BLOG ARTICLE: 12/06/2020

Coronavirus Business Support

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Coronavirus Business Support

Please note this page is no longer being updated. Please contact BCC for the latest information and to join our regular Coronavirus / Brexit calls.

For all the latest information and advice relating to Coronavirus, you should visit the UK Government’s Coronavirus information hub, particularly the Coronavirus business support hub. You can also sign up to get email alerts when Government changes any Coronavirus information on the GOV.UK website. The Confederation has summarised the main Coronavirus business advice pertinent to the sector below. We have also separately summarised the main Coronavirus financial support available. These pages will be updated as new information becomes available.

Public health and some aspects of business support are devolved. For public health and business support in Northern Ireland see herehere and here; in Scotland see herehere and here; and in Wales see herehere and here. In England, your Growth Hub can advise on local and UK Government business support. Telephone helplines across the UK are also available – see here. You can also find business case studies on the Coronavirus Business Support Blog.

Working safely during the Covid-19 Crisis: a guide for the ceramics sector

BCC has developed a guidance document ‘Working Safely During the Covid-19 Crisis: A Guide for the Ceramics Sector‘. The purpose of this document is to share information about the practical actions that companies in the ceramics sectors are taking in order to help support members to operate as safely as possible in the context of Coronavirus. It refers extensively to the government framework guidance and then supplements it with the actions that companies in the ceramics sector are taking.

UK Government’s Coronavirus recovery strategy

The UK Government has published its plan for rebuilding and recovering from the Coronavirus pandemic. This document marks the beginning of plans to ease lockdown restrictions and move into the next stage of recovering from the Coronavirus pandemic.

The strategy sets out a roadmap to the step-by-step lifting of restrictions, subject to successfully controlling the virus and being able to monitor and react to its spread. The roadmap will be kept under review.

In step 1, which applies in England from Wednesday 13th May:

  • Workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible.
  • All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open. The message from Government is clear – sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open should be open, for example this includes: manufacturing, construction, logistics, distribution and scientific research. Indeed, Government stresses it is important for business to carry on. The only exceptions to this are those workplaces such as hospitality and non-essential retail which are required to remain closed during this first step.
  • As soon as practicable, workplaces should follow the new ‘Covid-19 Secure’ guidelines (see below).
  • It remains the case that anyone who has symptoms, however mild, or is in a household where someone has symptoms, should not leave their house to go to work. Those people should self-isolate, as should those in their households.

Phase 2 of the restart began in England on 1st June 2020, e.g. the start of a phased return for early years settings and schools and a further slight easing of family and social contact. Guidance for parents and carers about the wider opening of nurseries, schools and colleges is here.

As public health responsibility is a devolved matter and the rate of infection may be different in different parts of the UK, this guidance should be considered alongside local public health and safety requirements for Northern IrelandScotland and Wales.

Working safely during the Coronavirus outbreak

The UK Government, in consultation with industry (including BCC and a number of members), has produced detailed guidance to help employers and employees understand how to work safely during the Coronavirus pandemic. This provides a practical framework setting out the steps that need to be taken to continue, or restart, operations and to work safely. This applies to England only, see separate guidance for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

At all times, workers should follow the guidance on self-isolation if they or anyone in their household shows Coronavirus symptoms. Some people are clinically extremely vulnerable to severe illness from Coronavirus and need to be shielded.

Workplaces must be re-designed to make them ‘Covid-19 Secure’. To date, eight guidance documents covering a range of different workplace settings have been developed. Many businesses operate more than one type of workplace (e.g. office, factory and fleet of vehicles) so you may need to use more than one of these guides as you work through what you need to do to keep people safe. The relevant ones for the ceramics sector include:

Each guide sets out practical steps for businesses, focused on the following five key points, which should be implemented as soon as practicable:

  • Carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment in consultation with workers or trade unions, and share the results with your employees.
  • Help people to work from home.
  • Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures.
  • Maintain 2 metres social distancing, where possible.
  • Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, do everything practical to manage the transmission risk.

