Governmental Measures to Support SMEs Affected by COVID-19

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and its subsequent economic impact, the UK government issued a number of measures to support affected businesses. Read more about the different financial measures taken by the government below. The government has also launched a central website for businesses impacted by COVID-19 to help them find the right support and advice they need.

If you need help in determining what kind of financial support is right for you, try the Government’s new support finder tool.

 

Deferral of VAT and Income Tax payments

The government has announced VAT payments have been deferred for 3 months (20th March – 30th June). This is estimated to inject £30bn back into UK businesses. f you choose to defer your VAT payment, you must pay the VAT due on or before 31st March 2021.

At this time, Government has said that all the VAT payments due following the end of the deferral period will have to be paid as normal.

All UK VAT registered business are eligible to defer their next VAT payment.

For support with PAYE & Corporation Tax payments, you must still contact HMRC. Please ask your main contact at Goodwille to handle this for you if required.

No applications are required and you do not need to tell HMRC that you are deferring your VAT payment. However, note that if you normally pay by Direct Debit you should contact your bank to cancel your Direct Debit as soon as you can.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers’ wages, up to a cap of £2,500 per month, under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. All UK employers will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.

On  12th May, the government announced that the scheme will be extended until the end of October.

This is open to all UK businesses, and the employee must be on the PAYE scheme. The employee must remain employed by the company, but not undertaking any work. Previously employees had to be on the scheme by the 28th February, but this has since been extended to the 19th March.

The online service is now live and open for applications. We have written a separate article, which will give you more detailed guidance on the scheme and how you can submit a claim. Please see it here.

HMRC’s Time To Pay service

All businesses and self-employed individuals who are struggling to pay their PAYEVAT or Corporation Tax due to COVID-19, may be able to receive support via the HMRC ‘Time-To-Pay’ Scheme.

You are eligible if your business:

  • pays tax to the UK government
  • has outstanding tax liabilities

However, please note that businesses do not automatically qualify for the scheme, but instead, the need for support will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and will be tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities.

If you feel you cannot pay your tax bill due to COVID-19, please request that your Goodwille contact calls HMRC as soon as possible to avoid any penalties due to late payments.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) Scheme

SMEs with up to 250 employees will be subject to a Statutory Sick Pay relief for absence due to COVID-19 (either because they have coronavirus or self isolating due to suspected coronavirus), meaning they are able to reclaim sick pay (at SSP rate) for up to 2 weeks per employee. Worth to mention is that SSP will be paid day 1 of those affected by Coronavirus, rather than day 4.

All employers based in the UK and who have fewer than 250 employees (as of 28 February 2020) can claim for an employee who’s eligible for sick pay due to coronavirus. In addition, you must have had a PAYE payroll scheme in place on or before 28 February 2020.

You can make the claim for the following reasons:

  • 13 March 2020 – if your employee had coronavirus or the symptoms or is self-isolating because someone they live with has symptoms
  • 16 April 2020 – if your employee was shielding because of coronavirus

If your employee has COVID-19 or is advised to stay at home, they can get an ‘isolation note’ by visiting NHS 111 online, rather than visiting a doctor. For COVID-19 cases this replaces the usual need to provide a ‘fit note’ (sometimes called a ‘sick note’).

On 19 May, the government announced that the online claims service will launch on Tuesday 26 May. Please notify our Payroll Manager if you think this applies to any of your employees.

Please note that you must keep the below records for 3 years following your claim;

  • the reason why an employee could not work
  • details of each period when an employee could not work, including start and end dates
  • details of the SSP qualifying days when an employee could not work
  • National Insurance numbers of all employees who you have paid SSP to

Business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses

Government has announced a 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England. For additional support, please see the next section about available grants.

 

All businesses in the retail, hospitality and/or leisure sector, and based in England, are eligible for this scheme.

Properties that benefit from the scheme include those that are wholly or mainly used as:

  • as shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas and live music venues
  • for assembly and leisure (for example: a sports club, a gym or a spa)
  • as hotels, guest & boarding premises and self-catering accommodation

All businesses in the retail, hospitality and/or leisure sector, and based in England, will automatically qualify and do not need to take any action themselves. If your business has already received a bill showing a value, this will be reissued automatically by the local authorities. They will do this as soon as possible.

You can estimate the business rate relief using the business rates calculator.

If you’re not getting a relief you think you’re entitled to, contact your local council.

Grant Funding Scheme for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses (RHLG)

For businesses in the retail, hospitality or leisure sectors with a property that has a rateable value of up to £15,000, may be eligible for a cash grant of £10,000.

For businesses in the retail, hospitality or leisure sectors with a property that has a rateable value of over £15,00 and under £51,000, may be eligible for a cash grant of £25,000.

Businesses with a rateable value of £51,000 or over are not eligible for this scheme.

You are eligible for the grant if:

  • your business is based in England
  • your business is in the retail, hospitality and/or leisure sector
  • your business has a rateable value of under £51,000

Exclusion to RHLG:

  • Recipients cannot receive both SBGF and RHLG on the same property. (see the next section for SBGF)
  • Businesses which are not ratepayers in the business rates system are not included in this scheme.
  • As of 11 March your business was in liquidation or dissolved.

Properties that will benefit from the relief will be occupied hereditaments that are wholly or mainly being used:

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

Your local authority will write to you if you are eligible for this grant, you do not need to do anything. All communication should go through your local authority.

