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Social distancing at work

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

The following guidelines have been released to cover social distancing concerns if working in offices or call centres. The objective being to maintain 2m social distancing whenever possible.

The published guidelines are:

You must maintain social distancing in the workplace wherever possible. Where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full in relation to a particular activity, businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between their staff.

 

Mitigating actions include:

  • further increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning
  • keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
  • using screens or barriers to separate people from each other
  • using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible
  • reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others)

Social distancing applies to all parts of a business, not just the place where people spend most of their time, but also entrances and exits, break rooms, canteens and similar settings. These are often the most challenging areas to maintain social distancing.

 

Coming to work and leaving work

Objective: To maintain social distancing wherever possible, on arrival and departure and to ensure handwashing upon arrival.

Moving around buildings and worksites

Objective: To maintain social distancing wherever possible while people travel through the workplace.

Workplaces and workstations

Objective: To maintain social distancing between individuals when they are at their workstations.

For people who work in one place, workstations should allow them to maintain social distancing wherever possible.

Workstations should be assigned to an individual and not shared. If they need to be shared they should be shared by the smallest possible number of people.

If it is not possible to keep workstations 2m apart then businesses should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate and if so take all mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission.

Meetings

Objective: To reduce transmission due to face-to-face meetings and maintain social distancing in meetings.

Common areas

Objective: To maintain social distancing while using common areas.

Accidents, security and other incidents

Objective: To prioritise safety during incidents. In an emergency, for example, an accident or fire, people do not have to stay 2m apart if it would be unsafe.

People involved in the provision of assistance to others should pay particular attention to sanitation measures immediately afterwards including washing hands.

Full details are available on the gov.uk website

The suggested actions that need to be taken to comply with the above objectives are listed here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/offices-and-contact-centres

Title: Coronavirus – Business support updates 19 May 2020

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

Trade credit insurance guarantee

Last week, the government announced that businesses with supply chains that rely on Trade Credit Insurance, and who are experiencing difficulties maintaining cover due to coronavirus disruption, will get support from government.

In a news story released 13 May 2020, the Treasury said:

Trade Credit Insurance provides cover to hundreds of thousands of business to business transactions, particularly in non-service sectors, such as manufacturing and construction. It insures suppliers selling goods against the company they are selling to defaulting on payment, giving businesses the confidence to trade with one another. But due to Coronavirus and businesses struggling to pay bills, they risk having credit insurance withdrawn, or premiums increasing to unaffordable levels.

To prevent this from happening, the government will temporarily guarantee business-to-business transactions currently supported by Trade Credit Insurance, ensuring the majority of insurance coverage will be maintained across the market. This will support supply chains and help businesses to trade with confidence as they can trust that they will be protected if a customer defaults on payment.

Retail businesses that can now open for business

The following list was updated (13 May 2020) for retail businesses in England that can now open for business.

  • Food retailers including supermarkets
  • Dental services, opticians, audiology services, chiropody, chiropractors, osteopaths and other medical or health services (including physiotherapy and podiatry services), and services relating to mental health.
  • Pharmacies and chemists, including non-dispensing pharmacies
  • Petrol stations
  • Bicycle shops
  • Homeware, building supplies and hardware stores, including where those stores supply equipment for hire
  • Garden centres and plant nurseries
  • Veterinary surgeries and pet shops
  • Agricultural supplies shops
  • Convenience stores, corner shops and newsagents
  • Off-licences and licensed shops selling alcohol, including those within breweries
  • Laundrettes and dry cleaners
  • Post offices
  • Taxi or vehicle hire businesses
  • Car repair and MOT services
  • Car parks
  • Banks, building societies, short-term loan providers, credit unions, savings clubs, cash points, currency exchange offices, businesses for the transmission of money, and businesses which cash cheques.
  • Storage and distribution facilities, including delivery drop off or collection points where they are on the premises of any of the above businesses
  • Public toilets
  • Shopping centres may stay open but only units of the types listed above may trade

Six-month extension to MOT dates

Monday, May 18th, 2020

A reminder that if you need to renew your vehicle MOT after 30 March 2020, the usual annual renewal date should have been extended by six-months. Conditions that apply are:

Eligibility

Your MOT certificate will be extended by six-months if it was due to expire on or after 30 March 2020 and your vehicle is a:

  • car
  • motorcycle
  • light van
  • other light vehicle

First MOT due

The extension also applies to these types of vehicles that are due their first MOT test on or after 30 March 2020. There are different rules if your MOT expiry date was on or before 29 March 2020.

