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Article:

COVID-19: government support for individuals and businesses

26 June 2020

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


Government-backed loans to businesses 

A new, temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), delivered via the British Business Bank, will support SME businesses to access lending and overdrafts. The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to a per lender cap on claims) to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to SMEs. The government will not charge businesses or banks for this guarantee, and the Scheme will support loans of up to £25 million in value.  All SME businesses can apply for a CBILS loan – those with a turnover of up to £45m can apply for loans up to £5m. The terms of the loans will be ‘attractive’ and the Chancellor has stated no interest will be charged for the first twelve months of the loan period. Banks will not be able to refuse to lean on the basis that businesses could borrow on normal financial terms and will not be able to insist on personal guarantees from business owners for loans of up to £250,000. For larger loans, personal guarantees will be limited to 20% of the borrowing: lenders are prevented from taking a charge over the business owner’s home.

A further Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) is to be developed for companies with turnover up to £250m to access facilities up to £25m, and larger companies to access up to £200m. The CLBILS will also feature the 80% guarantee but loans will be at commercial rates of interest.

The British Business Bank will be working with its current Enterprise Finance Guarantee delivery partners and the government to make the new schemes available and to implement the package of enhancements.

For large businesses there is also a special funding arrangement, the COVID Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF), available through the Bank of England. Businesses will need to issue special 1 year corporate bonds which the Bank of England will purchase to give businesses liquidity.

For further information on the eligibility criteria, features, success rates and accessibility of the two schemes including its applicability to Private Equity portfolio companies read our article on the current debt landscape.

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Business Rates reliefs

The Chancellor extended the package of Business Rates relief again in his announcement on 17 March. Retail businesses in England with a rateable value below £51,000 will pay no business rates for the year to 31 March 2021. This is expected to apply to up to 90% of independent shops, pubs, restaurants and other qualifying businesses.

For businesses in the hospitality, leisure and retail sectors who use premises with a higher rateable value, there will be full business rate exemption for the year to 31 March 2021. The Business Rates Local Authority Guidance, which instructs authorities on who is eligible for relief from business rates, originally excluded ‘casinos and gambling clubs’ and classified retail betting shops as financial services, meaning they were also ineligible, but this exclusion has now been reversed. The government has also stated that hospitality businesses should be able to claim on their business continuity insurance as a result of government guidance to the public: as always, businesses should check their insurance cover and contact their insurer about the extent of their cover. 

Local newspapers in England will also continue to benefit from a business rates discount of £1,500 for their office space until 31 March 2025, and there will be a new 100% relief for all public lavatories in England from April 2020.

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

To support the many small businesses that pay little or no business rates because of Small Business Rate relief (SBRR), the government will provide funding for local authorities in England, who will provide the business grants. This will provide grants of £10,000 to around 700,000 business currently eligible for SBRR or Rural Rate. 

Businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sector that use premises with a rateable value between £15,000 and  £51,000, and will therefore pay no business rates for the current year, will receive grants of £25,000 from their Local Authority. Businesses should contact their local authority for further details of eligibility and payment arrangements.

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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 is intended to mirror the support given for furloughed employees and will pay 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. On 29 May, the Chancellor announced that the scheme would be extended for a further three months but support will be at 70% with the maximum lump sum payment for the second phase set at £6,570.   

Self-employed individuals (including partnership members) qualify for the scheme if:

  • They 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 2018/19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.
  • They have submitted their self-assessment tax return for 2018/19 (those who have yet to submit their return must do so within 4 weeks)
  • 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 will carry on (when the COVID-19 crisis is over) and have lost income as a result of the crisis.

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 2019 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 through their Government Gateway account with applications for the second lump sum payment opening from 1 August. Currently, HMRC expects to start making payments to applicants at the end of May - when 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.

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. 

On Budget day, the Chancellor announced that the Government would make it easier for those not able to work as a result of the COVID-19 crisis to claim state benefits. For those who are sick or required to self-isolate, the Employment Support Allowance will be paid from Day 1 of the sickness period. In addition, the requirements of the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor will be temporarily relaxed for those who have COVID-19 or are self-isolating in line with official guidance. This means that all self-employed individuals should be able to make a claim and receive support at the same weekly amount as employees receiving SSP are entitled to (currently £94.25 per week). Where individuals claiming Tax Credits have reduced working hours or are not able to work because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Government has confirmed that this will not affect their Tax Credit payments while Government support schemes (like the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme) remain in place.  

