In the words of the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson: “The coronavirus is the biggest threat this country has faced for decades.”

As we face this threat together, whilst thinking about those families affected by the disease and the frontline NHS staff, carers and volunteers working to keep us safe, it remains important to consider:

  • The key issues for you as an entrepreneur and business owner to minimise the impact of the virus on your business and to prepare it for life after the virus. We address these points in our “Covid-19 UK business owner dashboard”.
  • The economic support the UK. government has announced for British businesses and their staff.
  • A contingency plan for your personal wealth: while your attention is undoubtedly on your business, we would encourage you to consider your personal finances too.

The Covid-19 outbreak has had a sharp and dramatic economic impact on businesses around the world. Entrepreneurs and business owners are grappling with a range of challenges – from addressing the need to immediately implement business resilience contingency plans, to considering how to plan for a future recovery.

A systematic approach to this range of challenges is critical in order to work them through. We have identified five main areas business owners are focusing on (this list is by no means exhaustive):

  • Financial management
    • What is our cash position and how long will our reserves last?
    • What are our key performance indicators in this environment and how should we update and monitor them?
    • How can we defend our revenue or seek alternative sources of revenue?
    • Are our expenses under control and what needs to be reprioritised – operational and/or capital expenses?
  • Lending arrangements
    • Ongoing communication with lenders is key.
    • What do our loan documents say?
    • What existing credit facilities do we have or are there additional assets we could pledge to obtain additional capacity?
  • Operational and risk oversight
    • Monitoring and contingency planning for the health and safety of our workforce.
    • Business continuity where key members of staff are off sick.
    • Constant communication with management, key employees and staff.
    • What are our workforce requirements today and when business begins to return to normal?
    • Continue to guard against fraud and cyber fraud.
    • Review and assess existing insurance policies and what they cover.
  • Employee, customer and supplier connectivity
    • Communicate frequently and directly with customer and supplier base.
    • Supply chain management.
  • Look ahead to the recovery
    • What should we invest in today for the future?
    • Business transformation projects for a post-Covid-19 world.

At the same time as business owners are considering these key points, the UK government has announced a package of measures in an attempt to shore up those businesses, their employees and by extension the UK economy.

We have outlined below the key measures that impact our clients’ businesses. We encourage you to confirm your company’s eligibility for each element of the government relief package with your company’s independent legal advisors.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

One of the central pillars of the support package the government has announced is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“CJRS”).

All UK employers with a Pay As You Earn scheme set up by 28 February 2020 will be able to access the scheme.

Under the CJRS, where an employee has been furloughed by the employer, HMRC will:

  • reimburse the employer 80% of an employee’s base salary (excluding fees, commissions and bonuses);
  • up to £2,500 per month (plus employer National Insurance and the minimum auto-enrolment pension contribution).

Employers have the option to fund the additional 20% if they choose to do so.

“Furloughed employees” are those who have been asked by their employer to stop working, but who have been kept on their employer’s payroll. This period must be for a minimum of three weeks in order to qualify for the CJRS.  Employees can be furloughed if they were hired on or before 28 February 2020.

The period covered by the CJRS is from 1 March 2020. It will initially remain open for three months, but will be extended if necessary.

You can find further details on the CJRS and how to claim here:

www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

The other key pillar in the government’s range of measures is the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (“CBILS”).

The CBILS provides small and medium-sized business with access to loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5 million and for up to six years.

In addition, the government will make a Business Interruption Payment to cover the first 12 months of interest payments.

Finally, the government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan. The scheme is being delivered through commercial lenders, backed by the government-owned British Business Bank.

There are 40 accredited lenders able to offer the scheme, and you can find the list here:

www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme-cbils-2/current-accredited-lenders-and-partners/

You are eligible for the scheme if:

  • your business is UK based, with turnover of no more than £45 million per year, 50% or more of which is generated from trading activity; and
  • your business meets the other British Business Bank eligibility criteria.

You can find the British Business Bank eligibility criteria here:

www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme-cbils-2/for-businesses-and-advisors/

Covid Corporate Financing Facility

If you own a large firm that faces cash flow disruption as a consequence of Covid-19, the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (“CCFF”) is designed to support your business’s liquidity needs. Through the facility, the Bank of England is able to purchase your firm’s short-term debt.

Broadly speaking, those firms that will qualify will be those based in the UK making a significant contribution to the UK economy and that can demonstrate they were in good financial health before the outbreak of Covid-19.

You can find more information about this scheme here:

www.bankofengland.co.uk/news/2020/march/the-covid-corporate-financing-facility

Statutory Sick Pay for SMEs

UK-based employers with fewer than 250 employees (as of 28 February 2020) will be eligible for a refund of up to two weeks’ Statutory Sick Pay (“SSP”) per eligible employee who has been off work because of Covid-19. This applies from day one of the employee’s sickness or where an employee cannot work due to their household isolating.

