COVID-19 Updates

ActSmart will be providing regular updates on the Coronavirus.

Watch this space for the latest information and advice tailored for retail businesses.

ActSmart have been working with partner members of the Independent Retailers Confederation (IRC) to bring you the most up to date retail focussed advice, particular credit is due to the Association of Convenience Stores, our leading IRC political advocacy partner, for their input.

 


Prime Minister' Press Conference

Published 2nd April 

The Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, led the press conference yesterday evening.

  • 152,979 people have now been tested, with 29,474 testing positive. 10,767 people have been admitted to hospital with COVID-19 symptoms. To date, 2,352 people have died, an increase of 563 - the highest daily rise in deaths so far.
  • The Government want to thank the thousands of businesses, large and small, which have worked with staff to ensure they are supported in the days and weeks ahead.
  • Mr Sharma stated that as businesses are doing all they can to support people, Government will continue to do all it can to support businesses. From today, businesses start benefitting from the previously announced £22bn of support in the form of grants and rate relief.
  • Mr Sharma said that to date, local authorities have now received more than £12bn, with the business secretary making clear that this money should get to businesses as soon as possible.
  • The Business Secretary also said that would be completely unacceptable for banks to unfairly refuse funds to good businesses in financial difficulty at this time.
  • In response to concerns from businesses, the Government are looking at ways to ensure that they can get the support they need. The Chancellor will be saying more on this in the coming days.

 


Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill

Published 1st April 

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill was formally introduced to the Scottish Parliament yesterday and will be debated by MSPs today. Most measures in the Bill will automatically expire after six months, if passed, and can be extended for a maximum of two further six month periods.

 


Daily Press Conference

Published 1st April 

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove MP gave yesterday's press conference. Here are the highlights:

  • Mr Gove updated on the latest figures on Covid-19. To date, 143,186 people have been tested, with 25,150 testing positive for Covid-19.
  • Yesterday there were 381 recorded deaths, taking the total number of deaths to 1,789.
  • Mr Gove also reinforced the importance of respecting social distancing guidelines to slow the spread of the virus.

 


Contactless Payment Limit Increases Today

Published 1st April

The limit on contactless payment is rising to £45 from today (April 1st) to enable more customers to use the facility. WHO and Government guidance suggests that people use contactless payment if they are able to, but stores should still accept cash and regular card payments from those who cannot use contactless payment. A poster for retailers asking customers to use contactless is available on our website here.

 


ActSmart supports Government's challenge to business insurers

Published 31st March

Government and business may have misjudged the potential access to cash support via business interruption insurance. It is a retrospective cover that may provide some interim payment towards costs, but only once there is clarity over the degree of the loss, but surety of its support would be enough to see many businesses through the crisis. 

Members of the Independent Retailers Confederation (IRC), initiated by ActSmart, are calling upon Government and insurance brokers to challenge policies where there is ambiguity. 

Let us know your experiences with BII by completing the online survey at indieretail.uk/business-interruption-insurance

For more information click here.

 


Supporting employees if your business is affected by COVID-19

Published 31st March

The Government has provided a YouTube video about the support available to help you and your staff during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 


 

Register for the next live webinar to get help with how you can support employees. 

This webinar provides an overview about the support available, including:

  • the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
  • refunding eligible Statutory Sick Pay costs
  • furloughed employees and more

 


Press Conference

Published 30th March

Yesterday evening's daily press conference was led by the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, Robert Jenrick, key highlights included:

  • Deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jenny Harries, said that the effectiveness of the current restrictions would be reviewed at the end of the original three-week period
  • Harries also stated that the lockdown in the UK to try to slow the spread of coronavirus could go on for six months and the country may not return to its normal way of life until the autumn
  • Boris Johnson is still in isolation in No 11 Downing Street after testing positive for coronavirus

 


Deferral of VAT payments as a result of COVID-19

Published 27th March

UK VAT registered business with VAT payments due between 20 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 have the option to defer the payment until a later date or pay the VAT due as normal.

For more information click here

 


Job Retention Scheme guidance published

Published 27th March

The new guidance for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was published yesterday evening.

The temporary scheme is open to all UK employers for at least three months starting from 1 March 2020. It is designed to support employers whose operations have been severely affected by coronavirus (COVID-19).

For more information click here.