Individual tax payers who are due to make a second payment on account for the 2019/20 tax year by 31 July 2020 may be able to defer that payment by up to 6 months. Originally the deferment only applied to self-employed individuals but was subsequently extended to all taxpayers. Where the deferment applies, no interest or penalties will arise as long as the payment reaches HMRC by 31 January 2021. During the deferral period you can set up an HMRC budget payment plan to help you pay the deferred payment on account when it comes due on 31 January 2021.

Whilst the deferment is automatic and no application is required, HMRC has clearly stated that where a taxpayer is able to make the payment by 31 July 2020, they should continue to do so. Whether or not the deferment applies will therefore depend on whether (i) the individual experiences difficulty in making a payment on 31 July, and (ii) this difficulty was caused by the coronavirus.

Local Authorities will also operate a Hardship Fund for families and businesses in financial difficulties: support for individuals is expected to take the form of Council Tax relief. 

On 17 March, 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 has now been extended until the end of September. The payment holiday can also be claimed by buy-to-let landlords but it should be remembered that, for all borrowers, interest will still accrue on the mortgage sum while the payment holiday is in place. To support private tenants struggling to pay their rent, the government has announced a three-month ban on all evictions from residential property (now extended a further two months), and housing benefit and Universal Credit will be increased to allow the local housing allowance to cover at least 30% of market rents.

In addition, the government has delayed the introduction of the off-payroll labour/IR35 reforms for private sector businesses until 6 April 2021. Self-employed individuals will still need to consider their existing IR35 obligations when accepting work, but a delay in placing new obligations onto engagers will prevent further disruption to the contractor market for the 2020/21 tax year. Read more on IR35.

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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.

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 at some point before the 30 March 2021. HMRC has also confirmed that there should be no interest or penalty charges. The deferral is automatic and does not need to be applied for, but any organisations that choose to pay their VAT liability as normal are able to do so in the normal way. The VAT returns due to be submitted during the deferral period must be submitted as usual. HMRC has recommended however, that businesses who normally pay their VAT by direct debit, cancel the direct debit with their bank– just in case HMRC’s systems attempt automatic collection on receipt of the VAT return.

End of the deferral period

The VAT deferral arrangements have now effectively come to an end and businesses will need to make VAT payments in the normal way from 1 July 2020.

If your business is going to struggle to make its VAT payments, then it might still be possible to agree an individual deferment arrangement known as a time to pay arrangement. It is important however, to apply for such an arrangement early and if possible before the liability has formally arisen by the submission of the VAT return.

It should also be noted that while HMRC are likely to be sympathetic, such arrangements are not automatic and it will want to see more evidence that the business is unable to raise the funds elsewhere. It will also be necessary to factor in the double VAT payment that will arise by the end of March next year. Read our Time to pay support guide.

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 until 31 July 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 [email protected] for an application form.

General import duty and import VAT deferral

BDO has also been made aware that HMRC is, in some circumstances allowing for import VAT and duty to be deferred. Although there is as yet, no formal announcement that this is the case, we are aware that multiple sources have confirmed that this is a possibility.

Unlike the other VAT deferrals, this is a deferral that needs to be applied for in advance and you will need to provide an explanation as to why your business finances have been affected by COVID-19.

Duty deferment account holders

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

HMRC have not yet confirmed whether the deferment payments due to be collected on the 15 of May and June will be treated in the same way, but we would expect some form of confirmation soon.

Businesses that wish to avail themselves of this should contact the Duty Deferment Office on 03000 594243, or by emailing [email protected] or using the COVID-19 helpline on 0800 024 1222.

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

The situation for no account holders is more complicated, but provided you are a Registered Importer and are paying the liability at the point of importation, and are having severe financial problems that arise directly from the impact of COVID-19, it may be possible to request an extension to the payment deadline. Once again, you are likely to need to explain how Covid-19 has adversely impacted you, and HMRC may (or may not) agree time to pay.

This is a more fluid arrangement and the conditions will depend on your businesses position. It may for example be necessary to provide a guarantee.

Naturally, businesses may need to consider the impact of any time to pay arrangement or deferral on current or future borrowing.

Making Tax Digital for VAT Deferral

HMRC have confirmed that they are giving business more time to implement digital links through their systems, in order to create the so called unbroken electronic chain of information from the accounting system to the VAT return. This will now be required or the first VAT accounting period starting on or after 1 April 2021.

Read about further VAT issues to consider.

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Tax - Improved Time To Pay arrangements

The government has announced extra resources to assist those struggling to pay their tax liabilities and in financial distress. HMRC will be committing 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 will include 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 will waive late payment penalties and interest where businesses experience administrative difficulties contacting HMRC or paying taxes due to COVID-19.

