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Support for your business during the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic

Monday, March 16, 2020
By Cheryl Sharp - Updated 31st March 2020
Support for your business during the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic

We’re all in this together, so let's work together to ride out the storm.  At PPF we're focusing on the things we can control right now, and how we can help you get through this. 

There is help available, in various forms.  But there are also ways to keep some of your businesses up and running.  Look for opportunities to be more creative - how can you turn things around to suit your business and the current situation?  What can you move online? Can you change your services/offerings to fit with the current circumstances?

We’ve put together all the information you need to ride this out, along with our top tips to see you through.  It’s a long one I’m afraid, and we don't have all the answers at the moment, but what we do know is in this blog.  

I hope this helps to alleviate some of your immediate worries, and you find some of the tips helpful.  We’re here to help and will jump on a call - telephone or video! - to talk through anything you need.

I will be updating this blog as and when we get more information on government support so please do save the link and and check for  further updates (I’ll keep a date/time stamp up the top so you know when it’s been updated) - and also keep an eye on our social media channels as we’ll be posting any updates there as and when we receive them too.

We’re all in this together, and together we will get through it  :)

Stay safe

Cheryl & the PPF Team x

 

Government help - what is available?

This is the main webpage for all the up to date general government advice on COVID 19, and this is the main business support page with up to date information on the support measures for businesses, so good to keep it bookmarked for easy reference.

The first thing to note, and is relevant to all businesses, is HMRC have set up a helpline for those who are not able to pay their tax due to coronavirus (COVID-19).  They will be helping businesses with relaxed and extended payment plans.  We still need to file all returns on time, and we strongly recommend you speak to them as soon as possible if you are having difficulties in meeting payment deadlines.  The number to call is 0800 0159 559.

Other measures include:

Statutory sick pay relief for small businesses

  • SSP will be payable from day 1 rather than day 4 for all sick leave due to COVID-19. 
  • In turn small and medium businesses will be able to reclaim this from HMRC.
  • Businesses will only be able to claim a refund for 2 weeks SSP.  
  • A system is being set up to process these refunds - it will not be part of the normal payroll system

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

  • EVERY employer with a PAYE scheme set up on 28th February 2020 will be able to access a grant to cover 80% of a workers salary up to £2,500 per month 
  • This is for every employee on payroll as of 28th February (so no point adding anyone on as they won't be included.  Unfortunately this also means any new employees since this date are not included)
  • Employees include: full time, part time, agency contracts, employees on flexible or zero-hour contracts
  • Employer can top up to 100%, but it is not compulsory - employer discretion
  • The usual Tax, NI and Pension deductions apply
  • This will be back dated to 1st March and will last an initial 3 months minimum and will be extended if necessary - no limits.  
  • Employer will claim back the gross employee wage (up to £2500) plus employers NI and employers pension contribution (statutory limits)
  • Employees will need to be designated as furloughed and not carry out ANY work for their employer
  • If you have 2 or more directors you can keep one working and furlough the rest, but they cannot do any work whilst furloughed
  • The director furloughed will receive 80% of their salary, which is usually around £1041 or £719 per month depending on your specific payroll set up.
  • I know there is talk via Martin Lewis that sole directors can furlough themselves and only carry out statutory work - however until this is written in official HMRC guidance I would not reccommend any sole director to furlough themselves as we are not 100% certain this can be done.
  • Employees need to be furloughed for a minimum of 3 weeks
  • Employees made redundant since 28th Feb can be taken back on and added to this scheme from 1st March
  • Normal SMP and other statutory payments continue as normal
  • Employees on sick leave or self isolating will be on SSP, and then can be furloughed after
  • Employees who are shielding can be put on furlough
  • Employees who have more than one job can be placed on furlough for one and still continue with the other
  • Zero hour and varied paid employees will be paid the higher of either the same month's earnings last year (ie March 2019 for March 2020) or an average of monthly earnings for 19/20 tax year
  • Fees, commission and bonus' are not included
  • Those on minimum wage can be paid the 80% if this takes them below NMW for their usual hours
  • Claims will be made on a separate system that HMRC are currently setting up.  It is expected that this will be in time for April payroll, but not a definite.  Therefore you will be expected to cover March's wages and claim back once system is up and running.  
  • Full guidance can be found on Gov.uk

Business Rates & Grants

  • A small business grant of £10,000 will be available for all businesses claiming Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) or Rural Rates Relief to help meet ongoing business costs.  
  • A grant of up to £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000.  