Recordings of webinars covering the eight types of workplace settings are also available. Each business will need to translate Government’s formal guidance, plus the Confederation’s document and guidance from others into specific actions it needs to take. These guides should not be used on their own, but as a starting point to consider what you can do. It should also be noted that these guidance documents do not supersede any legal obligations relating to health and safety, employment or equalities. The government is clear that workers should not be forced into an unsafe workplace. When considering how to apply this guidance, members are advised to take into account agency workers, contractors and other people, as well as employees.

The plans businesses put in place will likely mean that the workplace is organised differently from how it was before lockdown. We will all have to accept there will be a new normal and it will not be possible to operate a business in the same way as before the pandemic.

Use of public transport to travel to work is also being discouraged in favour of walking, cycling or driving. From 15th June, face coverings will be required while using public transport in England to help reduce the risk of transmission when social distancing is not always possible. More information is available here. The safer travel guidance for passengers is available here.

Public Health England has produced a range of resources (posters, social media resources etc.) to help support and share Coronavirus advice, including in the workplace.

The government has also issued advice for cleaning in non-healthcare settings after someone with suspected Coronavirus has left the setting or area. It describes the cleaning required, the appropriate disposal of materials, the cleaning of equipment and hard surfaces, and the personal protective equipment (PPE) that should be worn.

Further information is available: Cabinet Office guidance on staying alert and safe (social distancing); Cabinet Office guidance on staying safe outside your homeCabinet Office guidance on what you can and can’t do FAQs; BEIS Coronavirus Business Support blog; Staying Covid-19 Secure workplace posterHSE Coronavirus advice and informationHSE Working safely during the Coronavirus outbreak – a short guideHSE Talking with your workers about working safely during the coronavirus outbreak; British Occupational Hygiene Society return to work guidancePublic Health England Coronavirus website; BSI guidance on safe working during the COVID-19 pandemicACAS Coronavirus advice for employers and employees; CBI Coronavirus hub;  Construction Leadership Council Site Operating Procedures (v4) and Cushman&Wakefield website. The HSE, CBI and TUC have also published a joint statement on safe working. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma MP has also written a letter thanking all those who are working in manufacturing during the Coronavirus pandemic.

BCC / BEIS teleconferences

The Confederation is continuing to hold periodic teleconferences with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to help members understand how to go about accessing the business support schemes and raising any other ongoing issues or concerns.

Additionally, if your business is facing business-critical challenges then please contact our BEIS ceramic sector lead (whose contact details have been circulated to members).

NHS Test and Trace

The UK Government has launched NHS Test and Trace service for England. Similarly, Test and Protect in Scotland, Test, Trace, Protect in Wales and contact tracing in Northern Ireland have also launched.

In summary, the NHS Test and Trace service:

  • Provides testing for anyone who has symptoms of Coronavirus to find out if they have the virus.
  • Gets in touch with anyone who has had a positive test result to help them share information about any close recent contacts they have had.
  • Alerts those contacts, where necessary, and notifies them that they need to self-isolate to help stop the spread of the virus.

Further guidance is available here. There is also specific guidance on the NHS Test and Trace service for employers, business, workers and the self-employed which can be found here. This emphasises, it is vital that employers play their part by: i) making their workplaces as safe as possible; and ii) encouraging workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate and supporting them when in isolation. The NHS test and trace service will provide a notification that can be used as evidence that someone has been told to self-isolate.

The NHS Coronavirus app is still in development. When rolled out nationally this app will supplement other forms of contact tracing.

Testing

Individuals can get a throat and nose swab test to determine whether they currently have Coronavirus (antigen test). Testing is most effective within 3 days of symptoms developing. There is another type of test (antibody test) that checks if you’ve already had the virus. This test is not widely available yet.

Anyone in the UK with any of the symptoms of Coronavirus, can ask for an antigen test through the NHS website or by calling 119 if you have no internet access. This webpage also includes guidance on who can ask for a test; when to ask for a test; and what the test involves. The Government’s getting tested guidance page has further information on the testing programme.

Contact tracing

Anyone who tests positive for Coronavirus in England will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace and will need to share information about their recent interactions. This could include household members, people with whom they have been in direct contact, or within 2 metres for more than 15 minutes.