Grant Funding Scheme for small businesses ((SBGF)

For those businesses already in receipt of either Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) or Rural Rates Relief (RRR) in the business rates system will be eligible for a one-off grant of £10,000.

You are eligible if:

  • your business is based in England
  • you are a small business and already receive small business rate relief (SBBR) or rural rate relief (RRR)  as of 11 March
  • you are a business that occupies property

Eligible recipients will receive one grant per property.

Businesses which as of the 11 March were in liquidation or were dissolved will not be eligible.

 

You do not need to do anything. Guidance and funding for the schemes will be available to local authorities shortly who will contact businesses who are eligible.

Eviction of Commercial Tenants

Commercial tenants who cannot pay their rent because of COVID-19 will be protected from eviction. These measures will mean no business will automatically forfeit their lease and be forced out of their premises if they miss a payment up until 30 June. This is not a rental holiday. All commercial tenants will still be liable for the rent.

All commercial tenants are eligible.

As a tenant you are protected from eviction, but you do still have to pay the rent. You should contact your landlord to discuss arrangements if you are struggling to pay your commercial rent. The change will come into force when the Coronavirus Bill receives Royal Assent. No action is required.

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS)

In order to ensure continuous financing support for SMEs during critical times, the British Business bank have guaranteed an 80% payback to lenders of SMEs financially affected by the outbreak. The government will also cover interest rates and any lender-levied fees for the first 12 months so businesses will benefit from no upfront costs and lower initial repayments.

Various type of business financial facilities are supported under the CBILS scheme, including:

  • Term loans
  • Overdrafts
  • Asset finance
  • Invoice finance

 The scheme is available through more than 40 accredited lenders, which are listed on the British Business Bank website.

The criteria for the scheme was changed on the 2nd April, following the banks rejecting a large number of loan requests. The loans have been made more accessible for smaller businesses. This scheme was set up to help any viable business with turnover of no more than £45 million per year.

Changes as of the 2nd April

  • Applications will not be limited to businesses that have been refused a loan on commercial terms, extending the number who benefit. However, the Treasury has not capped the interest rates banks can charge.
  • Banks will be banned from asking company owners to guarantee loans with their own savings or property when borrowing up to £250,000
  • Larger firms with a turnover of up to £500m will also be eligible for more help – with state-backed loans of up to £25m available to firms with revenues of between £45m-500m.
    source: bbc.co.uk

However, to be eligible, you still need to show that your business:

  • would be viable were it not for the pandemic
  • has been adversely impacted by the coronavirus

For detailed eligibility criteria:

CBILS is available through the British Business Bank’s 40+ accredited lenders – see the full list here.

Businesses should first approach their own provider (preferably via the lender’s website) but may consider approaching other lenders as well if they are not able to acceess the finance they need.  For more information on how to access the scheme,  please visit the Brisith Business Bank’s website.

New Future Fund For Startups

On April 20, the government unveiled plans to launch a new “Future Fund” for startups and has initially promised £250 million towards the £500 million fund, while the other half will come from the private sector. This means that the scheme will operate on a match funding basis and to unlock the investment from the government (ranging from £125,000 to £5m), the startup needs to secure an equal or greater amount of funds from private investors. Investment through the scheme will come in the form of a convertible loan note. This may be a good option for you if you rely on equity investment and can’t access the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

The fund is expected to be launched in May and will initially be open for applications until the end of September.

You are eligible if:

  • your business is an unlisted UK registered company
  • you have raised at least £250,000 in equity investment from private, third party investors in the last five years
  • you can attract the equivalent match funding from third-party private investors and institutions

The government will publish the full eligibility criteria shortly.

The Future Fund is expected to be launched in May 2020. We will update this section once new information becomes available.

Read the Future Fund headline terms HERE

Bounce Back Loan Scheme for SMEs (BBLS)

The Bounce Back Loan scheme is aimed at smaller businesses and will enable them to borrow of up to 25% of their annual turnover, up to a maximum of £50,000. Under this new scheme (launched on May 4), the firms are expected to get the cash “within days” after applying.  The government will guarantee 100% of the loan as well as pay the interest on the loan and any associated fees for the first 12 months. After 12 months the interest rate will be 2.5% a year.

The scheme is delivered through a network of accredited lenders.  Loan terms will be up to 6 years but you can repay early without paying a fee. If one lender turns you down, you can apply to other lenders in the scheme.

You are eligible if:

  • you are a UK based business
  • your business was established before 1 March 2020
  • your business has been negatively affected specifically by the coronavirus crisis and was not an ‘undertaking in difficulty’ on 31 December 2019

At this stage, there hasn’t been any clear definition of what “undertaking in difficulty” means but it is likely to mirror the viability test which applies to the CBILS. If a business was struggling to meet its financial obligations before the outbreak of COVID-19, they may be excluded from the BBLS scheme.

You cannot apply if you are:

  • a bank, insurer or reinsurer (but not insurance brokers)
  • a public-sector body
  • a state-funded primary or secondary school

Note that you also can’t apply for this scheme if you are already claiming under:

However, if you would like to transfer a loan (of up to £50 000) you received under CBILS into the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, you can arrange this with your lender until 4 November 2020.

There are 11 lenders participating in the scheme including many of the main retail banks. You should approach a suitable lender yourself via the lender’s website.

