17 Mar, 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is on the minds of many businesses at the moment. We are only in the early stages of the outbreak and many SMEs are already feeling the effects. Some businesses have already reported a reduction in turnover due to a lack of customers/rise in cancellations and a lack of materials from other countries such as China. So, what is the government doing to help businesses like you and how can you minimise your risks?
What is Coronavirus (Covid-19)?
COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways, caused by a virus known as coronavirus. It can cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) but as it was only discovered in 2019, we are still learning about it.
The Government are now advising anyone experiencing a fever or continuous cough to self-isolate for 7 days.
Further information can be found on the NHS website.
What are the Government doing to support businesses?
Last week Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a £30bn package to boost the economy, £12bn of which will be specifically targeted at coronavirus measures. This included £5bn for the NHS in England and £7bn for businesses and workers across the UK. On Tuesday 17th March, the Chancellor pledged more funds to help support the UK economy through the coronavirus pandemic.
- A Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) relief package for SMEs
- a 12 month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England
- Small business grant funding of £10,000 for all businesses in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief
- Grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000
- the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme to support long-term viable businesses who may need to respond to cash-flow pressures by seeking additional finance
- the HMRC Time to Pay Scheme, supporting all businesses and the self-employed who are in financial distress, with outstanding tax liabilities
We have come across a really useful podcast from Hybrid Legal Limited which answers employers most popular questions regarding your legal responsibilities, changes to SSP, working parents, planning advice and cost savings.
Guidance for employees, employers and businesses are constantly changing. You can stay up to date here.
What can you do to reduce your risk?
The uncertainty can make it difficult to plan ahead but it’s not too late to put together a Business Continuity Plan. This plan sets out how the business will operate following an incident and how it expects to return to ‘business as usual’ in the quickest possible time. Some things you can be doing now include:
- Test home working technology and review policies relating to remote working. Can your network cope with your entire team remote working? If not, could you consider flexible working hours or separate your workforce in to teams who work at different times of the day? Can they login to the phone system?
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay at home and ensure your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with the public health guidance. If they feel well enough to work, ask them to work from home instead.
- Maintain standards of cleanliness – regularly clean all office surfaces and objects. Provide hand sanitizer, tissues and disposable wipes for your team to use. It may be worth paying for a deep clean of your facilities.
- Educate your employees on the importance of hand hygiene. Whilst we’ve been told to wash our hands for the length of time it takes to sing ‘happy birthday’ twice, are we washing them properly? A video showing the correct way to wash our hands can be found here.
- Track recent employee travel. If an employee has returned from abroad recently, consider allowing them to work from home for 14 days.
- Keep employees informed as much as possible and update them regularly. It’s easy for rumours to fly and panic to spread.
Full information on healthcare advice for employers and support for businesses can be found on the Government website here.
Don’t bury your head in the sand…
It is almost certain that cash flow is going to be affected and either an overdraft will become necessary or your current overhead will come under pressure and therefore do not bury your head in the sand.
- Visit your Bank Manager but make sure you have details of funds due in and payments due out so the extent of the requirement can be clearly identified.
- Speak with your suppliers and make arrangements to prevent you being put on ‘stop’
- Keep in close contact with your debtors particularly those who are traditionally bad payers. Those who makes the most noise are likely to get paid first.
- If you undertake any large contracts which result in initial expenditure make sure you are paid up front.
We all have a shared responsibility in the fight against coronavirus. Follow the advice…
- Wash your hands frequently
- Maintain social distancing, especially if you’re unwell
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Practise respiratory hygiene – cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze
- Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands
- If you or someone you live with has a ‘new, continuous’ cough or high temperature, you should all stay at home for 14 days
- Use the online 111 coronavirus service or if in Ireland, call 111.
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