People identified as having been in close contact with someone who has a positive test must stay at home for 14 days, even if they do not have symptoms, to stop unknowingly spreading the virus.

If those in isolation develop symptoms, they can book a test. If they test positive, they must continue to stay at home for 7 days or until their symptoms have passed. If they test negative, they must complete the 14-day isolation period.

Relaxed rules to support businesses

Government has temporarily relaxed a number of rules and regulations to help businesses handle any disruption they are experiencing due to Coronavirus:

  • AGM flexibility. Government has announced it will introduce legislation to ensure those companies required by law to hold Annual General Meetings (AGMs) will be able to do so in accordance with the restrictions on movement and gatherings introduced to address the spread of Coronavirus. For a temporary period, companies will be extended greater flexibilities, including holding AGMs online or postponing the meetings. The Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA), in conjunction with other organisations, has published guidance for companies – here.
  • Annual leave. To assist with a potential large build-up of holiday entitlement the government has announced it will amend the Working Time Regulations to allow up to 4 weeks of unused leave to be carried into the next 2 leave years. This change seeks to protect the rights of workers to take annual leave, while trying to prevent a situation where employers are left with a potentially large number of employees all trying to take annual leave in a short space of time. Find out more – here. Guidance has been produced outlining how holiday entitlement and pay operate during the Coronavirus pandemic. It is designed to help employers understand their legal obligations, in terms of workers who: i) continue to work; or ii) have been placed on furlough.
  • Business rates revaluation postponed. A revaluation of business rates will no longer take place in 2021 to help reduce uncertainty for firms affected by the impacts of Coronavirus. Further information is available – here.
  • Filing accounts and annual statements. Companies House is offering a three–month extension to companies filing accounts and annual statements. Although companies will have to apply for the extension, those citing issues around Coronavirus will be automatically and immediately granted an extension. Applications can be made through a fast-tracked online system which will take around 15 minutes to complete. If you do not apply for an extension and your accounts are filed late, an automatic penalty will be imposed, although Companies House has stated it will sympathetically treat appeals from companies issued with a late filing penalty due to Coronavirus. Companies House has also announced it will temporarily pause the strike off process to prevent companies being dissolved. This will give businesses affected by Coronavirus the time needed to update their records and help them avoid being struck off the register.
  • Gender pay gap reporting. The Government Equalities Office (GEO) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have suspended enforcement of the gender pay gap deadlines for this reporting year (2019/20). The decision means there will be no expectation of employers to report their data. Find out more – here.
  • Insolvency law. The Government is amending insolvency law to enable UK companies undergoing a rescue or restructure process to continue trading, giving them breathing space that could help them avoid insolvency. The proposals include: a short moratorium from creditors enforcing their debts; protection of their suppliers to enable them to continue trading during the moratorium; and a new restructuring plan, binding creditors to that plan. There will also be a temporary suspension on the wrongful trading provisions (retrospectively from 1 March 2020 for three months) so company directors can keep their businesses going without the threat of personal liability. Further information is available here and here.
  • Reverse charge VAT for construction services. The Treasury has announced that the introduction of the VAT Reverse Charge is now going to be delayed for a further five months, to 1st March 2021. The relevant Revenue and Customs Brief, with further information, can be found here.
  • PPE tax cuts. PPE purchased by care homes, businesses, charities and individuals to protect against Coronavirus will be free from VAT for the 3-month period spanning May, June and July 2020. See more – here.
  • Taxable expenses. Some equipment, services or supplies are taxable as a result of employees working from home. Find out more – here.

Support for UK businesses trading internationally

The Department for International Trade (DIT) has published guidance for UK businesses that export goods and services abroad and have been impacted by the spread of Coronavirus. DIT can advise on:

  • Smooth clearance of products with customs authorities;
  • Intellectual property and other issues with business continuity;
  • Export plans and exploring market opportunities;
  • Finding new routes to markets;
  • Dealing with agents and distributors;
  • Selling online and updating your digital (online) presence;
  • Help to find alternative suppliers.