The lender will ask you to fill in a short online application form and self-declare that you are eligible.

The lender will decide whether to offer you a loan or another type of finance and you’ll be responsible for repaying 100% of the amount borrowed.

Find a lender here.

 

COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility

HM Treasury and the Bank of England have launched a Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) to provide additional help to businesses who experience disruptions to their cash flows as a result of COVID-19. The CCFF will provide funding to businesses by purchasing commercial paper of up to one-year maturity, issued by firms making a material contribution to the UK economy. It will help businesses across a range of sectors to pay salaries, rents and suppliers.

The scheme is operated by the Bank and will run for at least 12 months.

All UK non-financial businesses that meet the criteria set out on the Bank of England’s website are eligible.

For more information on how to access the scheme,  please see the Bank’s website  as well as this page for contact details.

How We Can Help 

At Goodwille, we will keep monitoring the current situation and governmental advice regarding COVID-19, regularly updating this post. Once additional information is announced regarding how and when to apply for the grants and reliefs as described above, we will make sure to keep you updated, and support you throughout the application process.

We encourage our clients, as well as other businesses, to get in touch with our team in case you have any questions or concerns regarding your UK operations and the implications of COVID-19.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is an initiative open to all UK employers with a PAYE scheme in place for the employees. The scheme will keep employees employed by their employer but they must not undertake any work.  The government will cover 80% of furloughed workers’ wages, up to £2,500 a month. Read more about the qualifying criteria, and how it may benefit your UK business.

The government has also published a step by step guide for claiming your employees’ wages through the CJRS, which can be accessed here.

The Scheme

Employers are able to claim back 80% of furloughed workers wages, limited to £2,500 per month and employee. Additionally, the employer can claim for associated Employer National Insurance contributions (NIC) and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions. Fees, commission and bonuses should not be included. Employees must be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks.

The government initially said that the scheme will remain open for a minimum of three months but the deadline has now been extended in its current form until end of July.

On 12th May, it was announced by the Chancellor that the scheme will remain open until the end of October, though under different circumstances. From the start of August, furloughed workers will be able to return to work part-time and employers will be expected to pay a percentage towards the furloughed staff’s salaries. These contributions will partly replace those made by the government, thus ensuring that employees will continue to receive 80% of their salary, up to £2,500 a month.

The application portal went live on 20th April and can be accessed here.

All UK employers are eligible to apply for the scheme. This includes not only for-profit businesses, but also charities and recruitment agencies and public authorities. The scheme requires, however, that the organisation has a UK bank account and has started a PAYE payroll scheme prior to, or the day of, 19th March. In addition, you need to be enrolled for PAYE online (this can take up to 10 days).

 

About The Employees

Any type of employment is eligible, though the furloughed employees must have been on the PAYE payroll prior to, or on the day of, 19 March 2020. The employee cannot undertake any work for the organisation, thus, the scheme does not cover employees who are working on reduced hours or reduced salary contracts due to the current crisis.

Examples of type of employees you can claim for:

  • Full-time employees
  • Part time employees
  • Employees on agency contracts
  • Employees on flexible or zero-hour contracts
  • Rehired employees who were made redundant since 28 February.

Foreign nationals are also eligible to be furloughed.

Please see more detailed guidance on different types of employees on this page.

No, employers are not enforced to furlough all employees. When choosing who to furlough, the usual equality and discrimination laws will apply.

The government recommends that any changes made to employment contracts should be discussed and done in consent with employees.

Short term illness/ self-isolation should not be a consideration in deciding whether to furlough an employee. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is not intended for short-term absences from work due to sickness, and there is a 3 week minimum furlough period.

If, however, employers want to furlough employees for business reasons and they are currently off sick, they are eligible to do so, as with other employees. In these cases, the employee should no longer receive sick pay and would be classified as a furloughed employee.

Calculating the Claim

You are entitled to claim 80% of the employee’s salary before tax as of 28 February, non-inclusive of fees, commission and bonuses and with a maximum amount of £2,500. See detailed guidance on how to calculate the wages here.

National Insurance and Pension Contributions

You are also entitled to claiming back the associated NIC and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions from the HMRC, both which you are still liable to pay. Note that you cannot claim for:

  • additional National Insurance or pension contributions you make because you chose to top up your employee’s salary
  • any pension contributions you make that are above the mandatory employer contribution

The calculation differs depending on how long the employee has been employed.

Employees whose pay varies and were employed from 6 April 2019

If the employee has been employed continuously from the start of the 2019 to 2020 tax year, you can claim the highest of either:

  • 80% of the same month’s wages from the previous year (up to a maximum of £2,500 a month)
  • 80% of the average monthly wages for the 2019 to 2020 tax year (up to a maximum of £2,500 a month)

Employees whose pay varies and who started employment after 6 April 2019

If the employee started their employment after 6 April 2019, claim for 80% of their average monthly wages since they started work until the date they are furloughed, up to a maximum of £2500 per month.

About Furloughed Employees

Yes, you may top up your employee’s salary if desired. Bear in mind, you will also have to pay for NIC and pension contributions for the top-up amount, which you will not be able to claim back.

No. According to the scheme, no one can be furloughed or claimed for unless they are on the PAYE payroll scheme before or on the day of 19 March.

Yes, as long if they do not do any type of work to generate revenue for, or on behalf of, the organisation.