  • These will be paid via your local council and they will be in touch with how to apply.

  • 12 months business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses  - 

  • Businesses will be re-billed for the 20/21 tax year shortly, most councils are in the process of arranging this, but if you are in doubt/have any questions it’s best to check with your local council.

  • If you come under Uttlesford Council here is the link to apply.

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

  • Loans will be delivered by the British Business Bank's partners - see their official webpage for partners and details.
  • The scheme is now live 
  • The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan giving lenders confidence in lending.  
  • There will be no charge for this.
  • The scheme will be available for loans up to £5 million 
  • The first 12 months being interest free. 
  • COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility has been launched for larger businesses via the Bank of England.  

Tax Bill Deferrals

  • All VAT bills due between 20th March and 30th June 2020 are deferred and payable by 31st March 2021.

  • This is automatic, no need to apply.

  • Cancel your DD though!

  • If you have the cash available to pay I'd recommend putting in a savings account so you have an emergency fund, as you don't know what will happen next week/month.  Then you have it there if you need it, and if you don't then just pay it once this is all over and you're done.

  • All self assessment payments on account due in July 2020 are deferred until Jan 2021.

  • This is also automatic and no need to apply.

  • Again, if you do have the cash use it as a temporary emergency fund, just incase.

  • PAYE and Corporation Tax are the ones you'll need to call to arrange deferral.  The Time To Pay helpline (above) is great and with only a couple of questions deferring for 3 months and saying to call back then and arrange next steps - further deferral or payment plan.

  • If you're already on a payment plan this can be deferred/extended too - just give the number on your confirmation letter a call.

Other measures include

  • A 3 month mortgage payment holiday - both home owners & buy to lets.

  • IR35 legislation postponed until April 2021

  • Sole Traders/Self Employed measures have been announced and full details can be found here.  Sole Traders with profits under £50k and have filed a return for 18/19 will be able to claim up to 80% or £2500 per month (whichever is lower) via this scheme.  Funds available early June.  If needed before you can claim Universal Credit and request an immediate payment.

  • Universal Credit standard allowance and working tax credit basic element both increased by £1,000 for the next 12 months

  • £1bn support for renters by increasing the generosity of housing benefit and Universl Credit so that the Local Housing Allowance will cover at least 30% of market rents

Cashflow Help

Cashflow will be the key issue, and we can help you to understand your cashflow as well as ensure you maintain a positive cashflow, as well as assist in applying for loans if required.  Here is a basic cashflow forecast spreadsheet you can use to work out where you actually stand.  Preparing a cashflow forecast will help to alieviate immediate fears of your cash running out, as well as pinpointing when you will need help and how much. This spreadsheet includes tabs for both your business and personal cashflow.

We also use Float Cashflow software which links to Xero and are able to provide either the software, or a cashflow forecast, as well as business plans if required for loan applications.  Please just drop us an email and we can talk through how we can best help you.

General business tips/advice

There are many things you can do to ease the pressure while needed, here are a few of our top tips:

  • Cancel all non essential monthly subscriptions - check for break and cancellation clauses first though!

  • Can you downgrade any services/subscriptions to lower tiers and therefore lower costs - ie Zoom - do you really need to be paying for Pro - can you downgrade to the free version temporarily (again double check your contracts, I’m not sure of Zoom’s t&cs just using this as an example!)

