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21 May 2020

Covid-19 Business Support Updater- Main Developments

Key Updates Include:

Ø  Launch of NI Hardship Fund for Micro-Businesses: Update and change in position since the publication of the Writ Ezine;

Ø  Closure of the Small Business Support Grant Scheme and guidance for those who have submitted an application;

Ø  Extension of the Furlough Scheme and provision for part-time furlough (with cost-sharing between employers and Government) from 1 August 2020;

Ø  Extension of the business rates holiday to include July 2020.

Ø  Guidance on health and safety issues and NI Executive Strategy for decision-making on lockdown.

Launch of NI Micro-Business Hardship Fund

The Department for the Economy has launched a £40 million hardship fund offering emergency funding for micro-businesses suffering cash flow difficulties. Micro-Businesses are defined as those with between one and nine employees paid via PAYE at 29 February 2020. Businesses where the sole employee is the owner/director are not eligible for the scheme (please note this position has changed since the publication of the Writ ezine, after initial guidance had suggested this category would be included).

The final amounts awarded will depend on the number of successful applications received. In that context, members who think they may be eligible may want to consider an application at the earliest opportunity. Available payments will extend to up to £10,000 for business ratepayers and up to £5,000 for non-ratepayers.

In terms of eligibility, key conditions include:-

Ø  The business must be NI-based and have seen a reduction in turnover in excess of 40% since 1 March 2020 as direct result of Covid-19 or associated government restrictions;

Ø  The scheme is designed to target those who have not received a grant of £10k or £25k under the Small Business Support Grant Scheme and therefore those benefiting from these schemes are not eligible.

Further information on eligibility and the online portal for applications can be found here. 

Closure of the Small Business Support Grant Scheme

The scheme closed to applications at 23.59 on 20 May. Guidance for those who have an application lodged or who experienced difficulties with the online form can be found here.  Similar guidance is available for those clients who were eligible for the £25k grant here. For those tenants not liable for rates the guidance is here.

Extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (‘Furlough Scheme’) and Introduction of Part-Time Furlough in August 2020

The UK Government has announced a further extension to the furlough scheme, which will continue in its current form and conditions until the end of July 2020. From the beginning of August through to the 31 October, the Government has indicated a more flexible operation of the scheme will be introduced. This will allow businesses to bring back employees on a part-time basis, whilst continuing to receive support from the scheme for part-time furlough.

The Government has stated that employers will be asked to pay a percentage towards the salaries of their furloughed staff to bring it up to the 80% level currently being paid wholly by government. We currently await further details on this scheme, including the cost-sharing arrangements. The Government has said this will be available at the end of May.

Further information can be found here.

Extension of the Holiday for Business Ratepayers

The Department of Finance has announced that there will be a one-month extension to the rates holiday for all businesses, meaning that no rates will be charged for April, May, June and July 2020. Businesses in the retail/hospitality and certain other sectors will benefit from a 12-month holiday.

More information is available here.

Launch Date for the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme

The UK Government has announced that the online system to reclaim SSP will launch on 26 May 2020. Further guidance on the operation of the scheme can be found here.

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (‘SEISS’)- Online Applications Launched

The online portal to check your eligibility and make an application is now live. You can find further information and the link to make an application here. HMRC webinars on the scheme can be found here.

NI Executive and UK Government Guidance on Safe Working Practices During Covid-19 and NI Executive Lockdown Strategy

The UK Government has published workplace safety guidance for office spaces. It has been developed by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (‘BEIS’) in London, with input from stakeholders and the devolved administrations. It is designed for those not able to work from home and for preparation for when office working returns.

The guidance is clear that despite this, public health is devolved and this guidance must be read in line with the guidance from the Northern Ireland Executive, local health and safety requirements and applicable legislation in Northern Ireland.  

The NI Department for the Economy Guidance (developed with stakeholders) and priority sector list can be found here.

The Northern Ireland Executive Strategy for Exiting Lockdown, including the phased relaxation of restrictions can be found here.  

The BEIS guidance can be found here. More guidance on health and safety can be found here.

Launch of the Future Fund

The Future Fund for certain UK-based businesses has now opened, providing government loans ranging from £125,000 to £5 million, subject to at least equal match funding from private investors. The scheme is open for applications until the end of the September 2020. Members will have seen reference to this in our most recent Covid-19 updater.

Further information on the scheme can be found here.

Extension of the Available Facility under the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme

The Government has announced that from 26 May, larger businesses will be able to borrow up to £200 million under the scheme (it is currently capped at £50 million). Further information can be found here.

Further Information

The above information will be built into an updated ninth edition of the business support information notice, which will be made available in the member’s section of the website. The Society will continue to monitor developments and update members on the support measures available. It is important for members also to continue to monitor government guidance and keep pace with developments in the still fast-moving picture on business support.

For any queries in relation to business support, please contact frank.geddis@lawsoc-ni.org



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