COVID-19

As part of our commitment to you and your business we are doing our utmost to keep you updated on the government's latest announcements and advice for business. Please keep checking this page for information and resources to help you during these difficult times

Please note: This page covers announcements made from 1 December 2020

For September to November click here
For June to August click here
For March to May click here

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13 April - Claiming the fourth SEISS grant

HMRC will contact (by phone, email, letter or SMS) eligible self employed individuals based on their tax returns in mid April to give a date for making applications for the fourth Self Employed Income Support Scheme grant.

To be eligible self-employed individuals (including members of partnerships) must: 

  • Have submitted their 2019-20 tax return on or before 2 March 2021.
  • Have trading profits that are no more than £50,000 and at least equal to their non-trading income, based on their 2019-20 tax return or an average of relevant tax years between 2016-17 and 2019-20.
  • Declare that they intend to continue to trade and are either:
    - currently trading but are impacted by reduced activity, capacity or demand due to coronavirus, or
    - have traded previously but are temporarily unable to do so due to coronavirus (If they’ve been abroad and have to stay in quarantine or self-isolate, this does not count).
  • Declare that they have a reasonable belief that there will be a significant reduction in their trading profits due to reduced business activity, capacity, demand or inability to trade due to coronavirus.

The online service to claim the fourth grant will be available from late April 2021 and will close on 1 June 2021.

The grant will be set at 80% of three months’ average trading profits and capped at £7,500.

6 April - Recovery Loan Scheme now open

From today, businesses – ranging from coffee shops and restaurants, to hairdressers and gyms – and can access loans varying in size from £25,000, up to a maximum of £10 million. Invoice and asset finance is available from £1,000. This is in addition to furlough being extended until 30 September, and the New Restart Grants scheme (see below) launched last week. 

The scheme runs until 31 December 2021 and will be administered by the British Business Bank, with loans available through a diverse network of accredited commercial lenders. The government will provide an 80% guarantee for all loans. Interest rates have been capped at 14.99% and are expected to be much lower than that in the vast majority of cases.

The Recovery Loan Scheme can be used as an additional loan on top of support received from the emergency schemes – such as the Bounce Back Loan Scheme and Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme – put into place last year.

1 April - New grant funding to help reopening businesses

A new £5bn Restart Grants Scheme launched on 1 April will provide one-off grants of up to £6,000 to eligible businesses in the non-essential retail sector. Businesses in the hospitality, accommodation, leisure, personal care and gym sectors, which are reopening later, will be eligible for one-off grants of up to £18,000. The funding will be delivered by local authorities.

Businesses can check their eligibility for the Restart Grants here

29 March - Business Rates Relief boosted by £1.5bn fund 

The government is to extend business rates relief with a £1.5bn fund targeted at those businesses unable to benefit from the current coronavirus support.

Retail, hospitality and leisure businesses have not been paying any rates during the pandemic as part of a 15 month-long relief which runs to the end of June this year. However, many businesses ineligible for reliefs have been appealing for discounts on their bills, arguing that the pandemic represented a 'material change of circumstance' (MCC).

The government says that market-wide economic changes to property values, such as from COVID-19, can only be properly considered at general rates revaluations and it will therefore be legislating to rule out COVID-19-related MCC appeals. Instead, it will provide funding to sectors which have suffered most economically, rather than on the basis of decreases in property values, to ensure the support is provided in the fastest and fairest way possible.

25 March - Insolvency measures extended until 30 June 2021 

The government has extended measures in the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act to protect businesses during the pandemic. This includes an extension of the suspension of liability for wrongful trading from 30 April 2021 to 30 June 2021 and a respite for those facing winding up petitions with the same extension to end June, while the amendments to the use of moratorium is also extended.

The threat of personal liability arising from wrongful trading for directors who continue to trade a company through the pandemic with the uncertainty that the company may not be able to avoid insolvency in the future has also been temporarily removed.

23 March - National Day of Reflection

The anniversary of the UK going into the first national lockdown is being held today to remember all those who have sadly passed away during the pandemic.

The National Day of Reflection includes a minute's silence at midday (12 noon) and again as night falls at 8pm as the public appear on their doorsteps with candles, torches or lights from their mobiles to shine a beacon of support in these incredibly difficult times.

22 March - Welcome Back Fund to aid recovery

The government has announced a support package for the safe reopening of high streets and seaside resorts.

