COVID-19 Updates

ActSmart will be providing regular updates and resources 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.

 

COVID-19 Resources

 


Job Support Scheme to Replace Furloughing

Published 24th September     

"The government will directly support the wages of people in work giving businesses who face depressed demand the option of keeping employees in a job on shorter hours rather than making them redundant".

The Chancellor has announced a Job Support Scheme to protect employees' continued employment on shorter hours where they are at risk of redundancy. Under the Scheme, for employees working at least 33% of normal hours, the Government and employer will each pay a further third of normal wages. Government contributions will be capped at £697.92 per month. This in effect means where the cap is not reached workers will get at least 77% of normal pay for working one-third of normal hours. The Scheme will run for six months from 1st November and be targeted at businesses which most need the financial support. All SMEs will be eligible but larger businesses must demonstrate they have been adversely impacted by Covid-19. Use or non-use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to ‘furlough' employees will have no impact on the Jobs Support Scheme and government contributions will be paid to employers in arrears. The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme is also being extended to support businesses facing reduced demand over the winter months; the extended funding will cover 20% of average monthly trading profits. The extension will apply from November until April and businesses must continue to trade to be eligible.

 


VAT Announcements

Published 24th September      

"To support more than 150,000 businesses and help protect 2.4 million jobs through the winter I am announcing today that we are cancelling the planned increase and will keep the lower 5% VAT rate until March 31st next year".

The reduced 5% VAT rate has been extended for the hospitality and tourism sectors specifically until 31st March 2021. This will also apply to ‘food and non-alcoholic drinks from restaurants, pubs, bars, cafés and similar premises'. Separately, retailers who deferred their VAT due to Covid-19 earlier in the year will no longer have to pay a lump sum at the end of March next year. These businesses will now have the option of reducing this into smaller, interest-free payments over the course of eleven months. Self-assessed income taxpayers will also be able to use HMRC's Time to Pay service to secure a plan to pay over an additional twelve months.


Covid-19 Loan Schemes Extended

Published 24th September       

"Right now, businesses need every extra pound to protect jobs rather than repaying loans and tax deferrals. So I'm taking four further steps today to make that happen".

Application deadlines for the Future Fund, Bounce Back Loan Scheme and Business Interruption Loan Schemes have been extended to 30th November to encourage wider use amongst businesses. Businesses that have taken out loans via either the Bounce Back Loan Scheme or Business Interruption Loan Schemes will also be offered the choice of more time and greater flexibility to make repayments. This ‘Pay as You Grow' scheme will mean loans can be paid back over six to ten years, more than doubling the current repayment timescales and reducing monthly payments. Businesses using the extended repayment timescales will not see their credit rating affected.

 


Prime Minister's statement

Published 22nd September    

Following the Prime Minister's statement in the House of Commons earlier today, we can confirm that the Government intends to make the wearing of face coverings mandatory for colleagues in store from this Thursday (24th September).

The Government has yet to publish detail on any exemptions from this rule, although we anticipate that colleagues who would be otherwise exempt for medical reasons would also be exempt while working. As soon as further details are announced, we will provide an additional update.

The Government has also announced that the Covid secure workplace guidelines are to become law, and will be subject to sanctions if they are not followed.

The Covid secure guidelines for shops and branches are available here.

Other measures announced by the Prime Minister in his statement today include:

  • From Thursday, all pubs, bars and restaurants must operate on a table service only basis and must close at 10pm
  • From Thursday, takeaways must also close at 10pm, but can operate a delivery service beyond that time
  • If office workers can work from home, they should do so
  • From Monday, there will be a maximum of 15 people allowed at weddings
  • From Monday, the rule of six will be extended to all adult indoor team sports

The Prime Minister will be making a public statement at 8pm this evening. We do not anticipate that it will include new or different measures to those detailed above.

 


Government Extends Support Surrounding Business Evictions

Published 22nd September   
 
The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has extended support to prevent business evictions until the end of 2020, in aid of helping businesses over the coming months and protecting jobs. This three-month extension is to a moratorium on commercial tenant evictions in England until 31st December 2020. The extension will protect businesses that are struggling to pay rent due to the impact of Covid-19. The Government will also extend the restriction on landlords using Commercial Rents Arrears Recovery to enforce unpaid rent on commercial leases, until the end of the year. The guidance is clear that both landlords and tenants should continue to work together to agree rent payment options if businesses are struggling. In June, the Government published a Code of Practice to support these discussions. The Government's support announcement is in addition to the £160 billion package made available during the pandemic.


