Since our last update relevant to NI, there has been further clarifications regarding the Small Business Grant Scheme as well as new supports announced for small businesses. It is acknowledged that this is an extremely fluid and changing environment and as a result we will continue to provide further Coronavirus Updates.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) support is available to employers and the self-employed. You may be eligible for loans, tax relief and cash grants, whether your business is open or closed. Further information is coming through in relation to these measures and how to access them and this is being updated on Gov.UK and NI Business Info
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
What is it? A grant to cover wages for employees on temporary leave ('furlough') due to coronavirus. The scheme has been extended until 30 September 2021. For claim periods running to June 2021, employees will receive 80% of their usual salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. From 1 July 2021, the level of grant will be reduced each month and you will be asked to contribute towards the cost of your furloughed employees’ wages.
Who can apply?
Employers with PAYE scheme.
Self-Employment Income Support Scheme - Additional Grants
What is it: The UK Government announced a package of support to protect the jobs of self-employed workers across the UK.
Recipients of the Income Support Grant Scheme can continue their normal trading activity or take on other employment including voluntary work & retain their entitlement to the grant.
Who is eligible: To be eligible for this extended support self-employed individuals, including members of partnerships, must:
- Have been previously eligible for the SEISS first and second grant (although they do not have to have claimed the previous grants);
- Declare that they intend to continue to trade and either:
- are currently actively trading but are impacted by reduced demand due to coronavirus; or
- were previously trading but are temporarily unable to do so due to Coronavirus.
To have been eligible for the initial two grants (and therefore eligible for the extended grants), individuals and members of partnerships must have met the following criteria:
- Trading profits of less than £50,000 in 2018/19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 from 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19 tax years;
- Using the individual’s tax returns, HMRC will calculate their trading profits by taking turnover less any allowable business expenses and capital expenditure (e.g. capital allowances, flat rate expenses, qualifying care relief and business expenses deducted through the trading allowance). HMRC will not deduct any losses carried forward from earlier years from your trading profits;
- More than half of their income in these periods must come from self-employment;
- They must have traded in the 2019/20 tax year, are continuing to trade when they apply for the scheme (or would be except for COVID-19), intend to continue to trade in the 2020/21 tax year and they have lost trading profits due to COVID-19; and
- They must have submitted an Income Self-Assessment Tax Return for 2018/19 tax year.
Individuals who pay themselves a salary and dividends through their own company are not covered by this scheme.
How to access: Eligible individuals can claim the fifth SEISS grant online using their Government Gateway login. The online service for the fifth grant will be available from late July 2021.
For more information click here.
Coronavirus: Localised Restrictions Support Scheme
What is it: The Localised Restrictions Support Scheme provides financial support to certain businesses which have been required to close or severely limited their operations under Health Protection Regulations put in place by the NI Executive.
What does it cover: There are three levels of support available for businesses who are eligible and whose application is successful. The level of support is based on the Net Asset Value of the property from which the business operates:
Level of support (£)
£800 per week of restrictions
£1,200 per week of restrictions
£1,600 per week of restrictions
The scheme is designed to support the occupying business in a property, not the landlord or letting agent. Applications must be submitted by an authorised representative for the business which operates the in the premises. If a business occupies more than one eligible premises, they may apply for support in respect of each one; this will require separate online applications for each property.
Eligibility Criteria: Eligibility for the LRSS is linked to Health Protection Regulations published by the Department of Health and is subject to change based on the requirement to close certain sectors periodically in response to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. The most up-to-date list of eligible sectors can be accessed here.
How to Access: Applications are to be submitted online via the Department of Finance’s website.
If a business has previously submitted a successful application, and localised restrictions are extended or reinforced, further payments will be issued automatically. There is no need to reapply.
Further information can be accessed by clicking here.
Reduction in VAT Rates for Hospitality & Tourism Sectors
What is it: VAT rates in the hospitality & tourism sector are to be cut from 20% to 5% from 15 July 2020 to 31 March 2021 (note the extension to the original reduction, which was due to end on 12 January 2021).