  • Keep talking to your suppliers, keep them updated if you’re experiencing any trouble paying them, let them know of any issues asap.  Most businesses will be in a similar position.  Keeping the lines of communication open will be key for the next few months.

  • Prioritising paying your suppliers is a must.  We need to keep the economy going as much as possible, but who do you pay and who do you not?  My first tip is who do you still want to be working with once this is all over? Prioritise those you need to work with right now - the ones who will get you through this.  The suppliers who need to keep supplying you products and services so you can keep trading to some degree.  Those you dont need, and the bog boys, can wait.

  • Can you get a break clause in your lease or negotiate new terms?

  • If your premises are empty then make sure all appliances are turned off to save electric and minimise the bill!

  • Cancel your broadband and any other services you can (obviously check your contracts for minimum term/re-connection costs)

  • Only order items you really need - I know it makes sense to bulk buy in normal times, but we’re trying to keep costs to a minimum so look to implement a ‘Just In Time’ ordering process where you can.

  • Can you reduce staff costs? I know this will be controversial as you won’t want to loose staff at this time, but it’s a reality some may need to explore.

  • Check your insurance policies for business interruption and/or loss of earnings - you may be able to make a claim if need be.

  • Email scams - those scammers love to exploit these type of situations, and I expect there will be loads of ‘get your Coronavirus refund’ emails on their way - be on high alert - HMRC will not email you re a refund - always check the email address it’s coming from and if in doubt just ask - never click on links unless you know for sure it’s genuine.

  • Can you be more creative with your offerings - offer delivery if you’re a restaurant or high street shop, switch to online events/training (using Zoom!), can you sell online rather than face to face?  Can you sell gift vouchers to be used when everything calms down? Is your offering something that will help others get through these uncertain times? Can you deliver something to kids over the internet via a webinar that will keep them entertained and give parents a chance to work or recharge for half an hour?  I’m happy to run through any ideas you may have to see if they are viable options - just give me a shout :)

  • Use the time wisely - do that job you’ve been putting off cause you don’t have time -re-write your website, do the blog, answer those emails you’ve been putting off, look at your current processes - can you improve them, get those missing records to your accountant (nudge nudge haha!) - do all the things that your future self will thank you for and will help once this has all passed and you’re back to having no time again.  We’re always saying I don’t have time or I wish I had more time - well this could be your opportunity.

Our work from home/remote working tips

We’ve learnt A LOT since we’ve gone remote, so thought I’d include a few things we’ve learnt over the last few months to help any businesses that will need to make the switch to remote/home working over the coming weeks:

  • Telephones - we’ve switched to Circleloop which is an app on your desktop and/or mobile.  We’ve fully implemented the system so all our calls are now routed through the app, we have voicemail set up, which we can change in a few clicks to suit the circumstances - and voicemails are emailed to all of us so we’re all able to pick them up and respond accordingly.  We are also able to transfer calls between us, as well as make calls between us. If you currently have traditional office handsets you are able to forward your calls to a number on Circleloop and then the clever software can mask your outgoing number so it looks like outgoing calls are coming from your main number - so it can also be used as a temporary tool.  They have a 14 day free trial, and the support team are fabulous, so I really recommend giving this a go if you need to be taking and making calls whilst working remotely. Oh and it also integrates with Xero - so you can click on a number in Xero and it makes the call for you :)

  • For team comms we’ve been using Slack we have general channels where we can all talk about various things, as well as direct messages to one another.  We’re also using with a few clients so we have private channels to discuss their requirements only with the clients.  We also have a channel where we get notifications of our voicemails from Circleloop! We’ve found this works pretty well and is great to stop your email getting clogged up.  Just like texting it’s instant messaging - although you can set it to do not disturb if you’re not available. You can also share documents. We have definitely been converted and now love it!  PS - if any clients want us to set up a private channel between us please just shout and we’ll make it happen :)

  • As we mentioned before we’re using Zoom for video calls.  This helps to keep in touch and keep the face to face interaction - we can also share our screens to show you how to do things/documents/whatever is needed.  It’s a great tool and a brilliant alternative to in person meetings for the time being. You can have a free account for calls up to 45 minutes, so it’s a win win!!  There is also the option of group calls if you need to bring them team in for a team meeting etc.

