiday has expired should contact their lenders again for to agree tailored support.

Details of payment holidays in relation to other consumer credit and loans are available on the FCA website.

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