 


Prime Minister's Press Conference

Published 27th March

Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, led the press conference yesterday evening and confirmed:

  • The government will pay self-employed a taxable grant worth 80% of average income, up to £2,500 a month
  • This will be calculated using average monthly profits over last three financial years.
  • Self Employed people will be able to access the support by the beginning of June
  • The support will be limited up to £50k of trading profits and people who make the majority of their income from self-employment


Government measures to support businesses

Published 27th March

IRC member ACS has updated and consolidated advice on compensatory measures and employer support available here.
Information is provided on the following measures:

• Business rates expanded retail discount
• Grants: retail and hospitality grant scheme and small business grant funding
• Tax support: deferred VAT payments, HMRC Time to Pay service and extension for filing accounts with Companies House
• Clarity on insurance claims
• COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility
• Coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme
• Commercial Renter Protection
• Critical workers
• Support for employers: coronavirus job retention scheme, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and selfisolation
• Colleague safety: hygiene & social distancing practices and violence & abuse
• Sources of new temporary colleagues
• Rapid induction
 


Coronavirus Act

Published 27th March

The Coronavirus Act has now become law Parliament is now in early recess until 21st April to restrict the spread of COVID-19.

The powers of the Act are time-limited for two years and the Government must publish a report every two months on the use of non-devolved aspects of the legislation. Every six months, the Government must ‘as far as practicable' make arrangements for MPs to vote to keep the Act's powers in force, otherwise the powers will fall after 21 days. If Parliament is not sitting, the powers will remain in force.


Three Month Extension to File Accounts

Published 26th March

The Government has announced that businesses will be granted a three month extension on filing their accounts as a result of disruption related to Covid-19. As part of the measures, while companies will still have to apply for the three month extension to be granted, those citing issues around Covid-19 will be automatically and immediately granted an extension.

More information on this announcement is available here.

 


Coronavirus Bill

Published 26th March

The Coronavirus Bill is continuing progress in the House of Lords and is expected to pass into law some time today, before Parliament enters an early recess until 21st April. The House of Lords has been examining the Bill line-by-line and considering recommendations from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and Constitution Committee. Amendments raised so far include a new scheme of statutory self-employment pay and for the Act to expire after three months, with an option to extend its powers in three-month segments.

This Bill will allow the Government to proceed with previously announced policies to:

• establish a rebate system for retailers to reclaim sick pay costs
• make sick pay payable from day one of COVID-19 related absence
• require retailers to share supply chain data when requested
• order premises to close to help restrict COVID-19
• postpone all 2020 elections until 2021

The Bill also contains powers for the Government to increase or extend sick pay funding to larger employers and quickly modify National Insurance Contribution rates for employers and workers.

 


Help with non-domestic rates in Scotland

Published 25th March

To help owners of non-domestic properties, including businesses, deal with the impact of COVID-19, the Scottish Government has made changes to non-domestic rates (business rates) for 2020-21.
 
The Scottish Government has introduced extra rates reliefs (discounts). It has also introduced a one-off grant for some businesses.
 
These reliefs will be available to non-domestic properties from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021. It will be possible to apply for the grants from 24 March 2020 and they will be available to 31 March 2021.
 
Read more here.
 

Small Business Grants

Published 25th March

In response to the Coronavirus, Covid - 19, the Government announced there would be support for small businesses, and businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors.

This support will take the form of two grant funding schemes, the Small Business Grant Fund and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund.

Read more here.

 


Press Conference

Published 25th March

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock gave yesterday's press conference, here are the highlights:

  • The Health Secretary reiterated the Prime Minister's messages from yesterday's address to the nation, saying that the steps outlined ‘are not requests, they are rules' and that everyone has a responsibility to follow those rules.
  • The Health Secretary said a quarter of a million people are needed to assist with the national effort to tackle coronavirus, help the NHS and support the vulnerable.
  • More than 35,000 extra NHS staff have already joined up to help fight against the virus, including retired doctors and nurses returning to the service and final year students.
  • Mr Hancock also confirmed that a temporary hospital - the NHS Nightingale hospital - would be opening at London's ExCeL centre.
  • Mr Hancock announced that the Government has purchased 3.5m antibody tests, and has shipped 7.5m pieces of personal protective equipment.


Coronavirus Bill

Published 25th March

The Coronavirus Bill passed through the House of Commons yesterday without any opposition MPs forcing any votes on the Bill's provisions after the UK Government supported an amendment to review the Bill's powers every six months, which is additional to time-limiting the powers for two years. This means Parliament will debate powers provided by the Bill in six months and have to vote to allow the powers to remain. The Bill has also been debated at Second Reading in the House of Lords. The Bill is expected pass through other stages in the Lords today and become law by Thursday at the latest.

The Bill will allow the Government to proceed with previously announced policies to:

  • establish a rebate system for retailers to reclaim sick pay costs
  • make sick pay payable from day one of COVID-19 related absence
  • require retailers to share supply chain data when requested
    • order premises to close to help restrict COVID-19
    • postpone all 2020 elections until 2021

The Bill also contains powers for the Government to increase or extend sick pay funding to larger employers and quickly modify National Insurance Contribution rates for employers and workers.