The £56m Welcome Back Fund will help councils boost tourism, improve green spaces and provide more outdoor seating areas, markets and food stall pop-ups for people to meet up safely. Pubs, restaurants and listed buildings will also be given more flexibility to use their land, including erecting marquees in pub gardens for the whole summer rather than the 28 days currently permitted.

The funding has been divided up across the country with the east of England set to receive £6.1m, the south east £9.6m and south west £5.5m for example.

15 March - Further details on Recovery Loan Scheme

The scheme is due to launch on 6 April 2021 and will replace the existing government guaranteed schemes which have supported £73bn of lending to date and will close at the end of this month. The finance can be used for any legitimate business purpose, including growth and investment.

Term loans and overdrafts will be available between £25,001 and £10m, and invoice finance and asset finance between £1,000 and £10m, per business. The terms of the loans will be up to six year for term loans and asset finance facilities, and three years for overdrafts and invoice finance facilities. The government guarantees 80% of the finance to the lender to ensure they continue to have the confidence to lend to businesses. 

Details on how to apply are expected in due course. Subject to review, the scheme will remain open until 31 December 2021.

12 March - SEISS grant claims for new traders

HMRC is sending SEISS verification letters to self employed traders who started trading after 5 April 2019 asking them to confirm their identity and prove they have been trading before they can claim the fourth SEISS grant. HMRC says the pre-verification check is necessary to reduce fraudulent claims.

Those new traders can claim support under the SEISS for the first time if they submitted their 2019/20 tax return by midnight on 2 March 2021. The fourth and fifth SEISS grants will be wholly or partly based on profits reported in the 2019/20 return.

The letter will tell customers to expect a telephone call from HMRC on the number they provided on their tax return. (If the customer provided an agent’s number on their return, HMRC will ask the agent to pass on the customer’s number as they need to speak to the customer directly).

5 March - Government invests £100m in Covid fraud taskforce

The Taxpayer Protection Taskforce will seek to crack down on criminals who attempt to fraudulently claim money via government COVID-19 financial support schemes, in particular the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and the Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). HMRC also intends to raise awareness of enforcement action in order to deter fraud and will 'significantly strengthen' law enforcement for Bounce Back loans.

3 March - The Budget: More financial help for businesses

The Chancellor's Budget on 3 March set out a three point plan to protect businesses through the pandemic, fix the public finances and begin building the future economy.

Measures include:

  • Extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme until the end of September 2021
  • The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will continue to September 2021 with a fourth and fifth grant
  • VAT reduced rate of 5% for tourism and hospitality until 30 September 2021
  • A new Recovery Loan Scheme to support businesses once the existing Covid-19 scheme closes

Download our special report of the key announcements and watch the accompanying video on our Budget 2021 page.

22 February - Government announces roadmap for lifting restrictions

The roadmap will see all pupils in England's schools return to class from 8 March. Shops, hairdressers, gyms and outdoor hospitality, as well as self-contained holiday accommodation, can re-open on 12 April. From 17 May cinemas, museums and hotels will also re-open.

The final step from 21 June will potentially see all legal limits on social contact removed.

19 February - HMRC temporarily waives late payment penalties until 1 April 2021

HMRC has announced that due to the pandemic it is giving taxpayers until midnight on 1 April to pay their tax or set up a payment plan to avoid being charged the 5% late payment penalty.

The self assessment payment deadline is 31 January and interest is charged from 1 February on any amounts outstanding. Normally, a 5% late payment penalty is also charged on any unpaid tax still outstanding on 3 March.

18 February - Clarity required on taxation of COVID test costs

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has asked HMRC to confirm whether COVID-19 antigen tests paid for by employers will continue to be exempt from income tax and national insurance after 5 April 2021.

Additionally, a government announcement confirmed that legislation would be introduced to give a temporary NIC and income tax exemption from 25 January 2021 until 5 April 2021. 

The Institute also called for HMRC to provide clarity on the difference between antigen tests and antibody tests, which are not exempt.

17 February - Extension of insolvency protection 

To relieve pressure on businesses dealing with the pandemic the government has announced it intends to extend the power (granted through the Corporate Governance and Insolvency Act) to make temporary amendments or modify the effects of corporate insolvency and governance legislation for an additional year until April 2022. 

The government also announced that companies and other qualifying bodies with obligations to hold AGMs will continue to have the flexibility to hold these meetings virtually until 31 March 2021. This means that shareholders can continue to examine company papers and vote on resolutions remotely.