Furloughed employees have the same right as they did before, including SSP, maternity rights and rights against unfair dismissal. Depending on the outcome, the right to redundancy payments could be particularly important ones the government ends the scheme.

This does not affect your claim – an employee can be furloughed for each job separately.

Claiming with HMRC & End of Scheme

To make a claim, you will need:

  • to be registered for PAYE online
  • your UK bank account number and sort code
  • your employer PAYE scheme reference number
  • the number of employees being furloughed
  • each employee’s National Insurance number
  • each employee’s payroll or employee number (optional)
  • the start date and end date of the claim
  • the full amount you’re claiming for including employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum pension contributions
  • your phone number
  • contact name

You also need to provide either:

  • your name (or the employer’s name if you’re an agent)
  • your Corporation Tax unique taxpayer reference
  • your Self Assessment unique taxpayer reference
  • your company registration number

See more details here.

As long as you are eligible for the grant, the HMRC will pay it directly to your UK bank account. (within 6 working days of submitting the claim). The amount must then be transferred directly to your employee. You may not deduct any fees from the grant.

Once you’ve claimed, make sure you:

  • keep a copy of all records, including:
    • the amount claimed and claim period for each employee
    • the claim reference number for your records
    • your calculations in case HMRC need more information about your claim
  • tell your employees that you have made a claim and that they do not need to take any more action
  • pay your employee their wages, if you have not already

When the scheme ends, the employee can return to normal duties, or, it may be necessary to consider redundancy. The normal procedures for terminations must then be followed.

How We Can Help 

At Goodwille, we will keep monitoring the current situation and governmental advice regarding COVID-19, regularly updating our blog If any additional information is announced regarding the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme we will notify you, and support you throughout the application process.

We encourage our clients, as well as other businesses, to get in touch with our team in case you have any questions or concerns regarding your UK operations and the implications of COVID-19.

COVID-19 Guide – Managing Employee Absence

Social distancing and inability to work from home in combination with business closures, have led to a great deal of employee absence from work. Further, employers have a duty of care towards their employees which includes not exposing them to unnecessary risk. In this case, that may mean encouraging absence.

As a result, the UK government and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) have announced temporary directives and guidelines for employers to cope with employee absence in connection with COVID-19. In order for employees to know how to communicate with their employees, we have outlined and categorised the different directives below.

Care of dependants

As of Friday 20 March, all schools, including private schools, further education colleges, sixth-form colleges and early-years care providers, will be closed until further notice. This means a great deal of working parents will be unable to work in order to care for their dependents. Normally, individuals might leave their children with the grandparents in order to continue working as usual. However – since elderly have been instructed with further social distancing measures by the government, this might not be an option either.

The right to take time off to care for a dependant is intended for emergencies only and it is up to the employer to decide whether to allow it, though the employee can subsequently make a complaint to the employment tribunal if he/she feels unfairly refused time off.

What are your options?

Employees are entitled to a reasonable amount of time off for dependants in an unexpected event or emergency, which could apply to the current situation. A reasonable amount differs depending on the situation, but for cases in connection to Covid-19, this time frame is likely to be extended.

An employer does not have to pay for this type of time off unless stated so in the employment contract or workplace policy. First and foremost, contracts must therefore be reviewed before considering what type and duration of leave is suitable. Eventually, other arrangements might be sought in consent between the employer and employee, such as taking annual leave. Our HR team can advise you in what type leave is suitable for your situation.

If the employee has to care for a dependant with coronavirus symptoms, the employee is entitled to Statutory Sick Pay as a minimum.

Self-isolation

What does the government say?

Everyone showing symptoms of COVID-19 are advised to self-isolate for 7 days. If someone within the household has tested positive for the virus, everyone must self-isolate for 14 days. If a member of a self-isolating household was not showing symptoms during this 14 day period of self-isolation, however, they develop symptoms during this time, they must ensure that they self-isolate for 7 days from when their symptoms started, i.e. if they become ill on day 10 of the 14 day isolation, they must self-isolate for a further 7 days from the start of their symptoms.

Those individuals who qualify as vulnerable, meaning they have an increased risk of severe illness, should be practising social distancing for a 12 week period. Among these groups are pregnant women, people with long-term health conditions and/or weakened immune system, and those who care for someone with such a health condition.

According to UK law, employees do not have to show proof of illness within their first seven days. After that it is up to the discretion of the employer, though the government has advised employers to loosen their constraints on showing evidence of illness.

What are my options?

If the employee feels fit to work, they should be given the opportunity to work from home whenever possible. This also means the employee should be paid their normal salary. If the employee is too sick to work, he/she is entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (see below). In some cases, the employee might wish to take paid annual leave rather than sick pay, though employers cannot enforce them to do so.

Statutory Sick Pay

Statutory Sick Pay is a minimum level of pay during illness, which employers are liable to pay at a rate of £94.25 per week. This is only available for employees with an average weekly earning above £118.

From 13 March, employers must pay SSP from day 1 of self-isolation on the basis of the advice published by Public Health England. For cases related to COVID-19, small and medium sized businesses with less than 250 employees will be able to reclaim SSP for a minimum of 2 weeks per employee. This regulation does not apply to those able to work from home.

Who is entitled to SSP?