How the 6-month extension works

Your vehicle’s MOT expiry date will be automatically extended by 6 months if it is eligible. This will be done about 7 days before it is due to expire. This means that:

  • your vehicle will still have a valid MOT certificate for an extra 6 months
  • you can still tax your vehicle – you might need to wait to do this until later in the month if both your MOT and vehicle tax run out this month
  • your insurance will still be valid
  • your vehicle’s record will be updated so the police can see you have a valid MOT

You will not get a new paper MOT certificate with the new expiry date on it. You must still keep your vehicle safe to drive.

What you need to do

Your vehicle’s MOT expiry date will be updated about 7 days before it was originally due to expire.

  1. Three days before your MOT was originally due to expire, check the expiry date has been extended.
  2. If the expiry date has not been extended 3 days before it was due to expire, email covid19mot@dvsa.gov.uk.

You need to include these details in the email:

  • the date your MOT expired
  • your vehicle registration number (number plate)

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency will then:

  • update your vehicle’s record
  • email you to tell you this has been done

If your vehicle tax and MOT run out in May

You cannot renew your vehicle tax until your MOT expiry date has been extended. It will be extended a few days before it was originally due to expire. This means you might need to wait until later in May to tax your vehicle.

Check that the MOT expiry date has been extended before you tax your vehicle.

Keep your vehicle safe to drive

You must make sure your vehicle is safe to drive (‘roadworthy’). It can be unsafe even if your MOT expiry date has been extended.

Coronavirus – Business support updates 13 May 2020

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

Easing back from lock-down

Boris Johnson made his long-awaited statement on the government’s plans to ease lock-down (7pm, Sunday 10 May 2020). No great surprises and we have included a brief business-related summary in this post.

In his address he said:

And the first step is a change of emphasis that we hope that people will act on this week.

We said that you should work from home if you can, and only go to work if you must.

We now need to stress that anyone who cannot work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.

And we want it to be safe for you to get to work. So, you should avoid public transport if at all possible – because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited.

So, work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you cannot work from home.

And to ensure you are safe at work we have been working to establish new guidance for employers to make workplaces COVID-secure.

And when you do go to work, if possible do so by car or even better by walking or bicycle. But just as with workplaces, public transport operators will also be following COVID-secure standards.

There are copious instructions for employers, on safeguarding the workplace, and these can be found on the gov.uk website.

 

On your bike…

Last week the government announced a £2bn package to create a new era for cycling and walking.

As walking and cycling are two of the most effective ways to get from A to B whilst respecting social distancing measures, this announcement is good news.

In the news story published at the time of the announcement, changes to be undertaken are summarised as follows:

Following unprecedented levels of walking and cycling across the UK during the pandemic, the plans will help encourage more people to choose alternatives to public transport when they need to travel, making healthier habits easier and helping make sure the road, bus and rail networks are ready to respond to future increases in demand.

The government will fund and work with local authorities across the country to help make it easier for people to use bikes to get around – including Greater Manchester, which wants to create 150 miles of protected cycle track, and Transport for London, which plans a “bike Tube” network above Underground lines.

Fast-tracked statutory guidance, published today and effective immediately, will tell councils to reallocate road-space for significantly increased numbers of cyclists and pedestrians. In towns and cities, some streets could become bike and bus-only while others remain available for motorists. More side streets could be closed to through traffic, to create low-traffic neighbourhoods and reduce rat-running while maintaining access for vehicles.

 

Vouchers will be issued for cycle repairs, to encourage people to get their old bikes out of the shed, and plans are being developed for greater provision of bike fixing facilities. Many more will take up the Cycle to Work scheme, which gives employees a discount on a new bike.

The final statement, regarding the Cycle to Work Scheme, could be a relevant option for employers to consider as there are tax benefits for employees.

 

Chancellor extends Furlough scheme

The Chancellor announced further support for employers (12 May 2020) by extending the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) until the end of October 2020.