11 February - VAT payment deferral scheme opens 23 February

HMRC has updated its guidance for businesses who deferred VAT payments due between 20 March and 30 June 2020 due to the pandemic and still have payments make. You can:

If you are on the VAT Annual Accounting Scheme or the VAT Payment on Account Scheme, you will be invited to join the new payment scheme later in March 2021.

The new scheme enables you to:

  • pay your deferred VAT in interest-free equal instalments
  • choose the number of instalments, from 2 to 11 (depending on when you join the scheme)

9 February - HMRC's customer service levels impacted by COVID-19

HMRC has revealed that its customer service levels have been adversely affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. According to HMRC, the pandemic has 'reinforced the need for a flexible, resilient and responsive tax and customs system'.

Data showed that HMRC's customer support phone lines have experienced a high volume of calls from taxpayers, with waiting times 'significantly longer' than usual. The average wait time amounted to 11:47 minutes between October and December 2020. 

HMRC currently holds £65bn of debt, which is £45bn more than this time last year. The debt balance at the end of March is estimated to be between £54bn and £70bn. 

8 February - Extension to Bounce Back Loans repayment terms

Businesses that took out government-back Bounce Back Loans will now have the option to tailor payments according to their individual circumstances with the option to delay all repayments for a further six months, the government has announced. The Pay as You Grow repayment flexibilities gives borrowers the option to extend the length of their loans from six to 10 years (reducing monthly repayments by almost half), make interest-only payments for six months or pause repayments for up to six months.

The Chancellor has now extended the flexibility of the third option, which will now be available to all from their first repayment, rather than after six repayments have been made. This will mean that businesses can choose to make no payments on their loans until 18 months after they originally took them out. This is in addition to the government covering the costs of interest for the first year of the loan.

Businesses first began to receive the loans in May 2020 and the first repayments will become due from May 2021 onwards.

3 February - Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG) application window open

Closed businesses that do not directly pay business rates as well as businesses that do not have to close but which are impacted by COVID-19 can apply to their local council for funding support through the ARG. Eligibility criteria for these grants will be determined by local councils but could include businesses which supply the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors and those in the tourism and events sectors. Businesses should visit their local council's website for more details and how to apply.

2 February - Deadline for Christmas support payment extended

The deadline for applications for the payment has been extended to 28 February 2021.

The support payment is for wet-led pubs that predominantly serve alcohol rather than provide food and severely impacted by local restrictions during the festive season. Eligible businesses may be entitled to a one off cash grant of £1,000 from their local council under Tier 2 or Tier 3 local restrictions.

28 January - Government's Kickstart Scheme opens up to more businesses

The Kickstart Scheme, introduced in September 2020, provides funding to employers to create new job placements for 16 to 24 year olds on Universal Credit. The government has recently announced that from 3 February 2021 it is making it even simpler for employers to benefit from joining the scheme by removing the limit requiring they create a minimum of 30 vacancies to apply directly.

Employers of all sizes can apply for funding which covers 100% of the National Minimum Wage for 25 hours per week for a total of 6 months, and all associated NIC and minimum automatic enrolment qualifying pension contributions. Businesses will also receive £1,500 per job placement to cover set up costs, support and training. Find out more here

27 January - Furlough scheme employers named

HMRC has published its first list of employers who have claimed grants through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) during December. Being named is normal and the presumption is that those listed are using the funds as intended.

A similar list will be published each month and from February HMRC will also include an indication of the value of the previous month's claim within a banded range, and the company number. More details are available at gov.uk 

26 January - Date confirmed for 4th SEISS grant to be announced

The Chancellor has said there will be an announcement made on the amount of the grant, to cover the months February, March and April, in the Budget which is on 3 March.

25 January - Changes to late filing penalty for 2019-20 tax returns

HMRC has announced that Self Assessment customers will not receive a penalty for filing their 2019-20 tax return late, as long as they file online by 28 February 2021. However, taxpayers will still need to pay their Self Assessment tax bill by 31 January, and interest will be charged from 1 February on any outstanding liabilities.

22 January - Business interruption insurance claims 

If your business was ordered to close business premises due to the pandemic you may be entitled to claim for loss of earnings incurred from the first national lockdown through your insurance. In a recent test case the UK's Supreme Court found in favour of small firms receiving payments from Covid-19 business interruption insurance policies.

The test case clarifies some key contractual uncertainties and 'causation' issues but each policy will need to be considered against the judgement to work out the effect on that particular policy. Please let us know if you would like us to assist you with making a claim.