What does it cover: The reduced VAT rate will apply to:
- Eat-in or hot takeaway food and non-alcoholic drinks from restaurants, cafes, and pubs;
- Accommodation including hotels, B&Bs, campsites and caravan sites; and
- Attractions such as cinemas, theme parks and zoos;
For what period:
As announced at budget 2021, the government will be legislating to:
- extend the temporary reduced rate of VAT of 5% until 30 September 2021
- prepare for a new rate of 12.5% from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022
The supplies to which the temporary reduced rates will apply remain the same.
Business Rates Holiday
As part of emergency support measures agreed by the NI Executive in response to the COVID-19 crisis, specific sectors approved by the NI Executive will receive a full 12-month rates holiday from business rates for the entire financial year of 2021-22.
The business sectors that will have no rates liability will be detailed in new Regulations (to be published) and this rates holiday will be awarded automatically when rate bills issue; there is no need to apply.
A process to apply for the removal of the 12-month rates holiday will also be established shortly for those businesses who do not want to receive the financial support during 2021-22.
Those business sectors that are expected to receive the rates holiday are listed below, subject to inclusion in the final legislation:
- Hospitality - including restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, public houses.
- Tourism - including B&Bs (which pay business rates), guest houses, hotels, privately run caravan & camping sites, self-catering holiday accommodation, tourist attractions and facilities.
- Leisure - including cinemas, theatres, leisure centres and facilities, museums, sports premises, sports grounds and associated sport clubs, clubhouses, and music venues.
- Retail and retail services - shops of all types and sizes (excluding retail premises with retail floor space greater than 500m² Net Internal Area (NIA) and which is wholly or mainly used for the retail sale of food and household goods; and all off-licences). Examples of services include hairdressers, barbers, nail and beauty services, fast food outlets, garden centres, travel agencies, car showrooms, auction houses, and clothing, shoe or electrical goods repairs.
- Childcare - children's day-care and nursery premises.
- Airports - Belfast City Airport, Belfast International Airport and City of Derry Airport.
- Newspapers - premises occupied by local newspaper companies for production purposes.
- Manufacturing - businesses in receipt of Industrial Derating
For more information, please visit NIBusinessInfo.
Hardship Rates Relief
This relief is available for non-domestic ratepayers who have been affected by exceptional circumstances. Its purpose is to provide short-term assistance to businesses that are suffering unexpected hardship to the extent that the viability of the business would be threatened if an award were not made. If An applicant is successful, then an element of rates already paid may be remitted.
How to Access: The 4-month rates holiday was applied automatically and monthly Direct Debit payment plans will be automatically updated to collect payments between July 2020 and March 2021. In contrast, the 12-month rates holiday and Hardship Rates Relief Schemes must be applied for separately. Eligibility is assessed by Land & Property Services. Businesses must apply for both reliefs separately to be considered for both.
For more information: Click Here
HMRC Time to Pay Arrangements
HMRC has a set up a phone helpline to support businesses and self-employed people concerned about not being able to pay their tax due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
The helpline allows any business or self-employed individual who is concerned about paying their tax due to coronavirus to get practical help and advice. Up to 2,000 experienced call handlers are available to support businesses and individuals when needed. If you run a business or are self-employed and are concerned about paying your tax due to coronavirus, you can call HMRC’s helpline for help and advice: 0800 024 1222.
For those who are unable to pay due to coronavirus, HMRC will discuss your specific circumstances to explore:
- agreeing an instalment arrangement
- suspending debt collection proceedings
- cancelling penalties and interest where you have administrative difficulties contacting or paying HMRC immediately
Opening hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, and Saturday 8am to 4pm. The helpline will not be available on Bank Holidays
Self Employed / Individuals Supports
- The minimum income floor for access to Universal Credit has been suspended for self-employed people affected by the economic impact of coronavirus until 30 April 2021.
- Universal Credit standard allowance increasing by £1,040 for the 2021 tax year (6 April 2020 – 5 April 2021).
