Last updated: 8 April 2021
With the UK government announcing a roadmap for easing COVID restrictions in England, including schools going back and opening of non-essential retail, the effects for businesses like yours will vary and you will undoubtedly still have questions about the impact for you and your business moving forward.
What changes will you have to make to your workplace? Do you and your employees have the resources to continue working from home? Where does this leave your business financially?
In order to help you try and answer some of these questions and minimise the impact to your business, we have collated some useful advice and recommendations for you and your small business during this time.
The following information relates to the roadmap measures and support offered in England, you can find out more about how the COVID restrictions roadmap varies across the UK nations here.
The pandemic has taught us numerous things, one being the importance of putting health first. As a small business owner, you and your employees are the heart of your business. So, it’s important to put their health first and ensure they feel comfortable and informed about what to do at work.
1. Communication is key
Advice is changing minute by minute, and whilst this can be hard to keep on top of, it’s important to ensure you are regularly communicating with your employees about what measures you’re taking to minimise the risk of exposure in their place of work. If you are making changes to your business processes, keep employees informed so they know the right steps to take.
If you are unable to work from home or are planning to reopen, you can find some helpful resources about working safely, whether you have premises, enter people’s homes for work or work in a warehouse, on the government website. You can also find guidance on COVID-19 risk assessments, social distancing and more on the HSE website here and information on cleaning (non-healthcare) work premises.
If your business has been impacted by COVID-19 and you can no longer operate or support your employees, you can apply for a grant from the government to cover 80% of your staff’s monthly wages (up to £2,500 a month) for hours not worked for periods ending on or before 30 June 2021. This is called furloughing and means putting staff on temporary leave.
From the 1 July 2021, the level of support from the government will reduce each month, with businesses needing to contribute more towards any wages for furloughed staff.
This Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended until the 30th September 2021. You can find out more about who can claim, how much you should be claiming and more on the government website.
2. Share hygiene advice
Whether you have an office, warehouse or shop, it’s best practice to display health advice posters as gentle reminders on hygiene. You can find resources on the government website here.
If you don’t have a physical workplace, you and your employees work remotely or you’re all still based at home right now, then share this information via other means such as email – and remember, it’s just as important for employees to consider their hygiene practices at home.
By emailing general good hygiene practice and travel guidance to employees, you can provide tips on effective hand washing, using hand sanitiser and advice on physical contact with customers. We recommend you don’t just send one email – maintain a regular communication to keep this at the forefront of minds.
3. Spot the signs
As a small business owner, Acas recommends that managers should become educated on how to identify symptoms of coronavirus and are aware of the actions to take. This might be reporting on sickness, sick pay and carrying out the correct procedures if someone falls ill with the virus while working.
Acas is an independent public body that receives government funding to provide advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice, they have plenty of advice on managing coronavirus as an employer here.
What about the concerns I have about keeping my business operating?
There’s never been a better time to re-evaluate your business continuity plan. Should you or any of your employees fall ill, you’ll need your plan to launch successfully with or without you.
Business continuity is about having plans in place and setting up your business with the idea that you maintain your critical services in the event of something bad happening.
There are two schools of thought; building resilience in what you do by taking steps to prevent an incident from occurring and disaster recovery planning, where you put plans and processes in place to speed your recovery from an incident. Think of it as trying to prevent things going wrong and then having a plan if something does happen.
It’s important to protect the interests of your stakeholders and your business. Insufficient planning could lead to significant losses, which could be irrecoverable. The impact from an incident could lead to reputational damage and financial loss.
If you don’t have a plan or want to review your current one, take a look at the advice from our business continuity experts.
Going hand-in hand with a business continuity plan – is your small business equipped for remote working? Given that the UK government is still requesting homeworking where possible to minimise the risks, it is important for you to consider how this could work for your small business, if it’s not something you already do.
Here’s some advice for remote working if this is not currently part of how your business operates normally:
1. Collaborating effectively
One of the ways that employees can stay in touch whilst remote working is the use of collaboration tools. Collaboration apps can help you streamline the way your team work together – managing projects, sharing files, and connecting people through group chats and video calls. Here are five free collaboration tools that you can implement.
