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Help for business

Government help for business is being put in place, with schemes evolving in real time. Some measures vary across the UK. Generally, see bit.ly/2UUiFRz. For Scotland, see bit.ly/2VC0tg1; for Wales, see bit.ly/3aypugh and for Northern Ireland see bit.ly/3awR519.

Loan schemes

There are now three schemes, all delivered through commercial lenders to support ‘long-term viable businesses . . . respond to cashflow pressures by seeking additional finance’. Businesses need to approach a lender, and it probably makes sense to try your usual bank first.

  • Bounce Back Loans: fast-track scheme for small businesses.
  • The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) for UK businesses with annual turnover up to £45 million: bit.ly/34KRewL
  • The Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme for UK businesses with annual turnover over £45 million.

Bounce Back loans

These provide 100% government-backed loans covering 25% of business turnover. Minimum loan size is set at £2,000 and the maximum at £50,000. Loans are interest-free for the first 12 months, with a repayment holiday for this period. The scheme launched on 4 May, with application online: bit.ly/2xXhOag

CBILS

The CBILS provides access to loans, overdrafts and other finance. Finance is capped at £5 million, with a maximum term of six years for term loans and asset finance. The government covers interest payments for the first 12 months and any lender-levied fees. The CBILS cannot be used as well as Bounce Back funding, and applicants must ‘self-certify’ that their business is adversely impacted by COVID-19. 

Criticism of the scheme has brought some changes. The most recent viability tests only require a bank to assess whether a business was viable pre-COVID-19, for example, and loans below £250,000 do not require personal guarantees. Any type of business can apply, if generating more than 50% of its turnover from trading activity. There is a quick eligibility checklist here: bit.ly/3e16sC6.

How do I apply for a loan?

The Bounce Back scheme has a short, standardised online application form. Critically, the aim is to provide loans to businesses ‘within days’.

The CBILS entails more of an application process than a conventional loan. Lenders should now, however, be focusing mainly on information you can supply at speed, assessing credit and business viability on the basis of this and their own prior information.  

Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS)

This supports the self-employed and partnerships and has been developed at pace by HMRC: bit.ly/34N4S2E. The government is pointing the self-employed to the Universal Credit system before SEISS payments are made.

What does it do?

Provides a direct cash grant of up to 80% of profits, calculated with reference to specific rules. The grant is taxable and will be paid as one lump sum, covering the three months to May. The maximum payable is £2,500 per month. The first payments should start at the end of May, and it is possible the scheme will be extended.

Criteria

Broadly, you must carry on a trade which has been adversely affected by circumstances relating to COVID-19. You must also have filed all relevant income tax self assessment returns; have traded in the 2018/19 and 2019/20 tax years, and intend to carry on trading in the 2020/21 tax year. Your profits, based on an average of the last three years, must be no more than £50,000, and at least equal to any non-trading income, such as employment income, dividends or rental income. 

Directors of personal service companies are not eligible. But if paid under Pay as You Earn (PAYE), government help may be available via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Note, however, that only salary costs are eligible for inclusion, not dividend payments. There is guidance on how directors can access this here: bit.ly/3cIXdVB

What do I have to do?

Claims can now be made. HMRC should have contacted you by email, text or letter this month, asking you to claim, and given you a date from which you can make a claim. There is an online tool you can use to see if HMRC thinks you match its criteria: bit.ly/3b0n7mw. If the tool finds you are not eligible, you can ask to have this reviewed. Payment directly into your bank account should be made within six working days of completing a claim.

Rent, rates and property

Commercial tenants across the UK, unable to pay rent because of COVID-19, are given protection from eviction. This is not a rental holiday however, and liability to pay remains. Discussions between landlords and tenants are encouraged. Other help, for example with business rates, is also available: bit.ly/3cjR4z9 and bit.ly/3ae9hfO