News article

Coronavirus: Support and advice for small businesses

19 March 2020


Business support for those affected by COVID-19

In the Budget (11 March) and on 17 March, the Chancellor announced a plan to provide support for businesses affected by Covid-19.

The measures include Business Supprt Grant Schemes, an extension of statutory sick pay (SSP), a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, business rates support and a dedicated coronavirus helpline for businesses seeking a deferral on tax liabilities.

Business Support Grant Schemes

The Northern Ireland Executive has announced two grants to be made available to businesses impacted by coronavirus.

A grant of £10,000 is to be made available to all small businesses who are eligible for the Small Business Rate Relief Scheme. Another grant of £25,000 is to be provided to companies in the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors with a rateable value from £15,000 up to £51,000.

Further details on these two grants including how to apply are due to be announced soon. We will update our page Coronavirus: Business Support Grant Schemes as soon as these details are made available.

Statutory Sick Pay Rebate for SMEs

The Government will bring forward legislation to allow small and medium-sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19.

The eligibility criteria for the scheme will be as follows:

  • this refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19
  • employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible - the size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020
  • employers will be able to reclaim expenditure for any employee who has claimed SSP (according to the new eligibility criteria) as a result of COVID-19
  • employers should maintain records of staff absences, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note
  • eligible period for the scheme will commence the day after the regulations on the extension of Statutory Sick Pay to self-isolators comes into force
  • the government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible. Existing systems are not designed to facilitate employer refunds for SSP. 

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

A new Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank, will enable businesses to apply for a loan of up to £5 million, with the government covering up to 80% of any losses with no fees. Businesses can access the first 12 months of that finance interest-free. The government will cover the first 12 months of interest payments.

The scheme is available from Monday 23 March.

For further information, download the British Business Bank's Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme FAQs for SMEs (PDF, 224K).

Rates relief

On 17 March, the NI Finance Minister announced an emergency £100 million rates package to assist Northern Ireland businesses impacted by COVID-19. 

This includes a delay in rates bills and a three-month rates holiday for business ratepayers. 

The Small Business Rate Relief scheme will be continued in 2020-21. The rates of relief and thresholds for eligibility have not changed.

For more information, see COVID-19: Emergency rates package for businesses.

The Budget 2020 announced some new business rates measures. These included a Business Rate Relief for small businesses and pubs and small business grant funding for all business in receipt of Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) and Rural Rate Relief. These only apply to England. They do not extend to Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

In addition to the COVID-19 measures announced through the NI emergency rates package, there are other existing reliefs available to help business ratepayers - see help available for business rates

HMRC Time to Pay

All businesses and self-employed people in financial distress, and with outstanding tax liabilities, may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time To Pay service. These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities.

These businesses can contact HMRC’s new dedicated COVID-19 helpline for advice and support.

If you are concerned about being able to pay your tax due to COVID-19, call HMRC’s coronavirus helpline on 0800 024 1222.


First published 19 March 2020