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Covid-19: further measures announced to help businesses

On Friday 20th March the Chancellor announced a wide range of new measures designed to help businesses through the Covid-19 crisis. Our chief accountant, Emily Coltman FCA, explains what these latest developments could mean for you and your business.

Upcoming VAT payments to be deferred

If you were due to make a VAT payment between 20th March 2020 and 30th June 2020, that payment won’t be collected. You must still file your VAT returns on time so that HMRC can see how much it can expect to collect once the deferral period ends, but you won’t have to pay any VAT.

This is an automatic extension, so you don’t need to apply for it. However, if you pay VAT by direct debit, you should cancel the direct debit if you wish to take advantage of the deferral. HMRC will not cancel your direct debit if you wish to continue making payments.

HMRC’s guidance currently says that taxpayers will be given until the end of the 2020-2021 tax year (i.e. 5th April 2021) to “pay any liabilities that have accumulated during the deferral period”. However, the Chancellor’s statement on Friday referred to the deferral of payments until the end of the financial year (i.e. 31st March 2021). We’ll provide an update when the deadline for making deferred payments has been clarified.

If you were due to receive a VAT refund during the payment deferral period then don’t worry, you will still receive it within the normal timeframe.

Self Assessment payments to be deferred

If you were due to make a payment on account on 31st July 2020, you won’t have to make that payment until 31st January 2021 and HMRC won’t charge penalties or interest for late payment. This is another automatic extension so you don’t have to apply for it.

Universal Credit for self-employed people

From 6th April 2020 sole traders and partners - who won’t benefit from the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) reclaim announced in the Budget earlier this month - will be able to access Universal Credit at £94.25 per week, a rate equivalent to SSP. There’s more information about how to claim this on the government’s Universal Credit website.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

All employers will be able to claim a grant to cover 80% of their employees’ wages, capped at £2,500 per worker per month, under the new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Employers can choose to make up the remaining 20% of their employees’ wages but are not obliged to do so.

The scheme will cover staff who were employed at the end of February, as long as both the following conditions apply:

  • They are still on their employer’s payroll or were re-employed if their employer had already let them go.
  • They are not carrying out any work as a result of the Covid-19 crisis (e.g. their employer’s business has been ordered to close).

While the scheme is in place, employees in this position will be deemed to be “furlough workers”. They will remain employed but must not do any work for their employers.

Grants provided through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be backdated to 1st March 2020 and will initially be available for three months. The government’s website states that HMRC is “working night and day to get the unprecedented Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme up and running” and that it expects the first grants to be paid “within weeks”. Here at FreeAgent, we’re working closely with HMRC to make sure that we implement any necessary changes to our software as quickly as we can.

While this development provides some clarity to employers, it’s not yet clear how the scheme might apply to limited company directors, who are employees of their own companies. If you’re a limited company director, we recommend that you discuss your options with an accountant.

More guidance on grants for businesses with properties

The government announced grants of up to £10,000 for businesses that qualify for small business rate relief or rural rate relief, and up to £25,000 for larger businesses that operate from premises.

It has now been clarified that these grants will be given automatically through local authorities and that they only apply to businesses based in England. Similar schemes are operating in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

More on the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

On Friday, the Chancellor also announced that loans provided through the new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme will be interest-free for 12 months rather than six months.

The scheme is open to businesses that make annual sales of up to £45m. It covers loans, overdrafts, asset finance and invoice finance. The government will pay the first year’s interest on this borrowing, as well as any fees charged by lenders. The government will also guarantee the first 80% of the loan to the lender, though your business will still have to repay the full 100% of the loan.

To qualify, your business must have a business plan and a borrowing proposal that the lender would accept if it were not for the Covid-19 pandemic. In other words, your business must be viable in normal trading circumstances.

Businesses in almost all sectors qualify for the scheme, with the exception of:

  • banks and building societies
  • insurers and reinsurers (insurance brokers qualify)
  • public sector businesses, including schools
  • employment, political, religious and professional membership organisations

To apply, speak to your bank directly or to another participating bank or lender.

And finally…

If your business is a limited company or limited liability partnership and you’re worried that you might not be able to file its accounts at Companies House on time, you can apply for an extension. You can find out more about this development on the government’s website.

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