CORONAVIRUS – latest update 24/03/2020

ADVICE FOR EMPLOYERS

 

Following the Prime Minister’s address to the nation on 24th March 2020, it is quite clear that the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) is accelerating at an unacceptably sharp rate and that previous measures to socially distance and/or self-isolate have not been followed and we must now all play our part.

 

We have now been told “you must stay at home” unless where absolutely necessary, in which we can leave to gather essential supplies, travel to work where you have no alternative to work from home, for medical needs or to exercise. The aim of this is to suspend all activities where social gathering may occur to minimise contact where the Coronavirus could be spread further.  If you have to attend work, then adopting good hygiene and the stringent 2 metre social-distancing rules are vital. Note that the Police have been given the authority to break up groups of more than 2 persons and to fine people if they do not comply.  Better to be safe not sorry, so let’s please take heed of this as the longer we take to stop spreading this virus, the longer we will have to suffer the restrictions on our personal and working lives.

 

Every non-essential business has been told it should close.  The list of those that MUST close and the exceptions to these can be found at this link:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/874732/230320_-_Revised_guidance_note_-_finalVF.pdf

 

Shops such as supermarkets, local food stores and some takeaways will however remain open ensuring that we will still be able to get food which continues to be supplied as normal.  Some companies (for now) that are considered essential services such as plumbing, heating, utilities, some construction, manufacturing and businesses in the supply-chain may still be able to operate.  You should consider carefully whether you need to close fully or maintain a minimal workforce.  If at all possible, you should encourage and support employees to work from home.  Not forgetting of course that getting out of the house is good for us (even if only exercising in the fresh air once every day).

 

Please note that as of the most up to date information we may be encouraged to “Lock Down” as much as possible but we are NOT in “Shut Down”.  However, what is required is that we, where at all possible, stay away from work or any gatherings, parties or barbeques, and should wherever feasibly possible stay in your home.

 

The advice that we’re giving below is the most up to date (but is still changing so we’ll update you as we learn more) to help you plan how you are going to manage your employees during this difficult time. If you need advice, please do not hesitate to contact us: 01325 488425 or enquiries@wedohr.co.uk

 

As always follow the NHS guidance and our previous update of 21/03/2020.

 

On Friday 23rd March 2020, the PM Boris Johnson stated:

 

“From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.

Because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households.

That is why people will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes

 

  • Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible;
  • One form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household;
  • Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.

 

That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home.

You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say no.

You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home.

You should not be going shopping except for essentials like food and medicine – and you should do this as little as you can. And use food delivery services where you can.

If you don’t follow the rules the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.

 

To ensure compliance with the government’s instruction to stay at home, we will immediately:

  • Close all shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship
  • We will stop all gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with
  • And we’ll stop all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals

 

Parks will remain open for exercise, but gatherings will be dispersed.

 

 Key Points to be taken from this are:

  • ONLY if absolutely necessary, should you leave your home;
  • If you can in ANY way work from home, you should now do so;
  • If this is not possible, and you have no alternative but to shut your company down, you can furlough your workers under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme as an alternative to redundancy, and if eligible be entitled to up to 80% of their wages reimbursed through HMRC;
  • Key workers will continue as directed however there may also be some “essential workers” that still need to attend work;

 

What is “essential work”?

 

For clarity it is vital that the supply chain is kept open and moving and businesses that may not necessarily consider themselves key workers, may need to remain open in order to support “essential work.”

 

Take for example a Plumber:  They would now be classed as an essential service in order to carry out an emergency boiler repair for a family whose boiler has broken down. They need to remain working to service domestic clients, however if their plumbing merchant shuts down, then they cannot continue to work and do emergency call-outs as spare parts become unavailable.  In this case the merchant is also classed as an essential worker because they are an important part of the supply chain.

 

What about Drivers:  Well these would fall under the essential role too as the delivery of takeaway food, and items sold via online shopping sites is still vital to ensure that business keeps working and the economy doesn’t crash.  In addition:

  1. We still need to service our need to shop (online retail therapy)
  2. We still need food and key items to be delivered to the food stores so we don’t run out
  3. We need to be able to transport medical supplies

 

Businesses that will not need to close or could be classed as “essential” include:

  • Restaurants, cafes and work canteens – but only for food delivery and takeaway services
  • Supermarkets and other premises selling food, including market stalls
  • “Health shops” such as pharmacies
  • Petrol stations, garages and car rental businesses
  • Bicycle shops
  • Home and hardware shops
  • Launderettes and dry cleaners
  • Pet shops
  • Corner shops, newsagents and post offices
  • Banks
  • Emergency call outs such as plumbers, electricians
  • Businesses supplying any of the above

 

What about the 80% Wages from HMRC?