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

For more information, read our Time to pay support guide.

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Paying Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

A number of measures have been announced. 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. Precise details of the reclaim method have not been announced but an online claim system will open from 26 May.

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Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Employers who find it necessary to lay employees off temporarily on furlough can apply to HMRC for a grant to help retain those staff. The grant will cover 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 on that wage. This help is available to any business or organisation who had a PAYE scheme established before 19 March 2020 and needs to furlough employees who were engaged and included in an RTI submission on or before that date. The government have announced that this scheme is now available until end of October and will allow part time working from 1 August from which point the government’s contribution will decrease and employers will be asked to pay a percentage of the salaries of their furloughed staff. Exact details of how the new rules will work from 1 August have not yet been released.  

It is important to note that the grant is only payable in respect of furloughed employees. Those who continue to provide services or generate income are not currently covered (although part time working will be permitted from August). Employee PAYE and NIC is still payable as usual whilst employer NIC and minimum automatic enrolment pension contributions will be covered by the grant. The specially designed HMRC portal to use to make their claims is now live.  Businesses are to treat any claim as business income subject to Corporation/Income tax and wages paid out to furloughed workers are also treated as a business expense. Records need to be retained for five years. 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. We expect that a number of countries will introduce concessions to their usual rules – for example, we understand that France may not insist on French social security if employees have to remain there for an unexpected period of up to 60 days. 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

Current travel restrictions may make it more complex for companies to manage their tax residence and economic substance positions if they are reliant 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 may well take different approaches during the Covid-19 crisis. For example, Jersey has announced that it is relaxing its economic substance and residence rules during the crisis. We would expect other jurisdictions to make short term concessions in time but, to date, the UK government has yet to make any comment on corporate residence issues or related tax rules. 

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 are 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.

Future Fund

In partnership with the British Business Bank, the £500 million fund will provide UK-based companies with between £125,000 and £5 million from the government, with private investors at least matching the government commitment. The application process is investor-led. This means an investor, or lead investor of a group of investors, applies in connection with an eligible company. Investors and the Future Fund both invest using a convertible loan agreement, which is predefined and cannot be negotiated.

To be eligible, a business must be an unlisted UK registered company, incorporated in the UK before 31 December 2019 that has previously raised at least £250,000 in equity investment from third party investors in the last five years (1 April 2015 to 19 April 2020, inclusive). The Company must have with a substantive economic presence in the UK, ie more than half its staff or half its sales in the UK. If the company is a member of a corporate group, only the ultimate parent company, if a UK registered company, is eligible to receive the loan. You can read the expected headline terms announced for more information.

Loans will be for a maximum period of 36 months, at a minimum interest rate of 8%. A higher interest rate can be agreed between the company and the matched investors. The loan cannot be repaid early by the company other than with the agreement of all of the investors. The loans will automatically convert into equity, at a minimum conversion discount of 20%, on the company’s next qualifying funding round, or at the end of the loan if they are not repaid.

The government will have limited corporate governance rights during the term of the loan and as a shareholder following conversion of the loan.

The company must provide:

  • Limited warranties, including in respect of title and ownership, capacity, its loan eligibility in accordance with the government eligibility criteria, compliance with law, the borrowing facilities of the company, litigation and insolvency events to the lenders on closing of the loan
  • Limited covenants to the government during the term of the loan and as a shareholder following conversion of the loan, including undertaking to treat the lenders and the holders of the conversion equity fairly and equally and to provide the government with the same information rights as other investors in the company, and compliance with law obligations.

The funding must be used solely for working capital purposes, and not to repay any borrowings, make any dividends or bonus payments to staff, management, shareholders or consultants or, in respect of the government loan, pay any advisory or placement fees or bonuses to external advisers.

The government is committing an initial £250 million in funding towards the scheme, which will opens on 26 May and will be available until at least the end of September. The scale of the fund will be kept under review.

This may be a suitable option for businesses that rely on equity investment and are unable to access the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

Read our FAQs on the Future Fund.

£750 million grants and loans fund for SMEs focusing on research and development

This fund will provide grants and loans to SMEs that focus on research and development, through Innovate UK’s grants and loan scheme.

Innovate UK, the national innovation agency, will accelerate up to £200 million of grant and loan payments for its 2,500 existing Innovate UK customers on an opt-in basis. An extra £550 million will also be made available to increase support for existing customers and £175,000 of support will be offered to around 1,200 firms not currently in receipt of Innovate UK funding. The first payments will be made by mid-May.

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