 


COVID-19 Job Retention Scheme Advice for employers

Published 24th March

The latest information on how employers can access the Job Retention Scheme (JRS) to continue paying 80% of the salary for employees that would otherwise have been laid off or made redundant, the practical next steps and potential complications of the scheme. Key points include:

  • Furloughed workers should not undertake any work for the company, including answering calls or emails
  • JRS should not interrupt an employees' continuity of service
  • Annual leave will continue to accrue
  • No PAYE tax/ or national insurance contributions are due
  • The grant is a reimbursement by HMRC so businesses may face cash flow issues
  • Changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and may be subject to negotiation

Read more here.

 


Business Closures

Published 24th March

The Prime Minister's announcement last night stated that non-essential businesses and premises must now close.

You can read the Government guidance here.



Ban on Commercial Tenant Evictions for 3 Months

Published 24th March

The Government brought forward emergency legislation to bar evictions of commercial tenants for 3 months, to support firms struggling with rental payments ahead of the quarterly deadline this week. This is not a rental holiday. Landlords are still owed rent and, should this not be paid once this clause of legislation has lapsed, will be able to claim for forfeiture. This approach encourages businesses that are in a position to make their rent payment to do so, whilst providing three months' grace to those that are struggling.
 


Coronavirus Bill

Published 24th March

The Coronavirus Bill begun its debate stages in Parliament yesterday. The Bill is being fast-tracked as emergency legislation and is expected to be formally passed later this week. The Bill is relevant for all UK nations. All measures in the Bill will be time-limited for two years. The Bill will allow the Government to proceed with previously announced policies to; establish a rebate system for retailers to reclaim sick pay costs, require food supply chain business to share data when requested and powers for the Government to; order premises to close to help restrict COVID-19.

 


CMA Covid-19 Taskforce

Published 24th March

The CMA has launched a taskforce in response to the Covid-19 taskforce. One of the key focus areas of the taskforce is to: "Scrutinise market developments to identify harmful sales and pricing practices as they emerge." More details on the taskforce is available here.
 


Social Distancing

Published 24th March

The Government are in the process of developing social distancing guidance for retailers that continue to trade. Fundamentally this means maintaining a 2 metre distance between customers and between customers and colleagues. We advise that members consider introducing floor markings and vertical signage showing customers where and how to queue.



Contactless Limit Raised

Published 24th March

Payment providers across the UK have upped their contactless payment limits from £30 to £45 in an effort to help customers cut down on cash usage. This will come into effect from the 1st April.

 


The latest update from ActSmart's Business Insurance partner

Published 23rd March 

In light of the current difficulties and the drive for employees to work from home, Butterworth Spengler have compiled the following general information to be considered:

COVID-19 - Considerations for working from home 

 

Butterworth Spengler have also sent an update in regard to their Business Interruption Insurance policies:

Business Interruption Insurance and COVID-19

 


Press conference highlights

Published 20th March 5:45pm

Highlights from today's press conference with the Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are included below. Further details of the measures below are due to be published by the Government shortly.

The PM announced that he is telling cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can and not to open tomorrow. They can however continue to provide takeaway services to customers. Nightclubs, gyms, cinemas and leisure centres are also advised to close tonight.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a package of measures aimed at helping workers, including:

  • Coronavirus job retention scheme: The government is going to help to pay people's wages through a Coronavirus job retention scheme. Any employer will be eligible for the scheme, and will be able to apply for a grant to cover 80% of the salary of retained workers up to £2,500 per month. Workers in any part of the UK can retain their job even if their employer cannot afford to pay them. The scheme will be open for an initial three month period, with no limit to the amount of funding available for the scheme.
  • Extension of the interest free period on loans: The Coronavirus business loan interruption scheme will be interest free for 12 months (previously 6 months). Those loans will be available from Monday.
  • Deferring the next quarter of VAT payments for businesses: No business will pay VAT from now until the end of June. Businesses will have until the end of the year to pay those bills.
  • Strengthening the safety net: Universal credit allowance will be increased by £1000 over the next 12 months. Working tax credit will also be increased by £1000 over the same period.
  • Supporting the self-employed: The Government is suspending the minimum income floor for anyone affected by coronavirus. The next self-assessment payments will also be deferred to January 2021.
  • Raising awareness: There will be a national advertising campaign launching in the coming days to highlight support for businesses.
  • Rental support: £1bn support for renters, local housing allowance will now cover 30% of renting costs

 


Prime Minister's Press Conference

Published 20th March 2020 (conference held on 19th March)

  • The PM has said we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks, but only if we all take the steps we have outlined to reduce the peak of the virus.
  • The PM asked for businesses to stand by your employees and workers because we will stand by you.
  • Government is in negotiations to buy a so-called antibody test to tell you if individuals have had the disease.
  • There will be a further announcement from the Chancellor today on support for workers.