Reminder: VAT Payments Deferral Scheme Closed

Published 22nd September    

HMRC is reminding all VAT customers that they are required to file and pay on time, now that the VAT payments deferral scheme has ended. The Government introduced the VAT payments deferral scheme at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic on 20th March 2020. This allowed all VAT businesses to defer payments that would have originally been due between 20th March and 30th June to be paid by 31st March 2021. Customers were required to file on time throughout the deferral period but penalties for late filing were suspended. HMRC also want to ensure that customers understand the situation, and are clear that they will ‘default' if they fail to meet their VAT obligations and may face a penalty as well as being charged interest on any tax that is due. The Government have provided information on surcharges and penalties as well if customers have difficulties paying VAT.


FCA Set Out Expectations on Access to Cash

Published 22nd September    

Following a consultation, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has set out its expectations for the steps firms should take when considering closing ATMs or converting a free-to-use ATM to pay-to-use. In its finalised guidance, the FCA has clarified that banks, building societies and credit unions are now expected to inform the FCA of any closure or conversion plans; this also includes changes of ATMs. The guidance states that if a firm decides to implement its closure or conversion proposals, it will be expected to clearly communicate information about this to its customers no less than 12 weeks before the proposals are implemented. This should include making customers aware of alternatives they can use. Therefore, this will give customers time to take action, such as changing banking provider. Retailers should now expect this 12-week consultation process to occur if there are any changes to ATM or in-store cash services. This guidance applies from 21st September 2020.

FCA: FCA finalises its expectation for firms on maintaining access to cash for customers

 


PSR Publishes Interim Report on Card Acquiring Market Review

Published 22nd September   

The Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) has published an interim report on the supply of card acquiring services, showing that merchants could make savings by shopping around and either switching or negotiating with their current provider. The PSR found that many small and medium-sized businesses do not do this. The report provides several recommendations to make it easier to search for and switch to a new provider or find a better deal, including; requiring all contracts to have an end date and requiring changes to POS terminal contracts to limit their length making it easier to exit contracts without fees. The PSR also suggested that it should be made easier for merchants to research and compare prices and available options.

 

Chief Scientific Adviser and Chief Medical Officer Coronavirus briefing

Published 21st September    

The Chief Scientific Adviser, Patrick Vallance, and the Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, provided an update on the latest data on Coronavirus in the UK and the potential action that may need to be taken to control the virus. The highlights from the briefing are: 

Patrick Vallance Chief Scientific Adviser

  • Vallance outlined that cases were rising across the whole of Europe. The growth in the virus has started with younger people and spread to older people, leading to an increase in hospitalisations and deaths.
  • In the UK there have been increases in infection rates across different age groups and the data suggests that this increase cannot be attributed to higher testing rates.
  • The data suggests that the epidemic is doubling roughly every seven days. If this continues without action you would end up something like 50,000 cases per day, leading to death rates at 200 deaths per day in a months' time.
  • On Immunity, under 8% of the population may have been infected and may have anti-bodies. This means the vast majority of the population remain susceptible.

Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer

  • Whitty outlined that localised outbreaks that have increased at a greater pace.
  • The number of Coronavirus in-patients in hospitals in England has increased in England since September 1, with a doubling every 7 or 8 days.
  • Whitty said that "we have in a bad sense literally turned a corner" we should see this as a six month problem that we have to take very seriously.
  • Whitty outlined four means to tackle the growth in the virus:
    • Reducing individual risk; hands, face, space and use of masks and space between people indoors.
    • People must isolate. It is absolutely critical that people stay indoors if they have the virus.
    • Break unnecessary links between households.
    • The Science. Invest in drugs and science.
  • Patrick Vallance indicated that vaccines could be available in small doses this year but are more likely to be available early next year.
The full set of slides and data from the update is available here. There will be a further statement to the House of Commons from Health Secretary Matt Hancock today and it is widely reported that there will be a statement from the Prime Minister tomorrow.


New restrictions in the North East of England

Published 17th September     

Heath Secretary, Matt Hancock MP, in a statement to Parliament this morning has updated on the implementation of new restrictions in the North East of England, the highlights from the statement are;
 

• There has been an increase in infection rates in the North East of England. Sunderland now has an incidence rate of 103 positive cases per 100,000 population and in South Tyneside, Gateshead and Newcastle, the figures are all above 70.
• From tomorrow, additional lockdown measures will be introduced in the following council areas: Northumberland, Newcastle, Sunderland, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead and County Durham council.
• New restrictions in the region include;
• Residents should not socialise with other people outside their own households or support bubble.
• Hospitality for food and drink will be restricted to table service only and late night restrictions of operating hours will be introduced, so leisure and entertainment venues must close between 10pm and 5am.
• The new restrictions do not impact convenience stores ability to trade .
• Matt Hancock announced £2.7 billion of new funding for the NHS during the winter months, investment in emergency care in NHS worth £150m and £24m to invest in call operators on NHS 111.
 