You can access DIT support by: a) contacting your international trade adviser directly (where you have an existing relationship); or b) finding your nearest local trade office in the UK. For UK businesses with an overseas presence, or operating projects in other countries, DIT’s worldwide offices can provide information on trade issues specific to that region or country. DIT also provides cross-border e-commerce support, including connecting businesses to e-commerce advisers for tailored one-to-one advice. Contact e-exporting@trade.gov.uk for more information.

UK Export Finance (UKEF) can help businesses facing disruption due to Coronavirus with finance and insurance support for exporters. UKEF is the UK’s Export Credit Agency and works with banks and insurance brokers to help companies of all sizes fulfil and get paid for export contracts. It provides guarantees, loans and insurance on behalf of the government that can protect UK exporters facing delayed payments or transit restrictions. You can find out more here and to find out if UKEF covers your region, by emailing customer.service@ukexportfinance.gov.uk. In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, UKEF has expanded the scope of its Export Insurance Policy (that covers up to 95% of the costs incurred if an export contract is terminated by events outside of your control) to all major markets. This policy covers transactions with the EU, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the USA with immediate effect. Previously these markets, which account for 74% of all UK exports, were considered to be ineligible for export insurance as being too low risk. Other help from UKEF includes its Export Working Capital Scheme (which provides partial guarantees of the credit risk associated with export working capital finance) and its Direct Lending Facility (which provides loans to overseas buyers, allowing them to finance the purchase of goods / services from UK exporters).

International travel

British citizens travelling abroad

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises British nationals against all but essential international travel. Any country or area may restrict travel without notice. The latest guidance is here.

Arrivals to the UK

From 8th June 2020, there are new rules in place for entering the UK because of Coronavirus. The rules are for residents and visitors. Arrivals will:

  • Need to provide journey and contact details when travelling to the UK.
  • Not be allowed to leave the place they are staying at for the first 14 days they are in the UK (self-isolating), except in very limited situations.

You do not need to complete the form or self-isolate if you’re travelling from Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, and you were there for 14 days or more.

In addition, Government has announced a limited number of exemptions from the 14-day self-isolation period. These include:

  • Road haulage workers (to ensure the supply of goods is not impacted).
  • Workers with specialist technical skills, where those specialist technical skills are required for essential or emergency works or services (including commissioning, maintenance, and repairs and safety checks) to ensure the continued production, supply, movement, manufacture, storage or preservation of goods.

These workers will need to show a letter from their company or the company they are coming to work for at the border. More details are available here.

Response from regulators

Environment Agency

The EA has published its approach to regulation and enforcement during the Coronavirus outbreak. This document sets out their priorities; expectations; and approach to enforcement. The requirement is for business to continue taking all reasonable steps to comply with regulatory requirements, using contingency plans to help. However, if it is not possible to comply, the document lays out the steps regulated businesses are expected to take. The enforcement response to any non-compliance during this time will take into account the extent to which these expectations have been followed.

The EA has also published a number of temporary COVID-19 regulatory position statements, including one on environmental permitting. This only applies to A1 installations (regulated by the Environment Agency) and not A2 or Part B installations (regulated by local authorities).

However, BCC is aware that Defra has recommended that Local Authority officers may consider taking a similar approach when exercising their regulatory powers. As the LA’s are likely to agree with this, BCC recommend this as a prudent, low risk approach for members to follow.

SEPA

In its Coronavirus regulatory response, SEPA states it expects regulated entities to make their best endeavours to meet their environmental obligations. The document also sets out the steps regulated businesses are expected to take if they are unable to meet all of their obligations because of Coronavirus.

HSE

As we move into a new phase of easing lockdown restrictions, the HSE has updated their regulatory approach, including resuming targeted site visits to high risk industries (including ceramics where priority topics such as respirable crystalline silica will be a focus). The investigation of work-related deaths, the most serious major injuries and dangerous occurrences and reported concerns, including those related to social distancing and Covid-19, will also take place across all industries.

In addition, the HSE has also issued Coronavirus guidance on:

Ofgem

In the first instance, Ofgem advise businesses facing payment difficulties to discuss these with their energy supplier and consider the Coronavirus financial support that Government is offering. Ceasing to pay a bill may incur penalties and extra costs to your business.

