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COVID-19: Latest government announcements and support for businesses

Last night, Boris Johnson addressed the nation to introduce the latest raft of measures which seek to slow the progress of the transmission of Coronavirus. Deputy Chief Medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, had already set the scene in the morning’s COVID-19 data briefing – highlighting that cases had quadrupled in the last three weeks and the number of those hospitalised with COVID-19 is now higher than at the point we went into national lockdown in March. While Johnson was clear that he does not believe a further national lockdown is the right course of action, he acknowledged that a simplification of the local approach to restrictions was required. The much rumoured three-tiered system of risk categorisation of Tier 1 – MediumTier 2 – High and Tier 3 – Very High, each with their own set of restrictions, was announced in response.

The three-tiered system of local COVID alert levels in England

Medium – this level will cover the majority of the country and comprises the current national restrictions which came into force at the end of September, namely the ‘Rule of 6’ which applies both indoors and outdoors, and the closure of hospitality at 10pm. High – primarily aims to reduce household to household transmission by restricting any mixing of households or support bubbles indoors, with the Rule of 6 applying outdoors. Most areas with current local restrictions will move into the High alert level. Very High – where transmission rates are rising most rapidly and causing greatest concern. At this level, there is no social mixing indoors or in private gardens, with the Rule of 6 allowed in open public spaces, such as parks and beaches, and with all pubs and bars to close – only remaining open where they operate as a restaurant. Additional measures require the closure of gyms and leisure centres, betting shops, adult gaming shops and casinos. People are advised not to travel in or out of these areas.

New measures to support businesses required to close as a result of the restrictions

In anticipation of these new restrictions, Rishi Sunak announced a series of new measures on Friday 9 October in order to protect jobs and support businesses, but the extensions only apply to those businesses legally required to close as a result of the new restrictions. The Job Support Scheme (JSS) is being extended to cover two thirds of the wages of employees of any business that is legally required to close. In addition, a monthly cash grant of up to £3k is also available through the Local Restrictions Support Grant Scheme for those businesses. The extended JSS will run for 6 months from 1 November, with the potential for further review in January. Under the scheme:
  • the government will pay two thirds of each employee’s salary (67%), up to a max. of £2,100/month
  • employers are not required to contribute towards wages, but must cover NICS and pension contributions
  • employees must be off work for a minimum of seven consecutive days
  • payments will be made in arrears, as with the original JSS, via a claims service which will be available from early December.
Any businesses legally forced to close before 1 November can make claims under the current CJRS scheme, rather than the JSS. Under the enhanced Local Restrictions Support Grant, businesses forced to close as a result of local restrictions will be eligible for a cash grant of up to £3k per month after just two weeks of closure, rather than the previously announced three weeks. All of these measures also run alongside the original JSS and the previously announced £1,000 Job Retention Bonus; a one-off taxable payment to employers for any eligible employees who were furloughed and kept continuously employed until 31 January 2021. If you are pre-empting forced business closure as a result of these new local restrictions, and would like advice on the grants available to you, please contact your usual UHY adviser or find your nearest UHY expert here.
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