Employees and workers who need to self-isolate because

  • They have coronavirus
  • They have coronavirus symptoms
  • Someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms
  • They have been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111

Employees who are stuck abroad

What does the government say?

The UK government has advised all non-essential travel for British people worldwide, announced on 17 March and effective for the upcoming 30 days. The pandemic has caused many international borders to close and cancelling of flights. For British people already abroad, they should listen to local authorities and follow the Foreign travel advice of their country. 23 March, the Foreign Minister further advised all British travellers to come back to the UK as soon as possible.

What are my options?

Assuming the employer has unsuccessfully tried to find ways of getting back in the country, there are number of ways to cope with the situation. In agreement with the employee, you can use their annual leave, depending on the length of the absence and their remaining holiday. If you’re able to give them the required notice, which is twice the duration as the actual time off, you may also enforce annual leave. There is also the solution of working remotely, though the employee may not insist this if it is not a viable solution.

In these extreme cases, finding other solutions by negotiating with the employee might be the answer. He/she might be open to a period of unpaid leave, use banked time off in lieu, or agree to any other type of appropriate leave.

If you’re unsure of what type of leave is appropriate, or you need a middle hand in negotiations between employer and employee, our HR department is here to help.

Employees who do not want to go to work

Some employees might feel emotional distress about coming to work due to the risk of catching the virus. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has advised employers to listen to their employee’s concerns and take necessary steps to protect everyone.

What are my options?

If the employee is unable to work from home, the employer can suggest arrangements to meet the concerns of their employees, such as offering a taxi to avoid using public transport or flexible working hours.

If a worker is still unwilling to go to work because of COVID-19, the individual can suggestively take annual leave if they give sufficient notice. We suggest, the employer tries to meet the needs of the employee to their best abilities. If unsuccessful, it is implied by employment contracts that non-valid reasons for refusing to attend work, however, can lead to disciplinary action.

What about if I need to close the workplace?

As of 23 March, the UK government have instructed all non-essential businesses and premises to shut down. For businesses suffering due to COVID-19, the UK government has launched a number of financial measures for businesses to avoid unemployment. Our HR team has also given their advice on how to cope with the sudden downturn.

For many, this is a difficult time with emotional distress and fear. As an employer it is important to maintain communication with the employees and make sure they know how to get I touch with their employer when needed. In line with recommendations from ACAS, we advise all employers to regularly check in on their employee’s health and wellbeing.

How can Goodwille help?

Goodwille’s HR team are here to answer your questions in these continuously changing and critical times. Employment matters in regards to COVID-19 where we can assist include:

  • Oversee employment contract and workplace policies
  • Recommendations in your available options in terms of governmental support as well as restructuring of employees
  • Advice and support in employee communication

Do not hesitate to get in touch with our HR team with any further questions or concerns.

Business Guide: HR Support During COVID-19

We are experiencing critical times. International borders are closing, businesses shut down – it is needless to say both employers and employees are concerned about how the COVID-19 virus will affect their work, their health, and the people around them.

To minimise both the mental distress and economic impact of this pandemic, our HR department is here to support and guide our clients through these tough times. In combination with the financial measures taken by the government, we are hoping to significantly reduce the negative consequences that this pandemic has had, and will have, on your business.

Cutting costs during downturn in work

During financially critical times, business will suffer. In combination with the government’s latest instruction of closing down all commercial businesses apart from essential services, this has entailed a large number of employers who are unable to provide their employees with work as normal.

When employers choose to close the workplace, workers are entitled to payment unless it is stated otherwise in the employment contract. In other words – if you are finding a downturn in business and you decide that you do not want your employees to work/there is no work for them to do and they are not sick – i.e. this is not a case of self-isolation or employees having symptoms – then you will need to pay them their contractual hours. If not, you are in breach of contract.

What are my options?

In case there is no work to do, businesses might have no option but to consider redundancies. On 20 March, Chancellor Rihi Sunak announced a coronavirus job retention scheme – a support package open to all UK businesses in order to protect millions of jobs during the temporary downturn in work caused by COVID-19. The scheme includes grants to cover 80% of worker’s wages limited to £2,500 per month, in the case where they would otherwise be laid off/made redundant. Additional information about the scheme, qualifying criteria and how to apply, is available in our blog post.

Employers who find themselves in a situation where they “only” have to reduce the work hours for employees, thus, there is still work for them to do, they would not qualify for the scheme as it is not a redundancy scenario. The employer will then have to look at other options.

Unpaid time off: As an employer, you may not insist on your employees taking unpaid time off unless it states so in the employment contract, which is fairly unusual. Given the current extraordinary situation, you could consult with your staff. For some employees, a period of unpaid time off might be preferable rather than losing their job completely.

Thus, unpaid time off can be given in consent with the employee. With the new wage package rescue plan (see below), this could be a particularly beneficial solution for employers within the applicable industries.

Negotiate reduced hours: Similarly as negotiating unpaid time off, this will have to be done in consent with the employee(s).

Request annual leave: The general rule is that you may require an employee to take time off as holiday, though you must give a notice twice as long as the actual holiday.

Governmental financial support: There has been announced a number of measures taken by the government to support UK businesses during these critical times, especially put in place for the survival of SMEs and to avoid mass unemployment. We continuously update our blog with the latest announcements from the government, how and when to apply for grants and loan schemes. By securing any of them, reducing staff could be avoided.

