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Covid-19 – business support

Unsurprisingly, Christmas 2020 was dampened by the ongoing Covid-19 measures. The Prime Minister revised his plans to permit “Christmas bubbles” to be formed for up to five days between multiple households. In the end, such bubbles were only permitted on Christmas day, and then only for areas that weren’t in tier 4.

The New Year brought further bad news with the announcement of a third national lockdown for England starting on 6 January, lasting until at least mid-February before review. Scotland and Wales had announced similar restrictions.

Inevitably, there were further announcements of support. In addition to the extension of the furlough and business loan schemes already announced, on 5 January the Chancellor announced that there would be further support worth £4.6 billion for businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sector that have been forced to close. This comes in the form of a new one-off grant, based on the rateable value of their non-domestic premises as follows:

– £4,000 for businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or under
– £6,000 for businesses with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000
– £9,000 for businesses with a rateable value of over £51,000

These grants follow substantially the same mechanics as the previous rates-based grants and will again be claimed via the Local Authority (LA) rather than Central Government. Businesses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be eligible. Details of the eligibility criteria for England can be found here. At the time of writing, many council websites simply contain a brief statement confirming the 5 January announcement, but with no facility to apply as yet. Potentially eligible businesses should check with their LA and ask how to be kept up to date as to when they will be able to apply.

Travel restrictions

Following the emergence of yet another variant of the virus, the UK’s travel corridors were suspended from 4am on 18 January 2021. Now, anyone arriving into England or Scotland from outside the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man or Channel Islands will need to self-isolate for 10 days and have a valid negative Covid-19 test taken in the three days prior to the travel commencing. Failure to provide proof of a valid negative test could mean a fine of £500 is imposed.

In Wales, the position appears to be less stringent. A negative test is required to travel to Wales, but it appears from the Welsh Government’s published guidance that travellers coming from the countries listed on the exempt list do not need to self-isolate if they have a valid negative test, as they do for England and Scotland. You can view the Welsh guidance here.

In other Covid-19 related news, HMRC has started writing to participants in the “eat out to help out” scheme that operated in August 2020 to check that claims were correct. Initially, this is an informal check but failure to respond to the letter within 60 days will probably lead to a formal compliance check, with penalties and interest charged where a claim is subsequently found to have been excessive.

Brexit

The other key announcement from late-December was the Trade and Cooperation Agreement reached by the EU and the UK, announced on 24 December. The main benefit of this deal is the welcome confirmation of zero tariffs or quotas on movements of goods between the UK and the EU. However, beyond that there was very little content that will impact businesses. The transitional period ended at 11pm on 31 December 2020, and the UK is now officially a “third country”. The changes to required VAT and customs procedures for ongoing EU trade should be adhered to.

HMRC has a handy “Brexit checker” that can help businesses narrow down exactly what new requirements need to followed. It is possible to use a customs agent to handle matters, and a list of these is available here.

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