BCC is aware that some suppliers are open to considering payment flexibility requests and some have suspended late payment and interest fees Members experiencing any difficulties with their supplier are asked to contact BCC.

Insurance

Insurance policies differ significantly, so businesses are encouraged to check the terms and conditions of their policy documentation and contact their providers (either their broker or the insurance firm) with any queries. Standard commercial insurance policies – which is what most businesses purchase – are unlikely to cover pandemics or specified notifiable diseases such as Covid-19. However, those businesses which have an insurance policy that covers government ordered closure and pandemics or government ordered closure and unspecified notifiable diseases may be able to make a claim, subject to the terms and conditions of their policy and schedule. The Government advises those that don’t have such policies to take up the other support measures on offer.

The Association of British Insurers has set up a Coronavirus information hub which is regularly updated for advice, guidance and common questions relating to travel, business, trade credit insurance and more.

Trade Credit Insurance

The UK Government has announced it is to provide guarantees of up to £10 billion to Trade Credit Insurance (TCI) schemes in order to prevent a drought in coverage. TCI insures suppliers selling goods against the company they are selling to defaulting on payment, giving businesses the confidence to trade with one another. It is a popular tool for manufacturers, especially small and medium-sized businesses, to help manage their trade credit risk. However, insurers have warned they face a huge increase in claims as the number of companies struggling to pay their bills has shot up, meaning they could be forced to either stop offering cover or sharply increase premiums. The effects of this can ripple through supply chains, pressuring cash flows and taking otherwise viable businesses to the brink.

To prevent this, the Government will temporarily provide guarantees of up to £10 billion to business-to-business transactions. The Trade Credit Reinsurance scheme, which has been agreed following extensive discussions with the insurance sector, will see the vast majority of Trade Credit Insurance coverage maintained across the UK. The guarantees will support supply chains and help businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic to trade with confidence, safe in the knowledge that they will be protected if a customer defaults or delays on payment. The scheme is available on a temporary basis for nine months, backdated to 1st April 2020, and running until 31st December 2020, with the potential for extension if required. Read the full announcement here.

The scheme will be followed by a joint BEIS/HMT-led review of the TCI market to ensure it can continue to support businesses in future.

The Confederation strongly welcomes this announcement – it is an intervention we have been calling on Government to introduce since lockdown first began. Some members had reported credit insurance being withdrawn, cover being reduced or premiums increasing to unaffordable levels; with others reporting suppliers (particularly energy suppliers) seeking shorter payment terms or even up-front payment. This temporary reinsurance scheme should mean that businesses don’t have their trade credit insurance withdrawn and so should be able to continue to access affordable insurance to support trading with other businesses.

Skills

A new online learning platform to help boost the nation’s skills while people are staying at home, has been launched. The Skills Toolkit is made up of free online courses, tools and resources to help you improve your digital and numeracy skills.

Courses on offer cover a range of levels, from everyday maths and getting confident online to more advanced digital skills for use in the workplace. All courses are online and flexible, so people can work through them at their own pace.

Apprenticeships [England only]

Government has published guidance for apprentices, employers, training providers and assessment organisations in response to the impact of Coronavirus. It outlines the new measures that the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) is implementing, until further notice, to make it easier for apprenticeships to continue and complete in a different way if they need to, or to break and resume an apprenticeship later when that becomes possible.

This document sets out guidance and some temporary flexibilities that Government are introducing to the programme during the outbreak, and provides answers to questions related to these changes and other common questions. The document has recently been updated with information on training and assessing apprentices in line with the Government’s new safer working guidelines, calculating wages for furloughed apprentices, off-the-job training, and redundant apprentices.

Cyber Security

Coronavirus has seen many businesses move more of their operations online; such that they are more reliant on digital technology to run their business. In response, the National Cyber Security Centre has published guidance to support businesses moving from physical to digital delivery. The guidance helps you determine how ready your business is for this digital transition and point the way to any new cyber security measures you should put in place.

In addition, the NCSC has published advice and guidance specifically for individuals and businesses who are working from home:

All additional and pre-existing guidance for business can be found on the NCSC webpage.

Other resources