Our HR team can advise you in what option is best suitable with your current situation and future aspirations in mind. When needed, we assist in contract reviewal, restructuring of employees and potential negotiations. We will, of course, always base our advise on the latest guidelines from the government and the ACAS and thereby ensuring compliance.

Communication is key!

With the majority of the workforce working from home due to travel restrictions and social distancing measures, communicating with your employees might not come as naturally as when you constantly bump into each other in the office. This time might also be a period of emotional distress and fear amongst employees, which makes continuous communication even more important.

Frequently checking in on your employees and informing them about expectations and precautions taken in terms of COVID-19 can be reassuring and affect employee’s mental health positively. Further, it is important to pay additional attention and take extra steps for those employees belonging to a vulnerable group.

Goodwille HR can support your internal communication in connection to COVID-19 – how to communicate with employees, the latest governmental guidelines and provide with templates for employee letters.

10 Fun Things You Can Do In 30 Minutes (When You Are Locked Indoors)

As a result of COVID-19, and with an increased number of people now working from home, we want to share some fun things you can do to make sure you have the break you deserve, spend the time wisely and don’t get caught up with “working lunches”.

If working 9 – 5 is your thing, then you are probably used to a 30 minute break, so here is Goodwille’s list of “Fun things you can do in 30 minutes”, which doesn’t involve scrolling social media, watching television, or reading about the end of the world.

10 – Take Up Doodling

Whether you think you’re creative or not, everyone loves to doodle. You don’t have to be the next Picasso to put pen to paper, but if you are, then get out the pens, the paper, the apron, easel, the lot. Doodling, drawing, sketching or painting is a great way to switch off, and who knows, you might just find your hidden talent.

9 – Reorganise the Freezer

It might not sound fun, but nothing will make you happier than being able to open the freezer drawer smoothly. Pop a clip on the frozen peas, throw out any of the old stuff, and relax into your afternoon knowing that opening the freezer drawers will be smoother than a warm knife cutting through butter.

8 – Make Time For The People You Care About

Whether they live with you, or if you call them via Facetime, now is a perfect time to connect and make time to speak to your nearest and dearest, as the likelihood is, they also have time on their hands, and they are probably missing you. Take the time to reconnect with the people you’ve been meaning to speak to.   

7 – Read A Book

Get engrossed in something that isn’t the latest Netflix series and let the imagination run wild with a good book. Get a selection of the bestsellers delivered to your door (contactless delivery preferable), then throw yourself on the sofa, relax and find a book that you just can’t put down!

6 – Start Puzzling

Pick up a 500 piece puzzle, or if you have plenty of time, try a 1,000 piece one. I guarantee everyone will say ‘what have you bought that for’, but once you get started, they won’t be able to stay away. You’ll find them bringing you hot drinks unexpectedly, just so they can smugly slot in another piece! It’s a great way to bring everyone you live with together.

5 – Start Cooking Quick & Easy Meals

The internet is full of quick and easy meals, and it will give you chance to use up many things that are left over in the cupboards. If you’re used to grabbing sandwiches and a packet of crisps, now’s your chance to expand your horizons and enjoy something a little more, let’s say, exciting?

4 – Learn Something New

There has not been a better time to learn something new than now! Get online and buy whatever it is you’ve been thinking about learning. Whether it be an electric guitar, a digeridoo or learning a new language, you’ll have some spare time on your hands right now and for the foreseeable future. Kick back, relax and start teaching your brain something that you’ve always only dreamt about learning.  

3 – Pet Your Dog

Possibly the easiest one on the list, if you have a dog that is. But if you do, pick them up, tell him he’s a good boy, cuddle him, whisper in his ear and tell him how much you love working at home with him. Tickle his tummy, feed him treats, get him to do tricks, and tell him again how much you love him. Spend 5 minutes chasing him round the house and he will love you forever. Warning: This is possibly the easiest way to spend 30minutes. Keep track of time here!

2 – Exercise, or Take Up Yoga

Switching off is important when you’re stuck indoors, and exercising is a great way to do it. Houses are often full of sweet temptations, and we have no doubt that your stepometer is not what it used to be. Download an exercise or yoga app and find the inner fitness freak that’s been waiting to break free for years.

1 – Research Things To Do When You’re Allowed Back Out

Whilst many of us are disappointed that we have had our holidays & summer plans cancelled unexpectedly, there is no better time to start planning and dreaming about that break, for when you are allowed back out. Start thinking about the new you and look at things you might not otherwise have considered. Jump out of a plane, get muddy at a festival and start planning life after COVID-19.

When working from home it’s important that you take time away from the screen, so we hope you enjoy our top 10 tips of things you can do during your breaks whilst working from home!

Coronavirus update: Message from our CEO

Dear Goodwille Community,

Due to the recent developments of COVID-19 and with the health of our employees, their family and the wider community in mind, as of this week all Goodwille employees will work from home, and the Goodwille offices will be temporarily closed until further notice.

I am confident that the Goodwille infrastructure which has enabled us to work remotely for many years will continue to work seamlessly, and this decision will not impact the delivery of work to your business. All channels through which you would normally contact the team, except in person, will remain operational.

Whilst there remains a significant amount of uncertainty around the impact Coronavirus will have on businesses, both large and small, I want to reassure you that we will support you through these challenging times and will keep you updated as government support becomes available. Our team’s knowledge of this topic is constantly expanding, and I would encourage you to engage with them if you have questions about how you can minimise the impact on your business.