New local lockdowns introduced

Published 16th September    

  • Pub curfews and restrictions on people mixing are set to be introduced in Northumberland, Newcastle, Sunderland, North and South Tyneside, Gateshead and County Durham at midnight on Thursday
  • People in Rhondda Cynon Taf should not leave the area without a reasonable excuse like going to work or school. Pubs and restaurants must close by 23:00 and people should not meet other households indoors
  • Households in Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell are not allowed to mix


Inflation rate drops

Published 16th September     
 
Figures just published show the UK's inflation rate fell sharply to 0.2% in August from 1% in July as the effect of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme pushed down restaurant prices. The initiative offered diners 50% off food on certain weekdays and proved hugely popular. The cut in VAT from 20% to 5% in the hospitality sector also contributed.
 

Test and Trace App Launch Date Announced

Published 14th September   

The NHS Covid-19 contact tracing is due to be launched on 24 September. This is part of national efforts to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. The app will work alongside traditional methods of contact tracing to notify users when they encounter someone who later tests positive and it will provide advice on what they should do. Those who use the app will be provided with local risk information and allow them to book testing quickly. The app also has the facility to use a built-in QR scanner to check in at venues required to record attendance. Retail premises are not generally required to record this information, however more information for businesses can be found here. Businesses can download QR code posters here.  
 

Face Coverings Update Wales 

Published 14th September  
 
From today, 14 September, face coverings will become mandatory in all retail premises for people over 11 years old. This also applies to other public indoor spaces.

There will be exemptions for people who are unable to wear face coverings due to health and medical reasons.

Face coverings will not be a requirement in pubs or restaurants but this is currently under review as to whether this should be extended to the hospitality sector.

The Welsh Government is currently updating the FAQ's, guidance and webpages to reflect the changes on rules surrounding facemasks and we will update members with these when they become available.

 

Scotland's Covid-19 contact tracing app goes live

Published 10th September 

The Scottish government has said the software will support the Test and Protect system and is "another tool in the fight against Covid-19".

The Protect Scotland app lets people know if they have been in close contact with someone who later tests positive.

It can be downloaded for free onto a smart phone from Apple's App Store or Google Play.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has urged as many people as possible to get involved in the new tracing scheme.


Wash your hands, cover your face, make space 

Published 10th September

The new Government video advising people how best to avoid spreading the virus as winter approaches. The video ends with "Don't forget, Hands, Face, Space."
 
 
 
 

Prime Minister's Press Conference

Published 9th September
 
The Prime Minister gave today's press conference (the full statement is available here). A summary of the findings from the latest data, presented by Prof. Chris Whitty is as follows:
  • The number of confirmed cases are rising significantly although in younger children and older people, the rates of infection are low.
  • Those aged between 20-29 and 30-39 have seen the highest uptick in infection rates. This is reflected in the proportion of those who are testing positive.
  • Without action, the UK's case rate could follow that of France and Spain where cases have continued to rise significantly.

The Prime Minister reminded the public of the measures that everyone should be taking to reduce the risk of the virus spreading, including wearing a face covering, washing hands regularly and maintaining space between yourself and others wherever possible.

  • The PM urged the public to limit social interactions as much as possible. In England from Monday, people must not meet socially in more than groups of six, which will apply both outdoors and indoors. The rules will be enforced by the police, and those breaking the rules face possible fines or arrest.
  • Covid secure venues (gyms, restaurants, places of worship etc) can still hold more than six people in total, but inside the venue there must not be a group of more than six people together. Education and work settings are unaffected.
  • Premises and venues where people meet socially will be legally required to record and retain the details of people who use them, keep that information for 21 days, and make it available to NHS Test and Trace on request. Fines will be levied against hospitality venues that fail to remain Covid secure.
  • The Government is intending to increase testing capacity further to 500,000 tests a day. The ambition for testing is to start identifying people who are negative and not infectious to allow them to behave more normally. The aim is for these sorts of tests to be deployed on a far greater scale towards millions per day.