 


School Closures and ‘Key Worker' Definition

Published 20th March 2020

The Cabinet Office is expected to confirm that the definition of "Key Workers" in relation to school closures is a public sector or private sector employee who is considered to provide an essential service. It will be the responsibility of schools to validate and implement the measure with the support of government guidance. Further information is expected soon.

 


Single Use Carrier Bag Charge

Published 20th March 2020

The Department for Food Environment and Rural Affairs is announcing that from Saturday 21 March, for six months, large retailers (over 250 employees) will no longer be obliged to charge 5p for each single-use carrier bag (SUCB) supplied with online deliveries. It is optional for smaller retailers to charge for single use plastic bags, but you may wish to review your existing policy in response to this change of policy. This temporary measure has been taken to help protect the health and safety of customers and delivery drivers. The use of SUCBs will reduce the need for drivers and householders to come into close contact with each other reducing the risk that infection will be passed on and support customers already in self-isolation as the bags will be easier and quicker to collect from the front door.

 


Coronavirus Bill

Published 20th March 2020

The Government are introducing emergency legislation in parliament today in the form of the Coronavirus Bill, the explanatory notes are available here. The Bill provides general powers to the Secretary of State to require information to issue directions relating to events, gatherings and premises. The legislation allows the Secretary of State to use discretion in enforcing these powers in relation to "preventing, protecting against, delaying or otherwise controlling the incidence or transmission of coronavirus".

 


Guidance and Support

ACS has provided the latest information on compensatory measures for business and support for employers and colleague safety

 


Government slashes interest rates again

Published 19th March 2020

To support the UK economy during these challenging times the Bank of England has once again cut interest rates.

This is the second cut in just over a week, which sees them brought down to 0.1% from 0.25%.



Home Delivery for Retailers

Published 19th March 2020

More retailers are looking at home delivery as an option to reach local customers that are self-isolating or otherwise unable to travel to their local shop. This new guidance details what retailers should consider when starting a home delivery service.


The guidance covers the following areas:


  • How to take an order
  • How to take payment
  • How to operate a collection service
  • How to manage data security
  • Age restricted products


The guidance has been designed in consultation with Surrey/Bucks Trading Standards and Woking Borough Council, who work with ACS on its existing Assured Advice scheme.

DOWNLOAD THE HOME DELIVERY GUIDANCE HERE 




Latest updates

Published 19th March 2020

Yesterday, the government announced that schools will close until further notice from after Friday this week, except for children of key workers. Key workers are yet to be identified.




Lobbying action

Published: 18th March 2020
 
ActSmart, along with fellow members of Independent Retailers Confederation (IRC), are currently lobbying the Government to aid independent retail as a whole - one of the most heavily affected sectors of COVID-19 (Coronavirus).

Key areas the IRC are lobbying the Government:


  1. A Government fund to be provided to compensate businesses impacted by Coronavirus. Many business insurance policies will not pay out on business interruption and other claims because these policies list notifiable diseases at the time the policy was taken out.

  2. An automatic deferral of payment of VAT, employers NICs, business rates, PAYE and corporation tax for at least six months. During this time the Government should explore the fairest ways to reduce businesses' liabilities for the period before, during and immediately after the outbreak.

  3. Wages to be subsidised by the Government for people laid off as a direct result of the outbreak. This will allow businesses that can no longer trade viably to cut their costs without unduly exposing colleagues who will lose their jobs as a result. 




The latest updates from Government

Published: 18th March 2020

The Government's official guidance is available here. It includes information on the following areas:
  • How to help prevent spread of all respiratory infections including COVID-19
  • What to do if someone with suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 has been in a workplace setting
  • What advice to give to individuals who have travelled to specific areas, as outlined by the Chief Medical Officer (full list is available here)
  • Advice for the certification of absence from work resulting from Covid-19


Stay At Home Guidance: Stay at home guidance has been issued by the Government and is available here.


Action Plan: The Government has also published its coronavirus action plan which provides information on what further action can be expected from the Government in response to coronavirus.




How Government is helping businesses

Published: 17th March 2020

On March 17th, the Chancellor announced a package of measures for businesses affected by Covid-19, building on previous commitments made in the Spring Budget.