- Self-assessment income tax payments for the self -employed initially due by 31 July 2020 can be deferred to 31 January 2021.
- Interest rate reduced to 0.1% from March 2020.
Support For Businesses Who Are Paying Sick Pay to Employees
What is it: The Government brought forward legislation to allow employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day one of an employee’s absence. This will cover up to 2 weeks of SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19. Eligibility criteria has been updated to include employees who have been advised by letter to shield because they are clinically vulnerable, or those who have received a self-isolation notification from the Public Health Association due to close contact with a confirmed case.
Employers should maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note as alternative means of certification will be considered acceptable in these circumstances. SSP is available in respect of employees earning an average of £118 per week and is payable at a rate of £94.25 a week.
Who is eligible: Businesses must:
- Have already paid for the employee’s sick pay;
- Be small or medium-sized UK based business employing fewer than 250 employees as of 28 February 2020; and
- Have a PAYE payroll scheme that started before 28 February 2020.
How to Access: Employers can claim back SSP online using their Government Gateway login. Records relating to SSP claims must be kept for a minimum of 3 years.
For more information: Click Here
InterTradeIreland Emergency Business Supports
What is it: InterTradeIreland, the cross-border trade body established under the Good Friday / Belfast Agreements, is offering two supports for businesses to help them respond to the
COVID-19 pandemic. These two supports are the Emerging Business Solutions and the E-Merge Programme.
Under the Emergency Business Solutions Programme, InterTradeIreland provides emergency, fully funded business support to the value of £2,000/€2,250 (including VAT) to ensure businesses can avail of essential support to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In respect of the E-Merge initiative, this programme offers fully funded support to the value of £2,500/€2,800 (including VAT) to help SMEs to develop online sales and ecommerce solutions.
What does it cover: In respect of the Business Solutions Programme, specific areas for consideration include:
- Guidance and direction to relevant Government Supports and help in applying, where feasible;
- Emerging guidance: cashflow/people/supply chain;
- Completion of lending applications for loan supports;
- HR and People related issues (covering employment, contracts, redundancy advice and other legal aspects);
- Helping businesses change production to offer other products or services to mitigate immediate risk; and
- Support in rapidly repositioning business strategy
In respect of the E-Merge Programme, areas of support include:
- E-Marketing- How to promote and sell online;
- Website updates/ design;
- Promotion through social media;
- SEO optimization;
- Identification of sectoral e-markets; and
- Advice on online payment systems/ retail/ billing/ security.
Who is eligible: InterTradeIreland have extended this support with applications invited from SMEs from the manufacturing and tradeable service sector (including the construction sector) registered on the island of Ireland (North or South), no previous involvement with ITI is required. To qualify for support, businesses must trade cross border on the island of Ireland, i.e. have customers or suppliers in the opposite jurisdiction from where they are based; have a satisfactory trading history (min. 18 months & established turnover); have the capacity to deliver the project; and have less than 250 employees and annual turnover of less than £40m
How to access:
In respect of E-Merge Programme, click here to complete the online application form.
New Apprenticeship Incentive Scheme
What is it: This scheme is open to all employers who support the recruitment of new apprentices.
The employer will be eligible for up to £3,000 for each new apprenticeship opportunity created between 1 April 2020 – 31 March 2021. The bonus applies to all new apprenticeship opportunities and includes apprentices who have been made redundant.
- Payment 1: £2,000 after 90 days retention following start of new paid apprenticeship; and
- Payment 2: £1,000 after 200 days retention following start of new paid apprenticeship.
Who is eligible: The scheme is open to employers who take on an apprentice participating in the Department for the Economy funded AppenticeshipsNI or Higher-Level Apprenticeship. The application process will seek to confirm that there has been no displacement of existing apprentices to support recruitment of new apprentices.
How to Access: Further information and the application form can be accessed here.
In addition to administering several support schemes on behalf of the Department for the Economy, Invest NI are keen to utilise all of their existing programmes to assist Invest NI clients best respond to COVID-19 and plan for the recovery post-pandemic.