Whilst I am confident the changes will have little to no impact on many of your businesses, we wanted to summarise some key points below:

Visitors & Communication

On Friday 13th March we closed our offices to visitors, and the offices will remain closed until further notice. For clients wanting to communicate face-to-face we encourage the use of Microsoft Teams in the meantime to liaise with Goodwille employees. All phone numbers (020 7795 8100 and 01926 405 511) will be answered as normal.

Virtual Office & Mail Handling Clients

Clients who have mail handling services, and specifically those who collect their mail from the London or Warwick reception, can expect their main contact to be in touch shortly to discuss alternative arrangements, which may involve mail scanning during this period. We are currently unable to allow the face-to-face collection of mail from our offices, nor the collection or delivery of parcels.

There will be no disruption at present where the mail received is acted upon by Goodwille (Corporate Legal, Finance etc). Clients with telephone answering services will not be affected by remote working.

Working from Home

As of Wednesday 18th March, all Goodwille employees will be home based until further notice. Whilst this should run seamlessly, the large number of people working remotely globally has already put pressures on some communication systems this week. We do not envisage this being an issue but would ask for some understanding should situations outside of our control occur.

Support & Advice

We remain committed to providing you the best level of service during these challenging times. If you are concerned or have any questions about how this may impact our ability to deliver work to you, please do not hesitate to contact me directly. If you require support around grants or funding available to SMEs, please read our post here or reach out directly to a member of our team.

We are committed to ensuring you receive the level of support your business needs during this challenging time,

Take care and stay safe
Alexander Goodwille,
CEO

Leading a remote team: 5 ways to keep employees engaged during the coronavirus outbreak

As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, businesses are rapidly implementing plans to follow government advice to enable millions of UK employees to work from home.

This enforced and accelerated change in the way we work brings fresh challenges for those managing a remote workforce. It may well change our working habits forever.

All UK firms sit somewhere on the homeworking spectrum. Some already have robust and well-tested office-less systems and many more have been incrementally planning towards remote working. But plenty of businesses are being forced to quickly adapt to this new and testing period of economic and social uncertainty. And that brings challenges for managers.

Here are Goodwille’s five top tips for anyone leading a team whose staff are now working from home.


1. Catch up frequently

They may be self-isolating but that doesn’t mean staff need to feel isolated. Email, telephone and apps such as Slack or Teams are great but regular digital “face-to-face” catch-ups are even better.

Your team needs to see you and you to see them. This could take the form of a regular series of one-to-one video calls, a team call or a combination of both.

It’s important that such contact is regular, predictable and structured to enable your staff to know that you’re in touch with them, listening and providing guidance. Also, offer an “open door” policy as you would in the office. You don’t have to be available all of the time but ensure staff have a way of reaching you to request a call back whenever required.


2. Offer a range of communication options

While email and text messages may be a quick fix which most employees are already familiar with, remote workers benefit from having a richer communication experience.

Video calls reduce the sense of isolation and are particularly useful for complex or sensitive conversations. Handling a performance issue through a ‘cold’ medium such as email can destroy morale for anyone working away from the office.

Video conferencing has many advantages for discussions between small teams of people allowing for visual cues in a more engaging manner than a telephone conference call.

For instances when quick collaboration and communication is more important than visual detail and in-depth discussion, team working apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Zoom are ideal.

Quickly establish norms and routines for when each tool will be used. For example, use video conferencing for daily check-ins. Email is great for communicating large amounts of information but instant messaging is better for anything urgent.


3. Focus on outcomes, not activity

It is not possible to manage every aspect of the work of an individual or team when everyone is in different locations. Concentrate on outcomes rather than how much activity is going on or the hours being worked.

Rather than micromanaging, and quantifying what is being done, realign your focus to measure accomplishments and progress towards goals. Adjust how you manage accordingly. Show that you’re supportive of what has been achieved rather than checking on progress and numbers.


4. Provide encouragement and emotional support

Particularly in the current context of the wider world, with 24-hour news updates on the progress of COVID-19, worries about personal health and that of others, it’s never been more important to acknowledge stress, listen to anxieties and empathise with your team.

An abrupt shift in the working environment, such as suddenly setting up to work from home, can exacerbate such emotions. Especially at this time.

Even a simple “how is home working going for you?” and a wider “how are you generally?” goes a long way – but listen carefully to the answer. Employees will soon suss that you weren’t really interested so briefly acknowledge and restate the response to indicate that you have understood. Let the staff member’s comments and concerns be the focus of the conversation rather than your own.


5. Make time for social interaction and some fun

Make the effort to structure some time for social interaction, and darn it, a little fun! After all, rarely is the physical office all “work, work, work” so why should the virtual one be?

It is important for staff who work remotely to interact on an informal basis, never more so for those who are so used to the chatter and interpersonal interaction of the workplace and who have been suddenly transitioned into remote working because of the coronavirus.

Leave some time at the beginning of team calls to catch-up on some non-work items. Encourage each member to speak and don’t just give them an update on your own family, what you had for lunch and what you’re watching on TV tonight.

Social interaction in a remote environment can feel forced, particularly at first, but persevere and your staff will begin to get used to it. Lighten the mood a little with a quiz and try tools like Kahoot! to encourage a little brain workout to alleviate stress.