To ensure the impact on businesses is minimised, the following measures were announced:

  • The Government is providing Government backed and guaranteed loans totalling up to £330bn, equivalent to 15% of GDP. Any business that needs access to funding can get Government backed loans or credit at attractive terms.

  • For SMEs, there will be an extension of the Business Interruption Loan Scheme. Instead of loans of £1.2m, loans will be offered for up to £5m with no interest due for the first six months. This scheme is due to be in place by the end of next week. These are to be available through your bank as loans, overdrafts or other forms of financing.


  • There will be a cash grant of up to £25,000 for all local shops who have a rateable value of less than £51,000 but are not eligible for Small Business Rate Relief or Rural Rate Relief.

  • The Government is extending the business rates holiday to all businesses in the retail and hospitality sector, irrespective of their rateable value, for 12 months.

  • The £3,000 cash grant for businesses that are currently eligible for Small Business Rate Relief or Rural Rate Relief will be increased to £10,000.

  • Mortgage lenders will offer a three month mortgage holiday for those individuals affected by coronavirus.

  • The Chancellor will go much further in the coming days to develop new forms of employment support to help protect people's jobs and their incomes.

  • The Chancellor confirmed that he has agreed with insurance companies
    that all businesses with an insurance policy relating to the current
    situation will be able to claim against their policies.

    Housing,
    Communities and Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick, also
    announced that he was relaxing planning rules to allow all pubs,
    restaurants and cafes the ability to offer takeaway and delivery
    services if they wish

  • The Chancellor announced that he intends to take further legal action to allow the Government to outline further support where needed

You can read the Chancellor's full speech here.

The Bank of England have also announced a package of measures to help UK businesses and households bridge across the economic disruption that is likely to be associated with COVID-19. Interest rates have been reduced from 0.75% to 0.25% and additional funding will be available for banks to increase lending, especially to SMEs.


Devolved Administrations


The Welsh Government has announced a package of support worth more than £200m for small businesses to help them during the coronavirus outbreak.

Retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value of £51,000 or less will receive 100% business rate relief and pubs with a rateable value of between £51,000 and £100,000 will receive a £5,000 reduction on their bill. This follows the UK Government taking similar action to support businesses in England in the Budget.

The Chancellor also clarified on 17th March that as part of the additional measures, devolved administrations will receive at least £3.5bn in funding to support businesses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.




Sick Pay and Employment


Employees are entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks of work absence, if they earn an average of £118 per week or more. SSP is paid at £94.25 per week on a pro-rata basis.


The following changes are in place on SSP:


  • Self-Isolation - SSP will be payable to people who are staying at home on government advice, not just those who are infected, from 13 March 2020. Regulations were laid on 12 March 2020 to bring this into effect. Retailers can use their discretion about what evidence, if any, to ask for.

  • Commencement - Employees claiming SSP due to coronavirus will now be eligible from day one of absence, rather than the fourth day of their illness. The Government intends to legislate so this applies retrospectively from 13 March 2020.

  • Evidence - Employers are advised to use their discretion around the need for medical evidence for a period of absence where an employee is advised to stay at home due to suspected COVID-19, in accordance with the public health advice being issued by the government.

  • Funding - The Government is bringing forward legislation to allow retailers with up to 250 employees to reclaim up to 14 days of statutory sick pay paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19.

Colleagues not Eligible for SSP

Employees not entitled to SSP (earning under £118 per week) may be eligible for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit. You can advise the following changes to employees due to coronavirus:


  • Evidence - People claiming for either ESA or Universal Credit are no longer required to produce a fit note.

  • Universal Credit - People affected by coronavirus can now apply for Universal Credit and receive up to a month's advance up front without physically attending a jobcentre.

  • ESA - ESA will now be payable from day one for new claimants who are either suffering from coronavirus or required to stay at home.

ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) has published guidance for employers and employees which states that it is good practice for employers to treat self-isolation as sick leave and follow their usual sick pay policy or agree for the time to be taken as holiday.

 



Hygiene and Safety In Store


ACS has Assured Advice is available for retailers on food hygiene standards and practices in store, and the things that should be considered when offering a water refills service. These guides are available below:


Assured Advice - Food Safety and Hygiene

Assured Advice - Water Refills




Pricing Advice

Retailers are experiencing some increased cost prices due to scarcity of some products in the supply chain. As a retailer you are then faced with a choice of passing this cost on, but possibly being perceived as profiteering from the current situation. Clear communication is your best approach in tackling this, for example:


  • Putting up a poster explaining that some supply prices have gone up and that these may be reflected in your prices to customers.

  • Adding the supply price of certain affected products next to the retail price.

  • Responding to customer complaints in person or on social media by explaining the relevant facts.