18 January - Claiming the third SEISS grant

A reminder that the deadline for claiming the third Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) is 29 January 2021. It is not usually possible to make a late claim under the scheme.

Note that SEISS grants are taxable in the 2020-21 tax year and so should not be reported in the 2019-20 self assessment tax returns that are due to be filed by 31 January 2021.

12 January - Deferred VAT payments

Businesses that deferred their VAT payments between 20 March and 30 June 2020 can pay the deferred VAT in full on or before 31 March 2021 or opt in to the VAT deferral new payment scheme when it launches in early 2021. If using the new scheme, taxpayers can make up to 11 smaller monthly instalments by Direct Debit which are interest free. All instalments of the outstanding amount must be paid by the end of March 2022. 

Taxpayers must prepare to opt in by:

  • creating their own Government Gateway account if they do not already have one
  • submitting any outstanding VAT returns from the last four years. You will not be able to join the scheme if you have not done so
  • correcting errors on their VAT returns as soon as possible. Corrections received after 31 December 2020 may not show in their deferred VAT balance
  • ensuring they know how much they owe, including the amount they originally deferred and how much they may have already paid

11 January - COVID-19 is a 'reasonable excuse' for missing self assessment deadline, HMRC says

HMRC has confirmed taxpayers who miss the 31 January deadline to fail their self assessment tax return because of difficulties caused by COVID will be able to claim this as a 'reasonable excuse' to overturn a late filing penalty, provided they explain how they were affected in their grounds for appeal and submit the return as soon as they can. The penalty appeal period has been extended to three months, and HMRC has indicated it is looking at ways to make the appeal process quicker and easier for taxpayers.

A reminder also that the automated self-serve Time to Pay online service for taxpayers who have filed a tax return and determined the amount of tax due for 2019/20 and the amounts of any payment on account for 2020/21 will be able to make payments over an extended period, (up to £30,000 and be paid in up to 12 instalments). However, Time to Pay arrangements are only available once the return has been filed.

January - Further financial support for retail, hospitality & leisure businesses

With businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors expected to remain closed until at least February half term, the Chancellor has announced one-off top up grants worth £9,000 per property will be made available. Over 600,000 businesses are expected to benefit.

The one-off top-ups will be granted to closed businesses as follows:
£4,000 for businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or under
£6,000 for businesses with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000
£9,000 for businesses with a rateable value of over £51,000

Also, a £594m discretionary fund has also been made available to support other impacted businesses. The fund is in addition to £1.1bn further discretionary grant for Local Authorities, Local Restrictions Support Grants worth up to £3,000 a month and extension of the furlough scheme.

22 December - HMRC rejects extending self assessment deadline

HMRC has said it will not extend the 31 January self assessment deadline or waive late filing penalties. However, it will accept pandemic-related disruptions and agent delays as a reasonable excuse and will also extend the period to appeal a penalty.

Taxpayers who file late will receive a penalty notice, but HMRC's chief executive Jim Harra said that those affected or their agent can get the late filing penalties 'cancelled easily' by contacting HMRC.

The appeal period will be extended from one to three months to give taxpayers and agents more time.

17 December - Furlough Scheme extended

In a move to support businesses, the Chancellor has announced that the current furlough scheme will be extended by one month to 30 April 2021 It means the government will continue to pay up to 80% of the wages of workers who have been furloughed.

The Chancellor also confirmed he would be extending the government-guaranteed Covid-19 business loan schemes until the end of March 2021.

These changes come in the run-up to the next Budget, which Mr Sunak confirmed would take place on 3 March 2021. Find out more here

9 December - Monthly deadline approaching for furlough claims 

HMRC has reminded employers that there are now monthly deadlines for claims for furloughed staff under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).
HMRC has stated that claims must be submitted within 14 calendar days after the month they relate to, unless this falls on a weekend, in which case the deadline is the next weekday. This means employers must submit November claims no later than 14 ‌‌December 2020.

7 December - Financial support package for small, limited company directors to be debated by MPs

A consortium of professional bodies has urged the chancellor to consider proposals for a “Directors Income Support Scheme” (DISS), which would mirror the Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).It is estimated that around 780,000 self-employed company directors have found themselves blindsided by no government Covid-19 financial support. The online petition, calling for the support package, has resulted in a general debate being scheduled among MPs on Wednesday, 9th December.  

 

For earlier government announcements please see COVID-19 pages:

 

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REF: MC/NL/1.2