The best initial steps to explore potential supports for Invest NI clients will either be through nibusinessinfo.co.uk or through the business support line at 0800 181 4422. This contact line will then put the business in contact with the appropriate Invest NI Executive. Alternatively, you can visit their website: investni.com
Other Relevant Business Related Supports
COVID-19: R&D Tax Credits repayments HMRC have improved their resourcing so that they can make tax repayments quickly to help the cashflows of businesses struggling in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the biggest sources of tax repayments is claims for R&D tax credits. This applies to all sizes of businesses, small as well as big.
Making Tax Digital extension: HMRC have announced a one-year extension of Making Tax Digital (MTD) to facilitate a VAT soft landing period in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. HMRC are providing all MTD businesses with more time to put in place digital links between all parts of their functional compatible software. This means that all businesses now have until their VAT Return period starting on or after 1 April 2021 to put digital links in place.
Three month extension of filing of accounts: From 25 March 2020, businesses were able to apply for a three-month extension for filing their accounts. On 26 June 2020 the Temporary Modifications in relation to filing requirements were signed into law and came into force on 27 June 2020. The measures introduced by the regulations relieved the burden on businesses during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, allowing them to focus all their efforts on continuing to operate. Private company and LLP filing deadlines that fall any time between 27 June 2020 to 5 April 2021 are extended from 9 to 12 months. PLCs are extended from 6 to 9 months. This is a temporary measure and it will not automatically extend any filing deadlines that fall on 6 April 2021 or later.
Cycle to Work Scheme: The UK Government has been promoting the benefits of the Cycle to Work Scheme, which allows commuters to pay for bikes via salary reductions from pre-tax income.
Holiday pay accruals: The UK Government has announced that all workers will be allowed to carry over up to 4 weeks of unused leave into the next two leave years. In addition, the Government has also confirmed that they will relax the requirement on businesses to ensure that workers take the statutory amount of leave in any one year.
Universal Credit: Help to claim benefits - Changes have been made to Statutory Sick Pay and how Universal Credit supports self-employed claimant. This is to make sure people in work can take the necessary time off to stay at home if they are suffering from coronavirus or to prevent its spread. New claims to Universal Credit can be made online - additional telephone support is available via the Universal Credit Service Centre if you need help with a new claim.
Commercial Tenants The Government announced an extension to the protection of Commercial tenants from eviction from 30 June 2020 to 31 December 2020 for no payment of rent. This is not a rent holiday.
Working Tax Credit (WTC): The basic element of Working Tax Credit (WTC) has been increased by £1,045 to £3,040 from 6 April 2020 until 5 April 2021.
Stamp Duty Land Tax: A temporary increase to the Nil Rate Band of Residential Stamp Duty Land Tax (Stamp Duty) came into force at on 9 July 2020. This means that there will be no stamp duty payable on the first £500,000 of all property sales
Applicable from 9 July 2020 – 31 March 2021.
Northern Ireland Fishing Package: DAERA launched a package to help the NI Fishing Fleet cover its fixed costs for 3 months. This was followed by a further allocation of £1.7m announced on 5 October 2020. The package is based on vessel size and the monthly payments to cover the fishing fleet fixed costs. DAERA will inform eligible vessel owners about how to apply for the scheme and provide further details including appeals.
FCA updates to COVID-19 repossession guidance: Updates to guidance on mortgages and consumer creditor repossessions during the pandemic have resulted in the easing of some of the FCA’s previous restrictions. Current guidance means that firms should not enforce repossessions before 31 January 2021 unless in exceptional circumstances, however the FCA has proposed extending this guidance to apply until 1 April 2021. Comment from the FCA confirming this is expected in due course.
Film and TV Production Restart Scheme
What is it?
The Film and TV Production Restart Scheme helps film and TV shows struggling to get insurance for COVID-related risks to get back into production.
The scheme makes direct compensation available to eligible pre-existing and new productions that incur costs caused by coronavirus-related losses, such as abandonment or filming delays from illnesses amongst the cast and crew.