This rebate is available for SSP relating to Covid-19 from 13 March 2020.

Your company should maintain clear records of your employees’ sickness and any SSP paid.

Employees will not need a “fit note” from their GP in order for your business to make this claim. Your company should maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP.

The government will announce the mechanism you will need to use to reclaim these SSP payments in due course.

Ban on evictions for commercial tenants who miss rent payments

If your business is struggling to pay commercial rent on property it occupies as a result of Covid-19, it will be protected from eviction. Your business will still have to pay the rent it owes in due course – this is not a rent holiday.

These measures are in force up to 30 June 2020 (with flexibility for the government to extend this period), and mean that no business will automatically forfeit its lease if they miss a payment up until that date.

Business rates holiday and cash grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses

If your business is based in England and is in the retail, hospitality and/or leisure sector, you will be eligible for a business rate holiday on occupied properties that are wholly or mainly being used:

  • as shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas and live music venues;
  • for assembly and leisure; or
  • for hospitality, as hotels, guest and boarding premises or self-catering accommodation.

This business rate holiday applies from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021.

You can find more information on eligibility in the Expanded Retail Discount 2020–2021 guidance document here:

www.gov.uk/government/publications/business-rates-retail-discount-guidance

In addition, cash grants of up to £25,000 per property may be available under the Retail and Hospitality Grant Scheme. You do not need to do anything – your Local Authority will write to you if you are eligible for this grant.

Support for businesses that pay little or no business rates

Additional support is being provided by central government to local authorities under the Small Business Grant Scheme to help small businesses that already pay little to no business rates as a result of small business rate relief, rural rate relief and tapered relief.

This additional support will provide a one-off grant of £10,000 to eligible businesses to help meet their ongoing business costs.

You are eligible if:

  • your business is based in England;
  • you are a business that occupies property; and
  • you are receiving small business rate relief or rural rate relief as of 11 March 2020.

Your local authority will write to you if you are eligible for this grant.

Deferral of VAT

UK VAT registered businesses with a VAT payment due between 20 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 have the option to defer the payment until a later date.

If your business chooses to defer its VAT due between these dates, it must be paid on or before 31 March 2021.

You do not need to inform HMRC that you will be deferring your VAT payment and HMRC will not charge interest or penalties on any amount deferred under this scheme.

If your company normally pays its VAT by Direct Debit, you should contact the company’s bank to cancel this to avoid making a payment you did not intend to.

You can find more details about the VAT deferral scheme here:

www.gov.uk/guidance/deferral-of-vat-payments-due-to-coronavirus-covid-19

Time to pay arrangements

If your business has outstanding tax liabilities, it may be eligible to receive support from HMRC with a payment plan. In order to access this help, your business should contact HMRC to discuss its circumstances and liabilities.

Statutory Accounts Filing Extensions

From 25 March 2020, businesses impacted by Covid-19 can apply for an extension of three months to the filing deadline for their statutory accounts at Companies House.

Holiday carry forward increased

Employees who are unable to take their full annual leave entitlement due to Covid-19 crisis will be able to carry forward up to four weeks of unused holiday into the next two annual leave entitlement years.

Annual General Meetings

Those businesses that are required to hold Annual General Meetings will, in due course, be able to hold these meetings online, by phone or by using proxy-voting.

Contingency plan for your personal wealth

These unprecedented circumstances are also creating a vital need to review family wealth plans. Based on our recent conversations with clients, here are some of the questions you might like to consider:

  • Is there anything in your family wealth plan that you have been meaning to change? Are all your documents, such as wills, up to date?
  • Have you empowered the right people (family and non-family) to make decisions about your financial assets in case you are temporarily unable to act? Are they truly informed about your family’s overall wealth and financial objectives? Do they have the right experience to make investment decisions?
  • Considering the current economic stresses on the financial system, are all your counterparties safe custodians of your assets?
  • Do the current valuations of the different types of assets you hold have an impact on your plans?
  • Should you take advantage of low asset values to make gifts, or transfer assets to a structure?
  • Due to the travel restrictions in force, are you or any family members having to spend more time in some countries, which could result in unforeseen tax consequences?

If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of the topics raised in this note, please do not hesitate to reach out to your J.P. Morgan representative.

This material is distributed with the understanding that it is not rendering accounting, legal or tax advice. Consult your legal or tax advisor concerning such matters. For a complete discussion of risks associated with any investment, please review offering memorandum and speak with your J.P. Morgan Advisor. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and its subsidiaries do not render accounting, legal or tax advice.

 

1 www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-address-to-the-nation-on-coronavirus-23-march-2020

 

The information contained in this note is up to date as at 2 April 2020.