  • We’ve also started using Loom as an option for training videos, and answering quick ‘how to’ questions.  We’ve been using Loom to record our processes as training materials too - as you then have a video to refer back to for future reference, and future employee training.  It’s great to show employees how to do something when you can't be sitting next to them, and clients too - a few of you will have received a Loom video from me showing how to do things in Xero. Again it’s free, I have mine set up as a Chrome extension (I’m not an IT expert, but if I can do it I’m sure you can to!).

  • And lastly on the tech front, we’re in the last stages of moving all our documents over to Google - we implemented our move to GSuite at the beginning of the year, and are almost all now set up on GDocs, meaning we can all access all of our documents from any computer via our shared drive and Google log in - great for accessing between teams and collaborating on documents.  I’ve still got a lot to learn here - so any tips from those already using GDocs are greatly welcomed - but I can already see, and are experiencing, the benefits of being able to work in this way.

  • On a personal level it’s hard to not feel isolated etc - but using Zoom to speak to colleagues/suppliers/clients etc can help feel like you’re not alone and you get to actually see people, kind of!

  • Another one people struggle with is staying focused and not getting distracted by household chores and/or the TV, social media and other temptations.  I’ve found the best way is to give myself time slots - so say I’ll do an hour's work, then put the washing machine on, then another work hour, then put the clothes out, social media while I eat my lunch - and so on.  Having now worked from home for a number of years on and off, and having a dedicated space I find it much easier to knuckle down and get on with work. I also often put my phone on the other side of the room, or in another room so I don’t get distracted by texts/social media alerts etc.  I think it’s a case of finding what works for you and go with it :)

  • Make sure you do have some down time, to relax and unwind.  It’s easy to keep going whilst working from home from the second you get up to the second you go to bed, but this is not helpful.  Just look after yourself too :)

Our working at home with kids tips!

With the announcement that the schools will close from Friday 20th March many o f us will be at home trying to manage work and the kids.  I’m not saying we’re experts and we know it all, but we are regularly managing this juggle - we have been there, done that, got the T-Shirt as the saying goes! So I thought I’d include some of our top tips at managing the juggle:

  • First of all accept that this is not the norm, it will be a juggling act, and it will not go to plan!  Accepting this will make it much easier for you all.

  • Depending on the ages of the kids we’ve found getting them involved in our work to some degree really helps - it helps the kids to understand what you are doing, and why, and they could help with some of your basic tasks like scanning/shredding etc - and it’s all learning for them right?!

  • Try to alternate between a bit of work time, followed by some family time, then back to work time and so on, to break things up a bit.  I’ve always found if you give them some of your time, they’re more likely to leave you alone for a bit and play on their own.

  • Changing working patterns is also very handy, and we’re lucky we’re able to do this.  Look at doing a few hours in the morning before the kids get up/while they’re still sleepy and happy to chill, then spend the day with them, and work again during naps for little ones, and once they’re settled for bed for the older ones.  I’m sure we’ll be doing some of this from next week!

  • Kids of school age will have some school work they will be doing so all sit at the kitchen table together and work - you’re supervising and working - winning (fingers crossed)

  • Teach those who are old enough how to make tea/coffee and keep you topped up all day haha!!

  • Don’t beat yourself up if you need to use the TV and/or tablets/games consoles - they’re all bored and this isn’t the norm, they can have a few extra hours, it’s not going to be forever.

  • If all else fails give in for the day, grab a gin/glass of wine/whatever you drink and go with the flow - tomorrow is another day and there is no point stressing about it :)

  • But seriously though - DO NOT ATTEMPT a family game of Monopoly unless you want WW3 in your home…..