Eligible productions will receive compensation for costs caused by coronavirus delays up to a value of 20 per cent of the production budget, with abandonment of productions due to coronavirus to be covered up to 70 per cent of the production budget. There will be a total cap of £5 million on claims per production.
Who can apply?
The funding is available to all productions made by companies where at least half of the production budget is spent in the UK & DCMS criteria
For more information, read the Film & TV Production Restart Scheme - Scheme Rules and Film & TV Production Restart Scheme - Explanatory Notes.
How to claim?
HMRC New Payment Schemes
What is it: New Payment Schemes to support business who deferred their VAT bills or self assessment tax will be introduced.
What does it cover: Businesses due to pay deferred VAT liabilities in March 2021 will be offered the option to make 11 smaller interest-free payments during the 2021-22 financial year.
In addition self-assessment taxpayers can avail of a 12-month extension from HMRC on the “Time to Pay” self-service facility. This means that self assessed tax payments which were deferred from July 2020 and those due in January 2021, will now not need to be paid until January 2022.
Local Council Rural Business Development Grant Scheme
Local councils across Northern Ireland have announced a new Rural Business Development Grant scheme under the Tackling Rural Poverty and Social Isolation Programme (TRPSI) which will open for applications on Monday 3 August 2020.
The new programme is designed to support the sustainability and development of micro rural businesses across Northern Ireland by providing a small capital grant. It is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and administered and managed by the 11 Councils across Northern Ireland.
Support For Larger Firms Through The Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility
What is it: This facility will provide funding to businesses by purchasing commercial paper of up to one-year maturity, issued by firms making a material contribution to the UK economy.
By purchasing short-term corporate debt – known as commercial paper – the scheme provides a quick and cost-effective way to raise working capital for companies who are fundamentally strong but are experiencing severe disruption to cashflows, helping businesses across a range of sectors to pay wages and suppliers.
This will support your company if it has been affected by a short-term funding squeeze and allow you to finance your short-term liabilities. It will also support corporate finance markets overall and ease the supply of credit to all firms.
Who is eligible: All non-financial companies that meet the criteria set out on the Bank of England’s website are eligible.
How to apply: The scheme will be available early in week beginning 23 March 2020.
For more information: Click Here
UK’s Charity Sector Coronavirus (Covid-19) Support Package
What is it: On the 8th April 2020 UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak MP announced a £750m package of support to the UK Charity Sector to ensure they can continue their vital work during the Coronavirus period. The package is divided into a number of elements:
- £750m pot for frontline charities across the UK – including Hospices and those supporting domestic abuse victims
- £360m direct from Government Departments and £370m for smaller charities, including through a grant to the National Lottery Community Fund (NLCF)
- The Government will match donations to National Emergencies Trust as part of the BBC’s Big Night In fundraiser later this month – pledging a minimum of £20m
Where charitable services are devolved, the UK Government will apply the Barnett Formula in the normal way.
What does it cover: In respect of the UK wide package of £360m direct from Government Departments this would be directly allocated by Government Departments to charities providing key services and supporting vulnerable people during the crisis. With respect to the £370m for small and medium sized charities this will support those organisations at the heart of local communities which are making a big difference during the Coronavirus outbreak, including those delivering food, essential medicines and providing financial advice.
Who is eligible: In respect of the £360m package those eligible will include:
- Hospices to help increase capacity and give stability to the sector
- John’s Ambulance to support the National Health Service
- Victims Charities, including domestic abuse, to help with potential increase in demand for charities providing these services
- Vulnerable Children’s charities, so they can continue delivering services on behalf of local authorities
- Citizens Advice to increase the number of staff providing advice during this difficult time
How to access: Government Departments will now work at pace to identify priority recipients, with the aim for charities to receive the money in the coming weeks. Similarly applications for the National Lottery Community Fund grant pot are expected to be operational within a similar period of time.
For business support. Visit NI Business Info.
For FAQs see here.
The Federation of small businesses also offers a range of advice for Small businesses and the self employed. Click here for more information.