We would like to provide you with a summary of government guidance and support measures that were announced last week and are of relevance to the digital technologies sector. Where possible, we include details on how to access support and where to find more information.
Social distancing: Stay at home and away from others
On Monday evening (23 March), the Prime Minister announced much stricter social distancing rules to slow the spread of the coronavirus and reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment at any one time. These rules will remain in place for at least three weeks from 23 March.
Everyone should only leave the house for very limited purposes:
- shopping for basic necessities (food and medicine), 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, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
- travelling for work purposes, but only where you absolutely cannot work from home.
When you are outside, ensure you are 2 metres away from anyone who is not a member of your household. Gatherings of more than two people, excluding people living in the same household, will be dispersed. Gatherings for essential work purposes are still possible but should be minimised as much as possible.
The Scottish Government has identified a number of critical workers whose children can still go to school or their childcare provider. This critical worker definition does not affect whether or not you can travel to work – if you are not a critical worker, you may still travel to work provided you cannot work from home.
Employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working. Employers who have people in their offices or onsite should ensure that employees are able to, where possible, maintain a 2 metre distance from others, and wash their hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds (or using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available).
Support measures for the self-employed
Many people in the UK are self-employed, including in the digital technologies industry. Most support announced last week wasn’t applicable to them, particularly the job retention scheme. On Thursday (26 March), the Chancellor plugged at least part of this support gap by announcing the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme that offers the following to the self-employed:
- a direct cash grant of 80% of their profits, up to £2,500/month (same level as for employees), for at least 3 months
- open to those with a trading profit of less than £50,000 in 2018-19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 (more than half of income in these periods must come from self-employment)
- available by application to HMRC, through an online form, with cash being paid directly into people’s bank account in a single lump sum
- Individuals should not contact HMRC now. HMRC will use existing information to check potential eligibility and invite applications once the scheme is operational.
- Payments are expected to start at the beginning of June
The long delay before payments are available will obviously be disappointing to the self-employed but this is a completely new scheme that will need to be set up by HMRC whilst they are also having to set up the scheme for employees. In the meantime, the self-employed will still be able to access other available government support for those affected by coronavirus including more generous universal credit and business continuity loans where they have a business bank account
Further details of Coronovirus Job Retention Scheme
Late last week, the Treasury announced that in addition to 80% of a furloughed employee’s salary (capped at £2500), the government will also cover employer National Insurance and minimum auto-enrolment pension contributions for these workers. This can save businesses an extra £300 a month for each employee.
New guidance also clarified that employees that have been made redundant after 28 February can be reemployed and placed on furlough to allow them to benefit from the scheme. Workers non furlough are allowed to volunteer with the NHS without risking their pay.
Further guidance for employers is available here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme
Updates on how to access other financial support
- Handy overview of what grants are available and how to apply for them: https://findbusinesssupport.gov.scot/coronavirus-advice/sources-of-funding
- What to do if you cannot pay your tax bill on time: https://www.gov.uk/difficulties-paying-hmrc
- Improved guidance on how to access the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme for SMEs: https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme-cbils-2/for-businesses-and-advisors/
- Larger businesses should check if they are eligible for the Covid Corporate Financing Facility: https://www.ukfinance.org.uk/covid-19-corporate-financing-facilities