This will be a welcome change for those business owners endeavouring to find a constructive way to manage the present lock-down and other disruptions and emerge from the process with a viable business.

Details announced to CJRS today are:

  • Support will continue until the end of October 2020.
  • Furloughed workers will continue to receive 80% of their current salary up to the existing £2,500 maximum.
  • New flexibility will be introduced from August 2020 with the intention of getting employees back to work. Initially, part-time.
  • From the same date, 1 August 2020, employers may be asked to contribute.

 

Regarding the August changes the Chancellor said:

As we reopen the economy, we need to support people to get back to work. From the start of August, furloughed workers will be able to return to work part-time with employers being asked to pay a percentage towards the salaries of their furloughed staff.

Detailed information regarding the new flexible approach – part-time working – will be published towards the end of May 2020.

Employers will need to factor these changes into their business plans as we emerge, all-be-it slowly, from lock-down.

Claim now for the Self-Employed grant

HMRC have now updated their instructions regarding the claims process for the Self-Employed Income Support Grant (SEISS).

Originally, the grants were promised – for eligible individuals – for early June 2020.

The good news? You can now make claims from today for payment this month IF you qualify for the SEISS.

This involves checking to see if you are eligible. You will need your Unique Tax Reference number and NIC number to do this. You will then be advised if you are eligible to claim and when you should apply.

 

Claiming tax relief for home office expenses

Thursday, May 7th, 2020

In the past, claims for the costs of home office furniture and other equipment has been difficult to obtain unless your employer dictates that you must work from home.

With the advent of lock-down and working from home now mandated for a large proportion of the working population, HMRC are being inundated with claims.

Employees that are covering their own home working costs

  1. Consumable items, printer cartridges for example, can be claimed as an expense.
  2. If you buy equipment to enable homeworking, desk, chair, shelving, computers etc., as long as the purchase was required to facilitate home-working, you should be able to write off the full cost by claiming a capital allowance.
  3. You can also claim £6 a week from 6 April 2020 (£4 per week 2019-20) to offset additional electricity costs or other costs you have had to pay as a direct result of working from home.

All of the above claims will be reduced if your employer makes a full or partial contribution towards these costs.

Employers that are covering employees’ home working costs

Employers that provide equipment, services and supplies to an employee who works from home, do not have to report or pay any tax or NIC if the items provided are only used for business purposes or any private use is insignificant.

Historically, employers that cover the cost of additional household expenses for an employee who works from home, did not have to report these or pay anything if both the following apply:

  • employees need to work from home, either because equipment they need is not available at your workplace, or their work means they have to live too far away from your workplace to travel there every day or
  • the amount you give them is not more than their additional household expenses.

It is assumed that the first of these two conditions is now fulfilled by the needs of the COVID-19 lock-down.

E-publications get VAT boost

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

From 1 May 2020, VAT on e-publications has been scrapped. Good news for those of us who subscribe to newspapers online or buy books to read on electronic devices.

The change will potentially slash the cost of e-books and newspapers making reading more accessible as people stay at home.

Newspapers will also benefit from up to £35 million additional government advertising revenue as part of the coronavirus communications campaign.

The Treasury announcement said:

Plans to scrap VAT on e-books and e-newspapers have been significantly fast-tracked in a boost to readers and publishers during the coronavirus outbreak, the Chancellor announced today.

The zero rate of VAT will now apply to all e-publications from 1 May 2020 – seven months ahead of schedule – potentially slashing the cost of a £12 e-book by £2 and e-newspapers subscriptions by up to £25 a year.

In support of the print newspaper industry, the government has also announced it will be spending up to £35 million on newspaper advertising over the next 3 months as part of its Covid-19 communications campaign to ensure the whole UK is aware of the latest government guidance and advice.

Chancellor of the Exchequer further commented:

We want to make it as easy as possible for people across the UK to get hold of the books they want whilst they are staying at home and saving lives.

That is why we have fast tracked plans to scrap VAT on all e-publications, which will make it cheaper for publishers to sell their books, magazines and newspapers.

With the nation staying in their homes during lockdown and schools closed, millions have been relying more on e-publications to pass time, home school and read the news. The Chancellor has opted to bring the zero rating forward to make entertainment more affordable for readers who are rightly staying at home during the coronavirus crisis – and are more reliant on e-publications as a result.