The PM also mentioned that the Government will restrict the opening hours of premises in some areas but did not elaborate - we are awaiting further details on this measure and will update in due course.

 


EHRC Publishes Guidance on Disabled Customers

Published 7th September
 
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published new guidance to help retailers meet legal requirements towards disabled customers. The guidance outlines four steps for retailers to undertake to ensure they are legally compliant; provide a service that meets all customer needs, plan for future customer needs, communicate with customers and provide staff training. Suggested actions include making ‘reasonable adjustments' where possible to accommodate disabled customers and training colleagues about less visible disabilities. The guidance has been developed following reported difficulties for some customers around proving disability and bespoke requirements on face coverings.  
 

Kickstart Scheme opens for employer applications

Published 2nd September
 
As part of the government's Plan for Jobs, a new £2 billion Kickstart Scheme will create hundreds of thousands of new, fully subsidised jobs for young people across the country.

The 6 month placements are open to those aged 16-24 who are claiming Universal Credit and at risk of long term unemployment. They will be available across a range of different sectors in England, Scotland and Wales. The first placements are likely to be available from November.

There will also be extra funding to support young people to build their experience and help them move into sustained employment after they have completed their Kickstart funded job.

Employers will receive funding for 100% of the relevant National Minimum Wage for 25 hours a week, plus associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum auto-enrolment pension contributions.

Read more on the government website here.

 


Updates to Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Published 1st September

From today, 1 September, the government will pay 70% of wages up to a maximum cap of £2,187.50 for the hours the employee is on furlough. Employers will top up employees' wages to ensure they receive 80% (up to £2,500). The caps are proportional to the hours not worked. You can read more information about the changes.

Unless you're making a new claim for an employee who is a military reservist or is returning from statutory parental leave, you can only continue to claim through the scheme if:

  • you have previously furloughed the employee for 3 consecutive weeks between March 1 and 30 June
  • you submitted your claim before 31 July

Read more about the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme on the government website here.

 


Use Class Order Changes in England 

Published 1st September

Following Draft legislation published in July, it has now been confirmed that planned changes to overhaul the Use Classes order system will take effect from today- 1st September in England only. The changes set to abolish the A1 Use Class for shops. Most shops within the A1 Use Class will move into a broader ‘Commercial, Business and Service' Use Class E, alongside the previous financial and professional services (A2), restaurants and cafes (A3) and offices (B1) use classes. Shops smaller than 280 square metres with no other shop within a 1000m radius will fall under a new ‘Local Community' Use Class F2, alongside community halls, swimming pools and places for outdoor sport. Existing permitted development rights will remain until 31stJuly 2021. The intentions of these changes are to provide businesses with greater freedoms to change uses in town centre locations and stall or prevent the loss of community infrastructure.


Government has changed the law so most renters have a 6 month notice period 

Published 1st September

The government is continuing to help renters with an unprecedented package of support measures.

Legislation has now been introduced, so landlords must now give tenants 6 months' notice before they can evict until March 2021, except in the most serious of cases, such as incidents of anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse perpetrators.

The stay on possession proceedings has been extended until 20 September, meaning that in total no tenant can have been legally evicted for 6 months at the height of the pandemic.

The package of support for renters includes the extension of notice periods and the extension to the stay on possession proceedings. For the most egregious cases, notice periods have returned to their pre-coronavirus levels, and landlords will be able to progress serious rent arrears cases more quickly.

These changes mean that from 29 August, landlords must provide at least 6 months' notice period prior to seeking possession through the courts in most cases, including  section 21 evictions and rent arrears under 6 months.

Read more on the government website here.

 

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Cancellation and refund updates

Published 1st September

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) remains of the view that a consumer will generally be entitled to a refund when they have paid money in advance for services or goods that cannot be provided because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Given the evolving situation, the CMA has provided more detail on issues such as the difference between lockdown laws and government guidance, and their impact on cancellations and refunds.

Read more on the government website here.

 


Scottish Extension to Outstanding Revaluation Appeals

Published 1st September

The Scottish Government has announced it is intending to extend the statutory deadline for disposing outstanding 2017 revaluations appeals by 12 months to 31stDecember 2021. This decision has been made due to consideration of the impact of Covid-19 and ongoing issues surrounding progressing appeal discussions.  

COVID-19 Updates - August

COVID-19 Updates - July

COVID-19 Updates - June

COVID-19 Updates - May

COVID-19 Updates - April Part 1

COVID-19 Updates - April Part 2

COVID-19 Updates - March