2. Equipment and access
If remote working is possible for your business, review the equipment employees will need to be able to carry out their jobs from home. This might be laptops and chargers, headsets or mobile phones.
If you have concerns about the cost of equipment, consider the cost implications if your small business was unable to operate for weeks or even months.
You will also want to test that employees can access networks, portals and any digital tools from home too. It’s important to ensure that contact numbers, emergency contacts and addresses are all up to date.
Find further advice on working from home.
Small businesses should check the policy they hold with their insurance provider. Whilst it’s quite likely that the majority of businesses will not be covered for coronavirus (COVID-19), as business interruption policies usually refer to damage to property – some may have opted for cover to include diseases.
If you don’t have this cover, you could also look for ‘supply chain or denial of access’ cover which might provide assistance in this circumstance. If you’re unsure what your insurance policy covers for coronavirus or for the future, it’s best to get in touch with your insurance company directly.
For more information on insurance take a look at this coronavirus information hub from the Association of British Insurers.
Financial support from the government
But what about your financial loss? To support small businesses through this period of disruption, the government has announced and issued temporary measures to aid relief including:
- Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme
- Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
- Small Business Rate Relief
- Deferral of VAT payments
The 2021 Budget announcement recently outlined details on new support for businesses in the UK including:
- The business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure will be extended for an extra three months in England
- The 5% reduced rate of VAT has also been extended until the end of September for hospitality, accommodation and attractions
- A new £5 billion Restart Grant scheme has been announced to support the high street in England – offering a one-off cash grant of up to £6,000 for the non-essential retail sector and a one-off cash grant of up to £18,000 covering the hospitality, accommodation, leisure, personal care and gym sectors. Find out more about eligibility on the government website.
- Existing government guaranteed schemes will be replaced with a new Recovery Loan Scheme which launched on the 6th April 2021
- Film & TV Production Restart Scheme to be extended
- SMEs will be supported through a Help to Grow Scheme which aims to provide digital and management skills and tools
You can find out more about what measures were announced at the beginning of March.
Backing from banks
The Bank of England has developed a package for UK businesses to help with the significant economic interruption that COVID-19 is likely to have. One of these measures includes dropping interest rates from 0.75% to 0.1%.
Additional funding is also available for banks to increase lending – in particular for small businesses.
Many banks are offering financial support for businesses and individuals during coronavirus, including advice on loans and overdrafts.
Self-employment Income Support Scheme
For those of you who are self-employed, the government announced a scheme to help minimise the impact of coronavirus.
Previously, the scheme allowed self-employed individuals or members of a partnership to claim a taxable grant. It was worth 80% of average trading profits and covered three months with a maximum of £7,500 in total.
Following the most recent Budget announcement, the government has confirmed a fourth grant offering the same support as the earlier grants. HMRC will contact eligible businesses in mid-April with a personal claim date.
A fifth, and final, grant will also be available for the time period May to September and can be claimed by eligible businesses from late July. This fifth grant will be a little different as it will be based on the amount a business’ turnover has reduced from April 2020 to April 2021. More information on this can be found on the government website, where you can also find more about the criteria and check if you’re eligible.
There are other schemes provided by the government to help self-employed individuals who are unable to work.
Funding for frontline charities
The government has pledged a £750 million fund which will be used to support voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) charities to help them continue their vital work during the outbreak.
The funding will be offered to charities who need to continue providing services as part of the national coronavirus response in the UK, with £200 million directly supporting hospices and £310 million supporting smaller, local VCSEs in England.
You can find out more about the financial support for charities. The NCVO also has some helpful COVID-19 resources for charities on their website.
The ultimate goal is to keep your organisation operating as normally as possible and make sure you’re doing what you can to protect both you and your employees in the workplace.
Consider the advice above and don’t be afraid to take the necessary action if you think you’re putting yourself or anyone else at risk.