 

The Government announced on 20th March 2020 a fabulous array of benefits to support all businesses at this difficult time.  Many business owners are struggling to understand what these are and more importantly how to access them.  There are a series of links and other information below that should point you in the right direction, but for now:

 

  1. All Companies are eligible – but please note NOT ALL employees may be! I do not believe we will know for sure until the HMRC Portal is live, if the employees you have furloughed will receive the 80% grant or not;
  2. The company will have to register all employees who have been furloughed as such on the HMRC Portal. The belief is that the RTI Payroll information held by HMRC will be used to assess the amount of grant payable back to the company – so don’t give out pay rises without careful consideration or try to claim more than you are entitled to;
  3. The date of furlough will also be relevant. It is NOT believed that if you have been trading normally and paid your employees in March and then only designated them as furloughed in April, that you will be able to backdate the 80% grant.  Pay your employees up to the date they finish working for the hours they have carried out and then by the end of April hopefully things may be a little clearer;
  4. Employees will only be regarded as eligible and the grant paid to the company IF they have been genuinely furloughed. Please make sure that you have a genuine reason for furloughing your employees i.e. there has been a substantive downturn in work and in normal circumstances you would be thinking about redundancies;
  5. Therefore, consider whether your employees could be working from home and generating revenue for you; are they on SSP because they are ill or classed as part of the at-risk group because these employees would also not necessarily be suitable to be furloughed, and may not therefore be eligible;
  6. Despite hopefully promises from the Prime Minister, you may not get the money by the end of April as HMRC are still working on a portal to be able to assess and pay the grants to you the employer. Be aware that your employees may be struggling financially if this is the case, so seek advice of what to do in these situations;
  7. Whether you will be expected to pay staff and claim back the 80% is a huge question. The Government were clear that they would pay up to 80% of the wages of furloughed employees who were kept on pay roll and not laid off – the key focus here was so you can minimise your costs and keep the company viable when we get clear of this crisis and you still have good staff to start working straight away.
  8. Consider how you are going to fund the company during the period where you are not generating any income, so what grants and loans can you get. You should be aiming to still be viable at the end of this crisis so you can get started as soon as the restrictions are lifted.  Note, if you still have to make redundancies, or, short-time working and lay-offs are more relevant, then these should be carried out following the correct HR processes.

 

Please refer to the earlier Guidance Update for some scenarios to determine your employees’ current status.

 

General Guidance:

It is now critical that we all play our part in slowing the spread of this virus and protect our families and work colleagues. The longer we don’t do this, the longer it will take to return to normal.

 

However, it is acknowledged by the Government that there are businesses that will still need to function in order to keep the supply chain moving and you will need to consider whether your business has a contingency to still function whether this is from home or run with only a skeleton crew. The Government has also provided a number of packages to support businesses through this difficult time which we have again listed below.

 

As stated in the announcement last night, if a contagious person halves their exposure to other people, only 15 additional people will be exposed to the virus rather than the 400 exposed if we were to continue life as normal over a period of 30 days.

 

We must stress that EVERY person needs to follow the measures put in place by the government and ensure they are:

  • Staying at home unless you require the above stated items or MUST travel to work;
  • Following isolation guidelines set out by the Government and NHS;
  • Ensure you socially distance and avoid gatherings, even when you are in open spaces;
  • Continue to practice the highest standards of cleanliness and handwashing to avoid further spread;

 

Useful Links:

  • Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – HMRC will set out further details on the information required.
  • Deferring VAT and Income Tax payments – This is an automatic offer with no applications required, businesses will not need to make a VAT payment during this period.
  • Statutory Sick Pay relief package for SMEs – A rebate scheme is being developed and Further details will be provided in due course once the legalisation has passed.
  • 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/873622/Expanded_Retail_Discount_Guidance.pdf
  • Small business grant funding of £10,000 for all business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief – you do not need to do anything. Your local authority will write to you if you are eligible for this grant.
  • Grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000 – You do not need to do anything. Your local authority will write to you if you are eligible for this grant.
  • Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme offering loans of up to £5 million for SMEs through the British Business Bank – https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme-cbils/
  • Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) – a new lending facility from the Bank of England to help support liquidity among larger firms, helping them bridge coronavirus disruption to their cash flows through loans – https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/markets/market-notices/2020/ccff-market-notice-march-2020
  • HMRC Time To Pay Scheme – call HMRC’s dedicated helpline: 0800 0159 559.

 

The below link is the Gov.uk overall guidance in respect of this matter which will be updated by the Government as things develop.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses#support-for-businesses-through-the-coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme

 

This advice is being reviewed and updated regularly and is currently in line with Government and ACAS guidance as updated 24th March 2020.

 

Should you require any further advice or guidance please call us on our usual HR number of: 01325 488425 or email: enquiries@wedohr.co.uk