The price of an e-book will now be VAT-free. The e-book of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and The Light could be over £2 cheaper while the average tax annual saving on a typical e-newspaper or e-magazine subscription could be £25 or £20, respectively.

Readers, who rely on large print sizes or find physical books difficult to hold, are expected to particularly benefit from digital reading being more financially accessible.

Self-employment income support scheme

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

If you are eligible, payments under the above scheme are due to be made by HMRC next month, June 2020. Readers who need financial support at an earlier date can still apply for Universal Credits as an interim measure.

Who can claim under SEISS?

To qualify for a payment under SEISS you will need to be a self-employed individual or a member of a trading partnership. You will also need to comply with the following:

  • you carry on a trade which has been adversely affected by coronavirus
  • you traded in the tax year 2018-19 and submitted your Self-Assessment tax return on or before 23 April 2020 for that year
  • you traded in the tax year 2019-20
  • you intend to continue to trade in the tax year 2020-21

HMRC have further confirmed that if you are not eligible based on the 2018-19 Self-Assessment tax return, they will then look at the tax years 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-9.

You will need to confirm to HMRC that your business has been adversely affected by coronavirus. HMRC will use a risk based approach to compliance.

Finally, your trading profits must also be no more than £50,000 and more than half of your total income for either:

  • the tax year 2018-19
  • the average of the tax years 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19.

How to claim

HMRC will aim to contact you by mid May 2020 if you are eligible for the scheme and invite you to claim using the GOV.UK online service. If you are unable to claim online an alternative way to claim will be available.

The online registration page will also be updated with the steps you can take to make it easier to claim using the GOV.UK online service.

You do not need to contact HMRC, as this will only delay the work being undertaken to introduce the scheme.

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

There has been considerable commentary in the media about this support initiative as business owners – struggling to cope with the reduction in their cash resources due to the COVID-19 outbreak – are finding it difficult to secure support from their bank.

Readers will be encouraged by the Chancellor’s recent comments when he confirmed that personal guarantees should not be requested for loans under £250,000.

The government’s offer to guarantee 80% of loans taken out and cover all the set-up and interest charges for the first year of the loan remains an attractive solution for businesses that need the additional liquidity.

If you are considering an application you will be required to produce certain evidence to back-up your request. This is likely to include:

  • Management accounts
  • Cash flow forecast
  • Business plan
  • Historic accounts
  • Details of assets

The above requirements will vary from lender to lender.

An alternative scheme for micro-sized businesses

Smaller businesses may decide to apply for the “Bounce-Back” Loan Scheme that is now available. Loans can be obtained between £2,000 to £50,000 but limited to 25% of turnover.

These smaller loans are 100% guaranteed by government and with no fees or interest charges payable for the first year.

Claiming Child Benefits for new-borns

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

General Register Offices are currently operating with reduced capacity and with government guidance to social distance and stay at home, new parents are advised not to visit them. They can however still claim Child Benefit without having to register their child’s birth first to ensure that they do not miss out.

If they already claim Child Benefit, they can complete the form or add their new-born’s details over the phone on 0300 200 3100. They will need their National Insurance number or Child Benefit number.

Child Benefit claims can be backdated by up to 3 months.

This announcement is timely as Child Benefit payments increased from 6 April to a weekly rate of £21.05 for the first child and £13.95 for each additional child. Child Benefit is paid into a parent’s bank account, usually every 4 weeks.

Only one person can claim Child Benefit for a child. For couples with one partner not working or paying National Insurance contributions (NICs), making the claim in their name will help protect their State Pension.

Companies House support for ailing businesses

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

The following announcement was recently made by Companies House:

Businesses will be given additional support to help them meet their legal responsibilities under changes announced today (16 April 2020).

Companies House will temporarily pause the strike off process to prevent companies being dissolved. This will give businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak the time they need to update their records and help them avoid being struck off the register.

In addition, companies issued with a late filing penalty due to COVID-19 will have appeals treated sympathetically.

Today’s announcement builds on measures already implemented by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which give businesses the ability to apply for a 3-month extension to file accounts with Companies House.

As part of the agreed measures, while companies will still have to apply for the 3-month extension to be granted, those citing issues around COVID-19 will be automatically and immediately granted an extension.