Times are hard. Managing a team is hard. Managing a remote team during such unprecedented times is particularly hard. But adopting the right approach from the outset will reap rewards and establish the basis for successful remote working both now and in the future.

Coronavirus: 4 Tips for staying productive and motivated while working from home

Choosing to work from home and having no option due to COVID-19 restrictions are two very different things. Which is why there are now countless employees in the UK experiencing a wide range of emotions about being part of a ‘digital workplace’.

For some, it could be the realisation of a long-held ambition to work from home, with all the flexibility and self-management that brings. No distractions from office politics and no commute!

However, many others could be daunted if not distressed by suddenly being thrust into a dispersed team. Particularly if the shift to remote working came swiftly and ‘out of the blue’. Working from home is not everyone’s ideal scenario. Especially if you also now have bored children off school to distract you, and all the additional worries Coronavirus has whipped up.

So, here are some valuable tips on working from home, when the decision was not yours.


1. Set up your workspace

This first bit of home working advice could possibly be the most challenging, but important. Carve out an area that is your designated workstation.

Putting your laptop on the kitchen table amidst arts and crafts clutter or on your lap near the TV could provide too many temptations. Preferably, find a quiet corner of your bedroom, a section of your dining area, the spare room or even a cosy shed if you have one!

This gives you a way to transition between work and home life.


2. Organise your time

This is another way of making remote working seem more natural and palatable. Stick to your normal workday routine. If you normally start work at 9 am, then start then. If your first task at the office was always to put the kettle on, then do that!

Incidentally, if you didn’t go to work in pyjamas we suggest you don’t do that now either!

It’s all about training your brain to become ‘all business’, and getting ready to face your work tasks in the right frame of mind.

That needs to be maintained all day too, including avoiding social media or the television, which can eat into your productivity in an alarming fashion. If you use social media during breaks, close the tabs during your working blocks to avoid distractions. And make sure you complete your daily to-do-lists, or it will lead to a longer list tomorrow.


3. Take breaks

After saying that, another danger of remote working is letting your ‘to do’ list consume your whole day and evening. It’s hard to switch off when you have projects waiting for you on your device.

It’s important to maintain a work-life balance to stay fresh and well-rested. People find themselves to be more productive when working in longer blocks, without interruptions. Take scheduled short breaks to stretch, rehydrate and give your brain chance to ‘reboot’ – and, if you need to do the washing, do it in your breaks. If you are currently not allowed outdoors in your country due to restrictions, take time to exercise or read a book.


4. Take care of yourself

One of the reasons many people prefer to work in an office is because they enjoy the chance to collaborate and communicate in the ‘real’, not virtual, realm!

Remote working can lead to feelings of isolation and even loneliness. Or feeling out of the loop and underappreciated. Guard against this by using all communications channels available to you and checking in with your line manager frequently.

Don’t just share ‘data’ with your colleagues and supervisors either. Replicate the head office chat with some light-hearted social interaction online.

Most importantly of all, make sure you flag up when you are struggling with either work issues or more emotive areas. Your line manager is there to offer support and guidance, so don’t hesitate to ask for it. Address any roadblocks or pitfalls swiftly. If you need positive affirmation and reassurance, don’t hesitate to flag that up too!

Technology can be your friend, not just your taskmaster. There are various ways to set up video links, including conference calls that involve whole project teams scattered across multiple locations.

Who knows, you may enjoy working from home so much that being part of a digital workforce becomes preferable, not just acceptable!

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advice For Employers

Coronavirus (Covid-19) is a Global hot topic and understandably is causing a great deal of concern regarding how to contain the spread of the virus.

At this time, we are aware that Covid-19 was declared a Pandemic by the World Health Organization and the UK Government are meeting today to discuss the next phase of the plan to contain the spread of the virus for as long as possible. We do know that there is likely to be a spike in the number of people who become infected in the UK, however the UK government are looking to delay this as long as possible.

As a responsible Employer, you should be looking at ways to reduce the potential spread whilst best protecting the health and safety of your employees.

It is vital that you communicate with your employees to let them know when it is necessary to self-isolate (be that when they return from travels, when they come into contact with a coronavirus patient or they start to develop symptoms themselves). The list of countries on lockdown is changing continually, so you should stay alert and communicate changes.

Symptoms of Covid-19 are:

  • Cough
  • High Temperature (fever)
  • Shortness of breath

The symptoms are similar to cold or flu and are unlikely to be Covid-19 unless you have been in close contact with someone who has been confirmed to have the virus or have been to a country or area which is classed as being high risk in the last 14 days.

Protection

  • Simple hygiene measures like washing your hands with soap and water often, and avoiding people who are unwell, can help stop viruses like coronavirus spreading.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
  • Put used tissues in the bin straight away
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean

What can I do as an employer?

It is advisable to make sure that you have items like hand sanitisers and enough anti-bacterial soap in your office facilities. You may want to consider developing a temporary working from home policy for your employees, perhaps look at applying social distancing measures in the workplace and cancelling events/socialising where necessary.

Understandably many clients are concerned about the spread of Coronavirus, and the impact this may have on their business and employees. Goodwille are keeping up to date with the UK government plans, notably the potential for school closures and the cancellation of sporting events. Please do contact us if you need help regarding any of these matters and we will help you with your risk assessment, employee communication and application of appropriate measures.