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/2VdnDrn. For Scotland bit.ly/2VaBnDr Wales bit.ly/2x3zPDm Northern Ireland bit.ly/3c1EFjw.

Loan Schemes

There are now three schemes, all delivered through commercial lenders to support 'long-term viable businesses … respond to cash-flow 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/2KGytkP.

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. 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/2Xhvjvy.

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 is being developed at pace by HMRC bit.ly/2VdfgO1. The government is signing 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 coronavirus. 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 PAYE, government help may be available via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (see Employer headlines). 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/2YxSiDo.

What do I have to do?

HMRC will contact you by email, text or letter by mid May, asking you to claim, but there is an online tool you can use now to see if HMRC thinks you match its criteria bit.ly/3fkiTte. If the tool concludes you are eligible, you will be given a date you can claim from. If it 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 coronavirus, 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/3dikYnX and bit.ly/2Wo15Vz.